By John P. Langellier
Many African Americans made great sacrifices while fighting for freedom in the Civil War that tore the United States asunder between 1861 and 1865. Nearly 180,000 blacks served the Union cause in uniform during that conflict. In 1866, shortly after the end of this national tragedy, African Americans, for the first time, were allowed to enlist in the regular army during peacetime.1 These black regulars would be assigned to the American West chiefly from Kansas to Texas, but not until the spring of 1885 did black troops report for duty in today’s Arizona.
In that year the Tenth U.S. Cavalry regiment “moved from the Department of Texas to the Department of Arizona, marching along the Southern Pacific Railroad.” As the column took up its march from Fort Davis it comprised eleven troops and the band. At Camp Rice Troop I joined the entourage. From that point to Bowie Station, Arizona, the twelve troops continued together in a rare reunion because the regiment had not been together since its establishment after the Civil War. Then, the short-lived gathering ended at Bowie where “the troops separated to go to their several stations.” 2
So it was that regimental headquarters under Colonel Benjamin F. Grierson, a Civil War veteran best known for his raid deep into the South, reported to Fort Whipple outside of Prescott. With Grierson and his headquarters contingent, came both the regimental band and Company B, the three contingents totaling about 92 non-commissioned officers, troopers, and bandsmen. The other elements of the Tenth fanned out to Fort Apache (Company A), Fort Thomas (Companies C, F, and G), Fort Grant (Companies D, E, H, K. and L), and Fort Verde (Companies I and M). 3
At this time few residents of Arizona Territory— as was the case with most nineteenth century Americans— knew little about the valuable service performed by these stalwart blacks in Army Blue. As yet the “buffalo soldiers” were far from household names.4 In fact early references about the Tenth Cavalry in the Prescott press possibly were some of the first references to black troopers read by a majority of white residents of the area. For example, the initial coverage in the Weekly Arizona Miner noted the Tenth Cavalry had reached Arizona and was heading to several garrisons in throughout the territory. This inaugural article carried an unimpressive opinion that, “The Apaches do not fear the colored troops but have a contempt for them. They have received this idea from the New Mexico Indians. . .” 5
Soon after the African Americans took up their post at Fort Whipple, however, Prescott residents were able to form their own views about their new military neighbors. These conclusions were more favorable than the Miner’s preliminary announcement, which had been based on second hand information. The paper now indicated “the unenviable reputation given the Tenth Cavalry by certain journals in Southern New Mexico and Arizona” were unfounded. In fact, these cavalrymen showed “no disposition to rival the legendary ‘Bloody Fourteenth’” Infantry, a unit manned by white soldiers who had garrisoned Whipple previously. Instead, the troopers of the Tenth Cavalry were “well behaved and as soldierly looking set of men that have ever been stationed at Whipple.”6 Indeed, one of Prescott’s few African American residents was so inspired about the announcement of the Tenth Cavalry’s posting at Fort Whipple that supposedly “as soon as the ‘colored sojers’ arrived he was ‘qwine to jine de army.”7
Perhaps the town’s saloonkeepers were not as impressed with the black soldiers as was the local African American townsman who intended to enlist. The reason for this possible disappointment among the town’s bar owners was based on a contention that the Tenth’s troopers spent “less money on ardent spirits than any other troops stationed at Whipple.” Instead, allegedly: “Their special weakness” was “swell clothing in the ultra dude design.”8 Given the fact that most of the men previously had served in relative isolation in Texas for a long period the easy access to fashionable civilian attire for off duty wear probably was a welcome luxury.
