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Henry Adams Township Graham County Kansas, 1882
Over seven hundred Black people farmers, ranchers, merchants, and craftsmen lived in the Great Solomon Valley, and it seemed to Cara that every single one of them had turned out this day for the parade honoring the Tenth Cavalry. Making her way through the jostling throng was almost as difficult as it had been to keep her students under control that morning. The children were so excited about the festivities that they'd been impossible to teach, and Cara was pleased just to have been able to keep them inside the schoolhouse until dismissal time.
She grimaced, then laughed at herself. She wasn't quite old enough yet that she could play the disapproving spinster schoolteacher. But she did wish that the town elders could have spent just a little of the money they'd put into refurbishing Main Street toward purchasing urgently needed books, pencils, paper, and maps for her students. Still, secretly, she did share the wish to have Henry Adams Township steal some of the thunder of the rival town of Nicodemus by doing a bang-up job hosting this event.
Nicodemus was famous as the largest Black settlement in the country, it put its smaller sister towns in the shade, and Black people in Graham, Marion, Barton, and Rice counties, as well as those in the colony down in Cherokee County, established by Benjamin "Pap" Singleton and his Tennessee followers, justifiably wanted their day in the sun. And a fine day in the sun this was, too.
The succulent scents of whole pigs and sides of beef cooking on spitsover the newly dug pit behind Handy Reed's blacksmith shop were making Cara's mouth water. Red, white, and blue bunting proudly draped the buildings; American flags flew on poles erected at six-foot intervals along the new, half-mile length of wooden walk. All the colors and movement infected Cara with a sense of gaiety. And the fresh-baked pies, cookies, cakes, and lemonade being sold at a booth by the ladies of the A.M.E. Church made her look forward to a fattening treat at the end of the day.
Pushing her way through the throng, Cara at last was able to see her boardinghouse, such a short distance from school and so dearly visible at the end of the street on any normal day. Finally, she made it to the crowded front yard. The owner and operator of the house, Sophie Reynolds, had foregone the parade activities in order to personally supervise preparations for the dinner that night in honor of the Tenth. Cara sighed. In the two years she'd lived in this house, every good thing she'd heard about Sophie from the wagon drivers who'd brought her to the Valley had been confirmed. Known for her good sense, her good heart, and the quality of her establishment, Sophie had won over Cara at once and become a friend; before half a year had passed, Cara had begun to think of Sophie as a second mother.
Suddenly shouts and cheers erupted from the crowd at the far end of the street, and the people around Cara echoed their cries. This was the moment everyone had been waiting for the arrival of the twenty-four Black members of the Tenth Cavalry. Eager to see them, the men and women in front of the boardinghouse surged forward, capturing Cara in their midst like a fly in amber and sweeping her along with them.
The cheers greeting the mounted troopers slowly making their way along the street deafened Cara. People on the route fell in behind them, tears of pride shining in their eyes. They knew from their own struggles what these men and their brethren in the Ninth Cavalry must have faced as they tried to prove themselves worthy of wearing the uniform of United States Cavalry.
As Cara had told her class that morning, the men of the Tenth were also known as Buffalo Soldiers, a term of honor bestowed upon them by the Plains Indians. These men were legendary. Despite being given used and worn-out equipment, harsh punishments, and an area to patrol and enforce that stretched from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande, the men had succeeded. They were highly decorated and were known as fierce fighters. They had the fewest court-martials and the lowest desertion rate in the frontier army. Yes, the people of the Valley were proud; the Black soldiers were their own, and outstanding examples of what members ofthe race could achieve in the face of limited opportunity and hardship.
Cara smiled, watching some of the women, dressed in their Sunday best, shower the uniformed men with streamers, flowers, and hair ribbons. A few of the women, caught up in the excitement, ran up to the horses to hand the men wildflowers. Mae Dexter, daughter of the mayor, offered a bunch to the handsome mustached man leading the column. He graciously took the bloom, raised them to his lips, and handed them back with a dazzling smile. Cara seriously thought the girl would swoon right there in the road.
"Isn't he gorgeous?" a woman exclaimed. Cara had to agree. He sat the big horse with ease, and the he'd brought Mae's blooms to his mustached lips a shock of recognition tore through Cara. It couldn't be! Chase Jefferson! The man she'd been waxing over was none other than the soldier with whom she'd had the run-in two years back?A stunned Cara watched Jefferson bring his men to a halt beneath the banner tied across Main Street that read: WELCOME TENTH CAVALRY. Cara's students had contributed the banner, and the letters were a bit lopsided.