This athletic field is named in honor of the men of the Ninth and Tenth U.S. Cavalry Regiments, detachments of which once served at West Point. These Regiments of Horse Cavalry were first created by the Army Reorganization Act of 1866, and their early service was on the western frontier. They were composed of Black American troops, who were called “Buffalo Soldiers” by their Indian foes, a sobriquet they adopted with pride.
During the Indian Wars of 1867 – 1891 the Ninth and Tenth Cavalries participated in eleven campaigns against hostile Indians, among whom were included Kiowas, Comanches, Utes, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kickapoos, Apaches, and Sioux. They were engaged in over 125 recorded battles and skirmishes, most of them in Texas and New Mexico, but also including actions in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Idaho, Montana, and Mexico. Some were major engagements, but many were detachment actions in which noncommissioned officers held the command, and there were many examples of hardships withstood and heroism displayed. Other duties included guarding the border, apprehending bandits and cattle thieves, and maintaining order in sparsely settled and unruly territory.
In the War with Spain both Regiments were in the Cuban Expedition of 1898. The Tenth made the frontal attack in the opening engagement at Las Guasimas, and both regiments participated in the attack on San Juan Hill, the Tenth extricating the Rough Riders from difficulty and then joining with them in the assault on the blockhouse. Both regiments were also engaged in the Siege of Santiago.
Subsequently the Ninth Cavalry was sent to the Philippines, where it saw action in numerous skirmishes from 1900 to 1902 during the insurrection. The Tenth eventually returned to border duty in the southwest, and accompanied General Pershing on the Punitive Expedition of 1916, being engaged at Agua caliente, Parral, and Carrizal.
In 1907 a detachment of the Ninth Cavalry was assigned to West Point in support of cadet riding instruction and mounted drill, which was conducted on the ground now occupied by the athletic field and formerly known as the Cavalry Plain. In 1931 it was replaced by the 2nd Squadron of the Tenth Cavalry, which remained at West Point until inactivation in 1946.
To the left is a picture of some retired Buffaloes during the West Point Buffalo Soldier Field dedication in 1973.
Left to right:
2) Edward Smith
4) Sanders Matthews
5) Alpheus Jones
6) William Banks
7) Robert P. Johnson
8) James Gaines
9) Leon Tatum
If anyone can identify the "Unknown" Buffalo Soldiers, please send us the information, or contact any of the local people who are working on this site.
Lt. Colonel John Bigelow Junior, the eldest son of John and Jane Bigelow, who lived at "The Squirrels" on Main Street, attended West Point and graduated with the class of 1877. One of his classmates was Henry O. Flipper, the first African American to graduate from the USMA. Despite his father's strong abolitionist views, Bigelow had spent a good deal of his childhood in Europe and was not really aware of the degree of racism that existed in institutions like West Point until he witnessed what was done to Cadet Flipper. His first assignment in 1877 was to report to West Texas, to Company B, 9th Cavalry Division, one of the two regiments of "Negro Troops" which were raised for cavalry service on the frontier. There Bigelow learned to become a real cavalry trooper. He and his troops participated in the Apache Wars, notably serving in the Battle of Tularosa. In 1882 Bigelow was transferred to the 10th Cavalry, where he later wrote a number of historical sketches of the Buffalo Soldiers which are still used as a reference today. In 1885 all twelve regiments of the 10th Cavalry came together and headed to their new headquarters at Fort Apache, in the Arizona Territory. One assignment was the hunt for Geronimo, and although Bigelow didn't have the honor of catching the outlaw, he and his troops did escort Geronimo to the train where he was taken to be put on trial. It was at about this time that Bigelow met and befriended a young artist and Yale classmate of his brother Poultney. Frederic Remington had been sent by Harper's Magazine to cover and illustrate stories of the Indian Wars. Remington & Bigelow became fast friends and Remington often used his friend as a model in many of his western sketches. Both men also submitted work which was published in Poultney Bigelow's magazine, "Outing". Coincidentally, another Highland Falls native and next door neighbor of the Bigelows, a young Captain named Charles F. Roe, was also sketched and painted a number of times by Frederic Remington for use in his stories about the wild west.
In 1898, Captain Bigelow and Troop D, of the 10th Cavalry, landed in Cuba. They were in the Second Division, which included the First Volunteer Cavalry, led by Lt. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. The Buffalo Soldiers fought valiantly in the Battle of Guacimas first, followed by the Battle of El Caney. After that came the famous Battle of San Juan Hill. Positioned at the center of the hill without any direct orders to act, Bigelow led his troops up the steep hill toward the heights through heavy gunfire. Bigelow was shot once but kept going until, about halfway up the hill, he was hit three more times, causing him to fall from his horse. Several Bufflo Soldiers reported that Captain Bigelow encouraged them to leave him there and keep going up the hill. They did just that, which allowed them to provide cover fire for those attacking next to them. First Lieutenant John J. Pershing, a graduate of Colonel Caleb Huse's "Highland Falls Academy" as well as West Point, who was at that time quartermaster of the 10th Cavalry, took over command of D Troop after reaching to top of San Juan Hill. Bigelow was awarded a Silver Star and offered a colonelcy in the Volunteer Regiment, but he turned it down to stay with his Buffalo Soldiers in the 10th. This was apparently taken as a snub by some of his military superiors. This perception and Bigelow's unwavering support for black soldiers almost certainly played a part in the arc of his later career. After the war, Bigelow and a number of his Buffalo Soldiers were assigned to Yosemite National Park in 1903, where they acted as military stewards, the first model for park rangers. He eventually realized that his perceived snubbing of Teddy Roosevelt and his views on racial equality in the military made him a bit of a pariah who would never be given a choice command, and in late 1904 he resigned from the Army. He later taught at MIT and wrote a number of books about military tactics and history. After losing his only son to the First World War, Bigelow lived on until 1936. Although men like John Bigelow Jr. obviously had a much easier time in the army than the Buffalo Soldiers themselves did, I think it's good to remember that there were also some good and decent officers doing their part to further racial equality in the military.
A note to all supporters:
Additional information, photos, and stories are needed for this section of the website. In order to have a more complete dedication, we would also like a listing of all Buffalo Soldiers who live or have lived in Highland Falls and The Town of Highlands. Additional information, photos, and stories are also needed for this section of the website.