The Buffalo Soldier experience at Fort Verde

Re-enactors in Camp Verde this weekend

Companies I and M of the 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers), an all-African American unit, served at Fort Verde from May 1885 to December 1888, long after the Yavapai and Apache had been sent to the San Carlos Reservation. Buffalo Soldiers re-enactors will be at Fort Verde State Historic Park during the Pecan, Wine & Antique Festival on Saturday and Sunday.

Companies I and M of the 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers), an all-African American unit, served at Fort Verde from May 1885 to December 1888, long after the Yavapai and Apache had been sent to the San Carlos Reservation. Buffalo Soldiers re-enactors will be at Fort Verde State Historic Park during the Pecan, Wine & Antique Festival on Saturday and Sunday.

CAMP VERDE - By the mid 1880s, Fort Verde was a relatively quiet post keeping an eye on a place that had not seen a serious engagement for almost a decade.

The fort surgeon, in fact, spent most of his time rummaging around the hills with little or no escort, more interested in the native flora, fauna and antiquities than the Native Americans that were once such a threat.

It was into this tranquil scene that two companies of soldiers from the 10th Cavalry, consisting of 114 enlisted men, 107 serviceable horses, seven less-than-serviceable mounts and five officers arrived on May 20, 1885.

By the time they settled into their new quarters, they too had seen the worst, as well as the better part of the Indian wars.

Organized as a military unit in 1866, the men of the 10th had originally come west to fight the Arapaho, Cheyenne and Comanche on the Great Plains.

More recent to their arrival at Fort Verde they had been assigned to Fort Concho, Texas, where they built roads and strung telegraph wires, when they weren't in New Mexico chasing Apaches.

The 10th was not the sort of unit that was easily missed. In a world where most of those engaged in the war of conquest were either red or white, the men of the 10th were black. Their enemy called them "buffalo soldiers." Some of their own called them worse.

The two companies that arrived at Fort Verde in the spring of 1885, Companies I and M, were commanded by Capt. Theodore Baldwin and four junior officers, 1st Lt. Millard Fillmore Eggleston, 1st Lt. Charles Ayres, 2nd Lt. William Smith and 2nd Lt. Herbert Whipple. All five where white.

With few Indians left to fight, the men of the 10th spent much of their time in garrison, presumably drilling or tending to the post, their equipment and their horses.

Although personal accounts are few, we know that at least one of the men, Pvt. John Watts, found time for romance, marrying Julia Coopaso on Oct. 10, 1885. Dr. Edgar Mearns, the inquisitive and often absent fort surgeon, presided at their wedding.

Post returns show that even with no real threat the men of the 10th were sent to scour the countryside in search of renegades, mostly east into the Tonto Basin and typically covering 20 miles or more in a day.

In August 1887, a detachment from Company I was sent to Fern Springs, a temporary camp on the Mogollon Rim, where the wives and children of military personnel, along with convalescing soldiers, escaped the summer heat.

Shortly after arriving, four privates mutinied and attempted to get the rest of their detachment to desert, after they became dissatisfied with their Army rations. The mutiny was defused when Dr. Mearns purchased supplemental food from a nearby ranch.

The four soldiers, Pvt. Joseph Johnson, Pvt. Solomon Richardson, Pvt. William Johnson and Pvt. James Lee were arrested after returning to Fort Verde and sent to face a court marshal at Fort Whipple.

Joseph Johnson and Richardson were acquitted of the charges and returned to duty. Lee served two months in the stockade, and William Johnson was sent to prison at Ft. Levenworth for five years.

The incident at Fern Springs was by no means typical of the African American soldiers that served in the frontier army. In fact the evidence indicates exactly the opposite.

Army records show that desertion among African American units was considerably lower than in white units. In the 24 years following the Civil War, when nearly one-third of all army recruits deserted, desertion in the all-black units was less than one-tenth the rate of all-white units.

Additionally, during the 20 years in which the "buffalo soldiers" fought on the western frontier, 18 were awarded the Medal of Honor.

One of the most telling accounts of the exemplary conduct of the buffalo soldiers was penned by Western artist Frederic Remington, after he had traveled with the 10th Cavalry on a patrol in the Great Plains.

"They may be tired and they may be hungry but they do not see fit to augment their misery by finding fault with everybody and everything. In this particular they are charming men with whom to serve.

"Officers have often confessed to me that when they are on long and monotonous field service and are troubled with a depression of spirits, they have only to go about the campfires of the negro soldier in order to be amused and cheered by the clever absurdities of men.

"The men look up to a good officer, rely on him in trouble and even seek him for advice in their small personal affairs. In barracks no soldier is allowed by his fellows to "cuss out" a just and respected superior.

"As to their bravery, I am often asked, 'Will they fight?' That is easily answered. They have fought many, many times."

The 10th Cavalry left Fort Verde on Dec. 11, 1888, when they were transferred to Fort Apache.

This weekend at Fort Verde State Historic Park, re-enactors will pay homage to the buffalo soldiers during a special event held on the parade grounds, both Saturday and Sunday.

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