Another motivation for acquiring this new sartorial splendor may have stemmed from a desire to please the women who were the wives, daughters, laundresses, and others of the fairer sex who would be joining the cavalrymen at their new assignments in Arizona. Among these ladies four arrived in advance of the troopers on May 14 via stagecoach. They were Mrs. George Washington Lafayette Johnson, Mrs. John Quincy Adams Jefferson, Mrs. Patrick Henry Andrew Jackson, and Mrs. George Trumbull Buchanan.9
The status of women in the U.S. Army at this time was precarious at best. For example, starting in 1802 laundresses were permitted to perform washing services for troops and eventually were given transportation to new posts. These women often were married to soldiers even though military customs of the mid to late nineteenth century were such as to discourage married men in the ranks. By 1878 the practice of transporting laundresses to new posts with the company they served began to phase out and around 1883 supposedly had ceased. Thus the fact that the four women came to Prescott on the stagecoach was in keeping with the revised practice of transporting laundresses and other civilian women.10
While the news of these women brought brief a wry remark in the press about their husbands’ names, one history of the black soldier succinctly explained the importance of “Taking a hero’s name…in the days after emancipation.” For instance, enlistments of African American men between September 1866 and August 1867 included “twenty-four men named George Washington.” In fact, “Every president—even Martin Van Buren—had a namesake among the black regulars.”11
In the case of Mrs. George Washington Lafayette Johnson, her husband probably was Corporal George Johnson of the regimental band, which “Papers of Southern Arizona” praised for their talent.12 Indeed, these martial music makers had developed an impressive library of musical scores and gained a reputation for excellence. Little wonder given the fact that the Tenth Calvary’s colonel in early life had been a music teacher.13
Prescottonians quickly had the opportunity to judge for themselves about the quality of these bandsmen. Just over a week after the Tenth Cavalry arrived they were called on to lead the Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day) observances “to decorate the graves of Comrades who lie buried in the Citizens, Masonic, and Military [Fort Whipple] cemeteries” under a grand marshal who was one of their regiment’s young officers, Troop B’s commander Robert Geno Smither.14 The band headed the procession, and after the ceremonies in the Courthouse Plaza returned to the fort in a wagon. Unfortunately a wheel broke along the way injuring some of the bandsmen“—one so severely as to cause a doubt to whether he would recover or not.”15
But this mishap did not deter local interest in the band. One of the community’s militia companies lost little time in securing the group to perform for their benefit. In early June residents were informed of “the Promenade Concert given by the 10th Cavalry Band, under the auspices of the Prescott Rifles, at the new City Hall. . .” Tickets were available for gentlemen and ladies at $2.0016 Such popular performances prompted the Miner to exhort: “The excellent band of the Tenth Cavalry would confer a favor on the citizens of Prescott by following the example of the musicians of the Third [Cavalry] by giving a weekly concert in the Court House Plaza.”17
It is not clear from existing sources whether this suggestion was acted on, although near the end of their stay at Fort Whipple the band evidently did play for Company B before the troopers departed for San Carlos in May 1886. To commemorate this event: “The colored soldiers gave a farewell dance at Whipple last evening prior to taking their departure today.”18 Moreover, as part of this farewell the regimental adjutant Lieutenant Samuel Woodward “had the 10th Cavalry band out today for mounted drill with their instruments and favored our town with a general serenade. The entire band was mounted on white steeds and presented a fine appearance, while they discoursed sweet strains of music.”19 And again later in the month the musicians of the Tenth did the honors at Decoration Day observances for 1886 much as they had the prior year all under the baton of English-born Chief Musician Charles Goldsbury who had risen to head the regimental band nearly three years after his enlistment in the Tenth Cavalry on May 3, 1883.20
While Goldsbury’s name did not appear in the Prescott press, occasional references to black soldiers could be found in print. In one instance a report about a trooper named Jones indicated that he had inflicted a mortal wound on himself, but an addendum in the same issue of the Miner stated that the death may have been the result of a stabbing by a Chinese man.21 Regrettably, no follow up appeared providing accurate details about this violent incident. Another similar article told of a “colored soldier, belonging to the tenth cavalry [who] attempted suicide at the regimental corral at Whipple this afternoon, by shooting himself through the head with a carbine.” Although the unnamed trooper lost a portion of his nose, “he did not inflict serious injury.”22
