ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – They were known as pioneers for African American civil rights, but many do not know that they were pioneers in settling the west. In that role, the Buffalo Soldiers were instrumental in establishing the territory which would later become New Mexico.
During the 1860’s, it seems there were battles everywhere in the future Land of Enchantment. From conflicts during and after the Civil War, to fighting between Native Americans and settlers. It wasn’t until August 1866 when eight black companies of the 125th Infantry marched to New Mexico that it seemed some sense of order and peace might be restored to the area.
“You can’t underestimate their importance, and they did this in the face of hostility from a lot of high ranking officers who didn’t think that they could kind of pull their weight, but they did,” said Paul Hutton, Distinguished Professor from the University of New Mexico History Department.
Hutton said the men, who were said to have been nicknamed Buffalo Soldiers by the Native Americans because of appearance and much fortitude, demonstrated their resilience in every job they were tasked with doing.
“Much of the infrastructure in New Mexico was dependent upon military spending,” added Hutton. “Because it was the Buffalo Soldiers who came west in 1866 who built a string of forts. Especially throughout southern New Mexico that were going to guard the roads, and you had of course the Camino Real that came up the Rio Grande, and this of course was a major route of trade, and then you had the Santa Fe Trail and all of these routes had to be protected, not just from Native Americans, but also from outlaws. New Mexico was simply overrun with outlawry in the 1870’s.”
There was also the matter of having to help in settling conflicts associated with outlaws like Billy The Kid in the Lincoln County War. It was this role of proving their bravery in battle which not only set the stage for settling New Mexico, but gaining their due respect and way for future African Americans in the armed forces.
“With the hindsight of history, what an important part they were,” said Hutton. “Not only in the development of the west but in moving forward with African American rights, because by fighting for their country, by dying for their country they proved that their blood was as red as any other American blood and so they really paved the way for the fully integrated military that we have today, and they did so in the face of intense racism.”