"A cracking good story that rivets the attention, swells one's pride, and opens a historical window into the daily lives of these black heroes and heroines."-Larry R. Jordan, Major General, U.S. Army
"I have enjoyed Tom Willard's Buffalo Soldiers. He is a gifted writer and has an important story."-General William C. Westmoreland, U.S. Army (Retired)
"I became so engrossed that I couldn't put it down. This story of the beginning of an African-American military family, beginning with Sergeant Major Augustus Sharps and his wife, Selona, is the best I have ever read. The book tells how hard life was for the members of the 10th Cavalry and their families. No one could have written it better than Tom Willard."-CSM Leo B. Smith, U.S. Army (Retired), Executive Director & Curator, National Medal of Honor Museum
From the Civil War to Desert Storm, there stretches an unbroken line of dedicated, distinguished service by African-Americans in the United States military. Buffalo Soldiers is a tribute to the bravery, honor, and sacrifice of these black American fighting men.
Sergeant Major Augustus Sharps of the 10th Cavalry and other former slaves had proven that they could fight valiantly for their freedom, but in the West they were to fight for the freedom and security of white settlers who often despised them. The Cheyenne thought the hair of this new kind of soldier resembled buffalo hides, and the men on the 9th and 10th Cavalry became known as "buffalo soldiers."
"I [am] a direct descendant of those Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen and all the black men and women who have served the nation in uniform. I will never forget my debt to them."-General Colin L. Powell, former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Howard University Commencement, 1994
About the Author
Tom Willard, born into a military family, quit high school to join the army and served as a paratrooper and combat medic in Vietnam. He was wounded in action and decorated with the Bronze Star with "V" device for valor, and the Purple Heart, among other medals. He is a University of North Dakota graduate who has lived in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
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By Willard, Tom
Forge BooksCopyright © 1997 Willard, Tom
All right reserved.
In January 1869, the major problems standing in the way of the Kansas Pacific Railroad were the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa nations. Which was, ostensibly, why regiments of the 7th and 10th cavalries were assigned to the western frontier: to protect the railroad and railroad work crews and freight companies, as well as the stage lines running east and west. However, that was not the true purpose of the regiments' deployment: The true purpose was to eradicate the four Indian nations living in that region under the auspices of the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1866.
The Medicine Lodge Treaty granted certain areas of the plains to the four tribes, and promised that those lands would not be trespassed upon by white settlers or buffalo hunters.
Which was not the case is afternoon. Heavy-caliber rifle fire broke the silence on the plains every twenty seconds, the time Trooper Darcy Gibbs, H Troop, 10th Cavalry, figured it took the buffalo hunter in the distance to reload, aim, and fire.
Trooper Gibbs, a Buffalo Soldier as the plains Indians had named the Colored cavalry troops, was on patrol northwest of Fort Wallace with orders to warn settlers and buffalo hunters that the Cheyenne were raiding the work camps along the Smoky River line of the Kansas Pacific Railroad.
Gibbs watched as another buffalo dropped to the frozen plains. "Pretty good shootin', Sarge." Gibbs sat back in hissaddle, chewing on a twig, watching Sergeant Moss Liberty study the situation through a telescope.
Liberty sat astride his horse, the reins held tight in his gloved hands. He had sat there for nearly ten minutes, giving careful thought to his next move--if there was to be a move. Liberty was not a man of indecision, but at thirty-five he knew there was a time to exercise patience. There had been a time in his life when he had had to wait to be told what to do; that had been required of him, as a matter of fact.
At that time he'd been a slave in Tennessee.
Liberty had escaped from bondage in 1852, making his way north by following the Big Dipper, which the slaves called the Freedom Cup. He had traveled at night, sleeping by day in the trees to prevent discovery, until he swam the Ohio River near Owensboro, Kentucky, and came ashore to freedom in Indiana. That was sixteen years ago; ten of those years had been spent in uniform following his enlistment in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. He had fought at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, where he was wounded in the final charge that had cost the life of commander Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Liberty had learned firsthand that the price of liberty was not cheap.
That was why he had chosen Liberty for his last name.
Moss, his first name, had been given to him by his mother because his dark hair was curly and soft like moss growing in a wet, dark place. Now a sergeant of cavalry, he was tall and muscular. A quiet man by nature, in the two years he had served on the plains he had learned to spot trouble and avoid the situations that often drew Colored soldiers into conflict.
He was now confronting one of those difficult situations, one that pulled at his guts as he again extended the telescope and surveyed the hills in the distance.