Of course, not all deaths or wounds occurred at Fort Whipple. An intriguing story ran in the January 9, 1886, Arizona Journal Miner about a Tenth Cavalry detachment from another Arizona fort, which alleged that two black soldiers had been killed. Supposedly, “On the evening of the 3d instant, just after a detachment of Troop C, 10th cavalry, had lett (sic) camp at Cave Cañon, a scout, who was accompanying the soldiers, fired on and killed the sergeant of the company and one soldier. . .” 23 No reason was given for this purported incident, although a subsequent reference contended the scouts from this patrol were dismissed, and their leaders were to stand court martial for the part they supposedly played in the affair.24
Black soldiers from other garrisons in Arizona likewise received mention such as a pair of troopers who were granted leave. One of these men was Sergeant L.M. Smith of Troop E, Tenth Cavalry who was permitted by the commanding officer at Fort Grant to receive a furlough for two months “to take effect after his re-enlistment” and the other cavalryman was Sergeant Joseph Jenkins from Troop A who likewise was permitted to take a two month furlough by the commanding officer of Fort Apache.25
Just as the papers occasionally referenced black troopers in their pages, their white officers also were the subjects of several short accounts. Many of these terse descriptions had to do with Colonel Grierson such as the Prescott’s Weekly Courier indication that he was permitted to purchase a horse from a public source.26 Later, speculation about his promotion was a matter of interest in that: “Barring casualties in the Army during the next ten years” Grierson should become a brigadier general on February 14, 1888 with the retirement of Alfred Terry.27 Later the paper indicated “Colonel Grierson, post commander at Whipple,” was thought “to be the senior Colonel of Cavalry, and in case promotions to Brigadier General are made from this branch of service will receive promotion to fill vacancies shortly to occur.”28
Predictions of advancement proved premature, but information about some of Grierson’s other activities were accurate such as his departure for “Fort Bayard, New Mexico, as president of a court martial to convene there shortly to try an officer.”29 Grierson soon returned from court martial duty, and shortly thereafter departed the Prescott area once again.30 In this instance the colonel took leave to visit his business in the vicinity of Fort Davis, Texas where he had cattle and land.31
When he came back to Arizona Grierson received orders calling him “to Fort Mojave and other posts in that vicinity as he may deem necessary, to fully investigate the conditions of affairs” in the area relative to unrest among the local Indians. After his investigation he was to return to Whipple.32
Such snippets about Grierson were typical of the reporting about the many other former Union leaders who served in Arizona in post Civil War Arizona. As was news about other white officers in the regiment serving at Fort Whipple likewise a matter of interest from time to time. Examples included Tenth Cavalry First Lieutenant Mason Marion Maxon, the regimental quartermaster, who left Fort Whipple with the regimental veterinary surgeon on a temporary assignment. The two men proceeded to Tucson to inspect cavalry horses and eventually purchased suitable stock.33
In May 1886, when it came time for Company B to depart for a new posting at San Carlos Agency, one of the newspapers lamented the loss of the troop’s young Lieutenant James Hughes, who was going to be missed by “Prescott society” because he was “a very popular young officer. . .”34 Two brother officers from Company B would join Hughes in the reassignment.35
In due course the remainder of the Tenth Cavalry regiment’s officers and enlisted men would depart the Prescott area as was indicated by “a rumor…that orders have been issued for the removal of the regimental headquarters of the 10th Cavalry to Ft. Thomas. A Troop of the 2d Cavalry or a company of the 8th Infantry is expected to be ordered to Whipple.”36 In fact, by June 1886 the black cavalrymen and their officers including Grierson would quit Fort Whipple for other stations. In so doing, their short-lived presence at that post would close another page in the area’s colorful history.
1 William A. Gladstone, United States Colored Troops 1863-1867 (Gettysburg, Thomas Publications, 1990), 9-11; and William A. Dobak and Thomas D. Phillips, The Black Regulars 1866-1898 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001), xi and 3.
2 E.L.N. Glass, The History of the Tenth Cavalry (Ft. Collins, CO: Old Army Press, 1972), 24.
3 Glass, The History of the Tenth Cavalry, 24. Besides the garrisons listed above elements of the regiment also would report to Camp San Carlos on the reservation of that name, and “a series of semi permanent Tenth Cavalry camps…established near springs and passes within the major north-south trending valleys of southern Arizona.” These outposts included Ash Spring, Bonita Cañon, Pinery Canyon, and Tonto Creek. Martyn D. Tagg, The Camp at Bonita Cañon: A Buffalo Soldier Camp in Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona (Tucson: Western Archeological and Conservation Center, 1987), 36 and 39.
