Buffalo Soldiers at Fort D.A. Russell

By Rine Kasckow

May 3, 2017

On July 28th, 1866 the 39th congress approved the Army Reorganization Act of 1866 which increased and fixed the military peace establishment of the United States. This bill is also accredited with the formation of the Buffalo Soldiers, which included the establishment of the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry regiments for enlisted Black men. The four new infantry regiments would later be condensed into two infantry regiments, the 24th and 25th.[1] Though there were Black regiments that fought in the Civil war and the Revolutionary War, these new regiments created by the Army Reorganization Act would not be disbanded after wars like the regiments from prior engagements in United States history.

One of the first appearances of the Buffalo Soldiers in Wyoming history was their arrival at Fort Steele near Rawlins after helping the 4th and 5th infantry in 1879 with the battle of Milk Creek near Meeker, Colorado. Appearances by the Buffalo soldiers in Wyoming grew, especially as a mediator for civil issues such as the Rock Springs Massacre in 1885 where they were sent to settle disputes. Or in 1892, when Troop K of the 9th Cavalry was sent to Cheyenne during the Johnson County War to protect federal employees who were removing illegal fencing.[2] The troop was stationed outside of For D.A. Russell due to racial segregation. There wouldn’t be a high concentration of Buffalo Soldiers on base until 1902 after the Philippine Insurrection.

On July 4, 1867, the Union Pacific railroad established its headquarters in the area that would later become Cheyenne. The U.S. Cavalry followed them weeks later to establish Fort D.A. Russell which would be located about three miles away from the railroad headquarters. The buildings were constructed with wood and were positioned in a diamond formation as a way to protect against the harsh weather of the western plains. In 1885 the base was ordered to rebuild, replacing the old wooden frames with brick to better withstand the weather and time.[3] The base was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and was designated as a National Historic Landmark, allowing for the history of the base to be preserved for tomorrow’s generation. The base is an important location for not only Cheyenne’s history but also for the history of the Buffalo Soldiers.

As mentioned before, Black troops were not allowed on the base in the late 1800s due to segregation and limited space. As the years passed, the base grew bigger and more buildings such as barracks were added. This allowed for Black soldiers of the 9th and 10th cavalry to stay on base in the barracks, including George W. Fearington, Charles W. Jefferson, and Milton T. Dean.

A view of the south elevations of the barracks

A view of the south elevations of the barracks

George W. Fearington was born in Durham County, NC and was transferred to Ft. DuChesne in Utah 1899. While he was a private at the base he was awarded certificate of merit on December 13th, 1899 for excellent conduct and heroic service for putting out barrack fires.[4] He took his position on the peak of a burning building applying water until the fire was brought under control. After receiving the medal, he was sent to California where from there he was then sent to fight in the Philippine Insurrection. He was later transferred after serving in the Philippines to Ft. D.A. Russell in 1910 where he was a sharpshooter. By the time he had retired he held the position of sergeant with the 25th infantry.[5]

Intern Rine Kasckow tells tour-goers the story of the Balangiga bells during AHW's Unbarred tour at F.E. Warren Air Force Base

Intern Rine Kasckow tells tour-goers the story of the Balangiga bells during AHW's Unbarred tour at F.E. Warren Air Force Base

Charles W. Jefferson enlisted with the 9th Cavalry on May 23rd, 1890 at Ft. Robinson in Nebraska, and after five years he was promoted to Corporal. During the Spanish-American War he was wounded in action at El Caney, Cuba in 1898 during the Battle of San Juan Hill. The battle is commonly known as one of the Rough Rider’s bloodiest and greatest battles. It is often overlooked that the 10th and 24th infantry regiments changed the tide of the battle.  One grateful Rough Rider corporal proclaimed that “if it hadn’t been for the black cavalry, the Rough Riders would have been exterminated.”[6]  Five Black soldiers of the 10th cavalry were awarded the medal of honor, and 25 others, including Charles Jefferson, were awarded certificates of merit for distinguished service. He was later promoted to Captain for the 49th infantry in September 9th, 1899, which was a Black regiment during the Spanish- American War. He came back after the war to Ft. D.A. Russell where he held the title of Sergeant. When looking at his records, he was discharged at least 3 times. The reason for the discharges is not clear, but his record shows that he always reenlisted weeks after being discharged.

One of many former stables at F.E. Warren Air Force Base

One of many former stables at F.E. Warren Air Force Base

Dean T. Milton, originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, arrived at Ft. DA Russell as an expert rifleman and a Sergeant of the 9th Cavalry. He was promoted to Squadron Sergeant Major in 1912[7], and was an advocate of racial solidarity in business matters. He was one of only three Black officers during World War I, serving as a Colored Troupe Commander of the 317th Ammunition Train in the U.S. Army. After the war he was moved from Camp Des Moines to Camp Dodge in Iowa, retiring with the rank of Major from the U.S. army.  

References:

[1] http://www.abuffalosoldier.com/acttoincrease.html

[2] Tom Rea, http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/buffalo-soldiers-wyoming-and-west

[3] http://www.warren.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/331280/history-of-f-e-warren-afb/

[4] http://valor.militarytimes.com/recipient.php?recipientid=16498

[5]  Irene Schubert and Frank N. Schubert, ed. On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldier II: New and Revised biographies of African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866-1917 (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2004)

[6] http://www.spanamwar.com/AfroAmericans.htm

[7] Irene Schubert and Frank N. Schubert, ed. On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldier II: New and Revised biographies of African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866-1917 (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2004)

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