The plains stretched endlessly toward the west, where the sun was beginning to settle onto the horizon. A light breeze blew easterly, carrying the smell that Liberty knew came only from a slaughter. And a slaughter was what lay before him.
He had been watching the growth of what the buffalo hunters called a "stand," a large cluster of dead buffalo lying at the edge of the herd, a herd that stretched as far as Liberty could see.
"Must be more than fifty in his stand," Liberty said, looking again through the telescope.
"How many in the party?" asked Gibbs.
"A gunner and a skinner."
"Just one gun?"
Liberty nodded but wasn't impressed; he knew it took no particular talent to build a formidable stand, except a steady hand on the trigger and a constant supply of bullets. The other buffalo would not run or move so long as the shot felled the creature; a wounded buffalo would generally start a panic and the herd would bolt. He also knew the buffalo were their own worst enemy because they were predictable. The buffalo always moved into the wind; therefore, the hunter had only to position himself crosswind and begin shooting.
Not that the sight of a large stand bothered him. He knew this area, called the Republican, was prime hunting grounds for the buffalo hunters, who would strip the hide from the animals, then stake the hides for fleshing and drying, marking the snowy landscape with dark splotches, leaving the meat to rot on the prairie, carrion for vultures and other predators.
Predator. The word seemed to have special meaning as Liberty heard the thunder of a Sharps rifle and saw another buffalo drop nearly one quarter of a mile from the gunner, who lay a half mile from Liberty on the top of a knoll.
Liberty examined the hunter again, making certain he was seeing the unbelievable truth.
There were some things a man could not walk away from.
* * *
Augustus Talbot was eighteen years old, tall and wiry, his skin and eyes the color of charcoal. He wore leather breeches that were coated with dried buffalo blood, and was wrapped in a heavy buffalo robe as he lay atop a hill on the open prairie south of the Republican River, his leg tied to a stake driven into the frozen ground. Smoothly, he inched over the mound of snow that he had built to support the long barrel of his fifty-caliber Sharps buffalo gun, took aim and fired the "Big Fifty," as it was called by the buffalo hunters, and watched as another buffalo fell dead.
Charlie Calhoun, a skinner with failing eyesight, always knelt behind him, a Colt .45 pistol ready should Augustus violate the single rule that kept him alive: Keep the barrel pointed toward the buffalo.
"You're shootin' too slow, boy. We're losin' daylight." Calhoun thumped Augustus in the back with the heel of his boot, then leaned forward, checked the rope attached to Augustus' leg, and gave it a sharp tug. The stake held firm. Calhoun spit a long stream of tobacco juice and wiped his beard with the heavy sleeve of his buffalo robe.
To Augustus's immediate front, low on the side of the hill where he was positioned, twenty-four buffalo lay still, their legs jutting parallel to the ground. Steam rose off some of the bodies in twisting, ghoulish clouds as the crisp cold began to cool the carcasses.
"Come on, boy. Shoot!" Calhoun slapped Augustus in the back of the head just as he pulled the trigger, throwing off the shot. A buffalo screamed, tumbling into the snow, but wasn't dead. The herd bolted and, in the moment of madness, turned toward the buffalo hunters.
"Damn your black ass!" Calhoun jumped to his feet, running toward the wagon filled with hides.
Augustus pulled desperately at the rope; the stake held fast as the buffalo herd thundered closer. Again he kicked, pulled, and thrashed, but the stake wouldn't break free. He turned to the herd and saw the lead buffalo closing on him, no more than twenty yards away, followed by thousands more, their great heads plowing in imperfect rhythm.
In that instant Augustus fell calm, as though death would be a blessing. He stared directly into the buffalo's eyes. Suddenly, from the corner of his eye there was a flash of blue. He looked up and saw what he thought could only be a dream: Two Colored men dressed in army uniforms were riding toward him, the tallest of the two gripping a long, curved sabre.
The tall soldier leaned over and, as he swept past Augustus, swung the sword, cutting the rope. The second soldier followed close behind but didn't stop, merely reined in sharply next to Augustus and extended his hand.
"Come on, boy!" he shouted.
Augustus gripped the hand and swung onto the back of the horse. The soldier spurred the horse toward the wagon, where Augustus saw Calhoun hiding behind a wheel as the buffalo charged closer.
Augustus could see the tall soldier race toward the wagon, but wheel diagonally when he saw there wasn't enough time to reach the skinner.
Augustus' eyes met with the eyes of Calhoun, who then disappeared beneath a sea of black fur.