4 Supposedly soon after the formation of the regiments manned by black soldiers American Indians bestowed the name “buffalo soldiers” on their black adversaries. There are many versions of the origins and meanings of this term that appeared relatively early in print in such periodicals as the Sidney, Nebraska Telegraph (September 21, 1878); “The Comanches and the Peace Policy”, The Nation 17, no. 245 (October 30, 1873): 286-7; Army and Navy Journal (November 8, 1873), (April 3, 1880), and (August 25, 1894); and most notably the headline of the article written and illustrated by Fredric Remington, “A Scout With the Buffalo Soldiers”, The Century A Popular Quarterly 27, no. 6 (April 1889): 889. Recent scholarship, however, indicates while white periodicals “used the phrase to refer to any black soldier”, African American enlisted men of the Victorian era considered ‘buffalo’ was an insult….” Dobak and Phillips, The Black Regulars 1866-1898, xvii, 231, and 287. Another prominent source underscored a similar perspective, stating: “There is no contemporaneous evidence that the soldiers themselves actually used or even referred to this title…. any claims concerning their views of the usage remained unproved suppositions.” Frank N. Schubert, comp. and ed., Voices of the Buffalo Soldier (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003), 47 and 261.
5 “The Colored Troops”, Weekly Arizona Miner 21, no. 9 (May 8, 1885): 4.
6 Ibid. 21, no.11 (May 22, 1885): 3. As noted in, Dobak and Phillips, The Black Regulars 1866-1898, 226: “Merchants, saloonkeepers, and owners of gambling halls and brothels usually ignored a soldier’s race.” Simply put: “The color of a man’s money was more important than that of his skin….”
7 Prescott Weekly Courier 4, no. 20 (May 21, 1885): 4. The troopers had a number of mercantile establishments to choose from when selecting their civilian finery including J.W. Wilson & Co., which purportedly was: “The cheapest place in town to buy clothing….” Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner 22, no. 14 (June 30, 1886): 3.
8 Ibid. 21, no 13, (June 5, 1885): 3.
9 Ibid. 21, no. 9 (May 15, 1885): 3.
10 Patricia Y. Stallard, Glittering Misery: Dependents of the Indian Fighting Army (Fort Collins, CO: Old Army Press, 1979), 53-65.
11 Dobak and Phillips, The Black Regulars 1866-1898, 335 n14.
12 Prescott Weekly Courier 4, no. 20 (May 21, 1885): 4. Frank N. Schubert, comp. and ed., On The Trail of the Buffalo Soldier: Biographies of African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1886-1917 (Wilmington, DL: Scholarly resources Inc., 1995), 232.
13 John P. Langellier, Men A-Marching: The African American Soldier in the American West, 1866-1896 (Springfield, PA: Steven Wright Publishing, 1995), 33. Second Lieutenant Robert Smither may well have understood his regimental commander’s interest in music when he sought permission to recruit musicians from the Lexington, Kentucky area so they could report directly to the Tenth Cavalry rather than risk the men being assigned to the Ninth Cavalry. Dobak and Phillips, The Black Regulars 1866-1898, 11 and 155.
14 Prescott Weekly Courier 4, no. 21 (May 30, 1885): 3. “Observances of the national holiday passed pleasantly” according to the Weekly Courier, as “hundreds of spectators saw, from sidewalks, balconies and other places, a procession as the people of no other frontier town ever witnessed.” And as indicated in the previous edition of the paper Captain Smither served as grand marshal while the Tenth Cavalry band followed by their comrades of Troop B and Company F, First U.S. Infantry Decoration Day”, ibid, 4, no. 22 (June 5, 1885): 4. Altshuler, Cavalry Yellow & Infantry Blue, 331.
15 Weekly Arizona Miner 21, no. 13 (June 5, 1885): 4.
16 Ibid.: 3.
17 Ibid 21 no. 18 (July 17, 1885): 3. Such remarks were typical in that “For many officers and men, especially 29 for Colonel Grierson…, the band was a vital part of the regiment.” Among other things: “The regimental band usually performed at least twice a day; at ‘Guard Mount,’ when the new guard formed to relieve the men of the previous day’s guard; and at ‘Retreat,’ the evening dress parade during which colors were lowered. Bands usually offered open-air concerts once or twice a week as weather permitted…. Concerts often drew a crowd of civilian listeners from nearby towns. Bandsmen, on their own time, also played at dances.” Thus, “The regimental bands were in great demand among western towns, particularly on national holidays.” In other words, to local communities such bands also were “looked to as a source of entertainment.” Dobak and Phillips, The Black Regulars 1866-1898, 11,155, and 226.
