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Buffalo Soldiers of Fort Niobrara

A soldier sits on a horse, an old photo, it is black and white
"Buffalo Soldier" of the 9th Cavalry at Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

University of Arizona/Denver Public Library

Who were the Buffalo Soldiers?

African Americans served in the U.S. Military during the Civil War and in many others throughout history like the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War. They were paid only $13 a month, a very small income, yet many African Americans enlisted because it was better pay than in civilian life.

In 1866, after the Civil War, Congress established six all-black regiments of soldiers fight in the "Indian Wars" as part of taking on the Western Frontier. Referring to black cavalry troops by the nickname "Buffalo Soldier" came from the Native Americans, who were reminded of the buffalo that roamed North America when they saw the soldiers' dark, curly hair and fierce nature of fighting.

Between 1891 and 1913 in California, Buffalo Soldiers served as some of the first care takers of the national parks.

In 1951, the last Buffalo Soldier regiments in service was disbanded, concluding over 85 years of distinguished service as part of the U.S. Army and great American History.

The National Parks Service has collected Buffalo Soldier History and stories for you to keep exploring online or in our parks.

in black and white, across a river, the barracks and command buildings of a military fort can be seen on a prairie
Historic Fort Niobrara out side of Valentine, Nebraska, was home to Buffalo Soldiers in the late 1800's.

NPS Photo

Fort Niobrara

The Treaty of 1868 created the Great Sioux Reservation north of the Niobrara River in Dakota Territory. Over the next two decades, the U.S. Army proceeded to surround the reservation with a ring of forts to monitor the tribes.

Construction of Fort Niobrara, the southernmost of the forts, began in 1879 on a well-watered, well timbered site selected by General George Crook. This was close enough to monitor the Sioux, but far enough to avoid accidental friction between the tribes and the troops. The soldiers constructed a steam-powered sawmill to cut lumber and made adobe bricks. The fort was laid out in a standard military pattern with barracks and stables on one side of the parade ground and officers’ quarters on the other.

The soldier's daily routines were relatively peaceful; soldiers drilled, worked at construction and maintenance of the fort itself and shipped beef and supplies to the Rosebud Reservation. The fort served as an embarkation point for troops responding to the Pine Ridge outbreak, which culminated in the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890. Among the units stationed at Fort Niobrara were the African American troops of the 9th Cavalry.

The fort was closed in 1906, but served as a remount station until 1911. Today, all that remain of Fort Niobrara are a hay barn, some old foundations, the ringing memories of bugle calls, and the thunder of hooves that once rode through the prairie winds.

Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge

In 1912, the military fort's grounds were designated as a National Wildlife Refuge for the purpose of protecting and conserving the fish, wildlife, plants and habitats that remained when the soldiers moved on.

To this day, the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge provides a home for bison, elk, prairie dogs, and other species who call the Nebraska Sandhills home. The Niobrara River runs through the Fort Niobrara's six ecosystems and is fed by the numerous waterfalls that flow from the refuge's springs. The soldiers who once called the Niobrara River Valley home and trampled untrod paths to the riverside paved paths for today's visitors to experience the Niobrara River and Fort Niobrara Refuge's unrepeatable combinations of land and water.

A Snapshot into the Past:

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    Last updated: January 13, 2021