* * *
An hour later the earth appeared to have been plowed by some great machine in a long path to the edge of the horizon. The wagon lay in splinters among buffalo hides strewn like black boils; the air was still, but the ground continued to tremble though the herd was no longer in sight.
Liberty could only shake his head in amazement while Gibbs and Augustus walked among the ruins.
There was little left. Calhoun's mangled body lay in four separate pieces over a fifty-yard stretch of broken ground.
Augustus looked into Calhoun's dead face, what was left of it, staring emptily to the sky, his head severed at the throat. He suddenly reached to the ground and retrieved the. Sharps rifle. It was covered with mud, and the stock was cracked nearly in half.
"Ain't much good now," Liberty said.
Augustus wiped at the mud, sighted down the barrel, and replied, "The barrel's straight, and I can fix the stock."
This brought a laugh from Liberty. "How you going to do that?"
Augustus smiled as he picked up a buffalo robe.
Gibbs approached, carrying a cartridge belt he'd taken from Calhoun's body. He handed it to Augustus.
They slept that night in a thicket of trees around a fire pit dug low in the frozen ground to prevent the flames from giving away their position. Over the sunken fire they roasted a piece of buffalo hump, and the Buffalo Soldiers watched Augustus work on the rifle stock.
He cut strips of buffalo hide and stretched them over the fire until the fat began to bubble; next, he slowly worked the hot fat into the cracks of the stock. He wound the strips tight around the stock and soaked them with water. Augustus then turned the stock slowly over the fire, patiently drying the strips until the hide formed a rigid cast around the wood.
This mightily impressed Liberty. "Where'd you learn that, boy?"
"From the Kiowa," Augustus replied softly.
"Kiowa!" Liberty exclaimed. "What were you doing with the Kiowa?"
Augustus shrugged. "I was a slave."
Liberty chuckled. "I didn't know the Kiowa bought Colored slaves."
"They didn't buy me. I was captured by a raiding party just after the end of the war."
Augustus' comment spurred Liberty's curiosity. "You want to tell us about how you come to be here on the Republican?"
Augustus nodded slightly, then spoke in a low, deliberate voice. "I come from west Texas. I was captured by the Kiowa three years ago. The Indians sold me to Charlie Calhoun last year for three horses and a rifle."
Liberty waited, but Augustus said nothing more.
"Is that it?"
"That's all I want to say."
"What about your folks?" asked Gibbs.
"Both my mama and papa are dead. They died during the war."
"I expect you learned a lot of things living with them Injuns," said Gibbs, who was cutting off another piece of meat.
"I learned many things, Mr. Gibbs."
"Did the Kiowa teach you how to shoot?"
Augustus shook his head. "My massah in Texas taught me how to shoot. He said I had a natural eye with a rifle."
This prodded Liberty further. "Can you ride as good as you can shoot?"
Augustus nodded, then held the stock up for closer examination. He was pleased with what he saw.
The stock would hold firm.
* * *
The next morning they rose from the stiff buffalo robes and stretched their muscles. Noting that the fire was out and fresh snow had fallen during the night, Augustus took a robe, cut off a square the size of his hand, turned it fur side up, took kindling, and began scraping his knife against a piece of flint he carried in his leggings. The fur from the robe began to slowly burn, throwing off a stinging odor, but as he added more wood he had a good fire going within minutes.
Liberty and Gibbs glanced at each other. Liberty grinned. "This here Augustus Talbot knows a few tricks, Trooper Gibbs."
"He sure does," Gibbs replied admiringly.
When they finished what was left of the buffalo meat, Liberty said, "We best be moving. We're going to Fort Wallace, Augustus. Come with us; you can make plans from there. If you want to hunt buffalo, the Goddard brothers are hiring shooters out of Hays to fill government contracts on land the Injuns don't own."
Augustus shook his head. "I'd rather starve to death."
Copyright 1996 by Tom Willard
Excerpted from Buffalo Soldiers by Willard, Tom Copyright © 1997 by Willard, Tom. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Excellent writing. I could not put this book down! I teach at the high school level, and this is just what our students need to read! Very interesting to read, not boring! The characters, Augustus and Selona come alive, what a story!!! Everyone: Read it and review it!
Tom Willard delivers an action-packed book filled with interesting characters. It is a fast page turner. I could hardly put the book down. Also, Buffalo Soldiers displays a chapter in history everyone should know so it never happens again. I recccommend this book to everyone.
I've read all three books in the Black Sabre series by Tom Willard, and they are all must reads! The series' strong point is its interweaving of strong familial ties, heroism, fact-telling, and character development. I enjoyed reading these books and recommend that you buy all three and enjoy them for yourself.