18 Weekly Arizona Miner 23, no. 112 (May 7, 1886): 3.
19 Ibid. This article concluded with a mention that: “The troop of the Tenth stationed at Whipple will leave to-morrow for San Carlos, but the band will remain here for the present. Major Woodward, who is the adjutant of the regiment, will remain until orders are issued for a change in the regimental headquarters.”
20 Ibid. 22, no. 9 (May 31, 1886): 2. Biographical information related to Chief Musician Goldsbury was taken from, Roster of Non-Commissioned Officers of the tenth U.S. Cavalry, with Some Regimental Reminiscences, Appendixes, Etc., connected with the Early History of the Regiment (n.p.: n.d., 1897), 3. Another contemporary member of the band who served alongside Goldsbury was Texas born 5’9” Private Henry C. Jones whose varied military record also indicated service in the Twenty-firth U.S. Infantry and the U.S. Army Hospital Corps, as well as duty with the Tenth Cavalry in Cuba during the Spanish American War. In many respect his long years of service (at least twenty) and transfers to other units within the U.S. Army in and out of the Tenth Cavalry were characteristic of many of the rank and file black regulars in the lat nineteenth century. Schubert, On The Trail of the Buffalo Soldier, 244.
21 “Killed Himself”, Weekly Arizona Miner 21, no. 20 (August 7, 1885): 4.
22 Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner 23, no. 62 (March 8, 1886): 3.
23 Ibid. 21, no. 275 (January 9, 1886): 2.
24 Ibid. 21 no. 279 (January 15, 1886): 3.
25 Prescott Weekly Courier 4, no. 21 (May 30, 1885): 4. As Dobak and Phillips, The Black Regulars 1866-1898, 60, indicates: “In order to receive credit for continuous service, and a dollar-a-month additional pay that went with each reenlistment, a soldier had to sign on within thirty days of his discharge.” Further, veterans typically “took advantage of this month-long period to go home, visit family and friends, and sample civilian life before they made up their minds to enlist again.” This possibly was the case with the two sergeants mentioned in the Weekly Courier.
26 Prescott Weekly Courier 4, no. 21 (May 30, 1885): 4. The paper also announced that the garrison had just been visited by the paymaster and received their pay.
27 Weekly Arizona Miner 21, no. 19 (July 31, 1885): 3.
28 Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner 23, no. 47 (February 15, 1886): Grierson did not receive his star until April 5, 1890, and only briefly enjoyed his status as a brigadier general in that he retired on July 8, 1890. After a long illness he died on August 31, 1911. Altshuler, Cavalry Yellow & Infantry Blue, 146-7
29 Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner 23, no. 112 (May 7, 1886): 3.
30 Ibid. 22, no. 10 (June 2, 1886): 3.
31 Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner 22, no. 11 (June 9, 1886): 3. As noted in Dobak and Phillips, The Black Regulars 1866-1898, 94-5, the long posting to Texas drew criticism from at least one commanding general of that department who “remarked that the 10th Cavalry ‘had become localized to such an extent’ during its stay” in that area “that its discipline and morale had been impaired—probably a reference to Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson’s land and cattle interest in the neighborhood of Fort Davis.
32 Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner 22, no. 13 (June 23, 1886): 3.
33 Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner 22, no. 11 (June 9, 1886): 3. Maxon eventually “examined and accepted… over thirty head—offered for sale for cavalry purposes by Marion McCann.” Ibid. 22, no. 13 (June 23, 1886): 3.
34 Ibid. 23, no. 112 (May 7, 1886): 3.
35 Returns for US Army Posts, 1800-1916, Ft. Whipple, Arizona (May 8, 1886) Microcopy 617, Roll 1426, indicated “Troop ‘B’ 10” Cavalry Capt R.G.S Smither commanding left Post at 8 o’clock a.m. May 8” 86 en route for San Carlos Agency” as ordered by the Department of Arizona’s commanding general. According to Arizona Journal Miner 23, no. 113 (May 8, 1886): 3, “Troop B, 10th Cavalry, Captain [Robert] Smither, and Lieutenant [Thaddeus] Jones and [James] Hughes left Whipple this morning at 8 o’clock for San Carlos.” Smither departed separately from his troop according to Ibid. 23, no. 113 (May 8, 1886): 3, which stated: “Captain Smither will leave Whipple on the stage tomorrow morning, and join his troop at Big Bug.”
36 Arizona Journal Miner 23, no. 124 (May 21, 1886): 3