July 28th is Buffalo Soldiers Day. Officially recognized in 1992, it commemorates the 1866 formation of six cavalry and infantry regiments of African American soldiers after Congress passed the Army Organization Act. Buffalo Soldiers were African American soldiers who served on the Western Frontier after the Civil War. The name Buffalo Soldiers is said to have two different origins. The first is that the Native Americans called them that, as the soldiers’ dark curly hair resembled the fur of a buffalo. Another is that they fought so valiantly that Native Americans revered them as they did the buffalo. The Buffalo Soldiers fought in battles to defend American Westward Expansion, built roads, acted as National Park rangers, and also fought in both world wars and other conflicts.
Lessons about the Buffalo Soldiers can be incorporated into many units, including Westward Expansion, national parks, monuments, music, primary sources, race relations, and African American history, to name a few. Some state and military historical organizations offer information and lessons related to the Buffalo Soldiers, like those in Texas, Idaho, New Mexico, and Kansas. In addition, there are a variety of classroom resources available for a variety of grade levels, like documentaries for older students, photo galleries, mini-magazines, word searches, and coloring pages for your youngest students.
If you are looking for something out of the box, the National Archives is hosting a crowdsourced project called Buffalo Soldiers Pension Files. The National Archives has approximately 400 pension files of Black soldiers who applied for military pensions after their service in Indian Wars campaigns between 1866 and 1892. The project is a citizen scanning project to digitize these pension files so they’ll be available to everyone through the National Archives’ online catalog. You can also check out some Project-Based Learning ideas based around the Buffalo Soldiers Heritage and Outreach Program, which coordinates and produces living history events for schools and other groups.
African American history is not just for February! Seek out and celebrate stories like those of the Buffalo Soldiers throughout the year. For more ideas, check out previous TeachersFirst blog posts and resources.