Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer
If a hill located near Lingo is ever mentioned in a federal map from now on, it shall be called Buffalo Soldier Hill honoring African-American members of the United States Cavalry.
Buffalo Soldier Hill is located in Lingo, a town 40 miles southeast of Portales near the Texas border. Bob Julyan, the chair of the New Mexico Geographic Names Committee, presented the proposal to change the name on Oct. 12 in Portland, Ore. and the U.S. Board and Geographic Names committee members approved the change.
“This means no name other than Buffalo Soldier Hill may appear on federal maps,” Julyan said. “In my more than 15 years as chair of the N.M. Geographic Names Committee, I’ve encountered only three proposals that I regard as having a major positive significance — and this is one of them.”
African-Americans of the U.S. Tenth Cavalry were trying to force a band of Kwahada Comanche warriors back to the Oklahoma reservation. The mission failed in July of 1877 at the foot of the hill and about 20 black soldiers died in the chase.
“It was not red versus black, it was the U.S. Cavalry versus the Comanche,” Oscar Robinson said. Robinson is a member of the Llano Estacado Buffalo Soldier Association and works in the personnel department at Eastern New Mexico University.
Some of the locals knew the hill as “Nigger Hill”, marking the end of the mission and death of black soldiers, said Julyan.
Approximately 150 people gathered with Robinson to celebrate the new name for the hill in June of 2004, for which a historical marker was approved by the Cultural Properties Review Committee of New Mexico.
Robinson said two significant moments happened after the celebration. He said Sammie Simpson, mother-in-law of Wesley Pool, the owner of land near the hill approached her. The Pool family said they would give the land to the non-profit organization, Llano Estacado Buffalo Soldier Association, for a memorial park.
According to Robinson, the other significant moment is that members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Portales said they would help with the construction of the park.
Phillip Shelley, a dean of graduate school at ENMU and anthropology professor, filled out forms and applications to the USBGN members to give the hill an official name.
“It’s an important part of New Mexico history,” Shelley said. Shelley said he hoped it gave awareness to the plight of the African-American soldier. “I think few people knew about it. I hope people embrace it (the history of the site).”
Shelley said there was a substantial amount of paperwork, but that it was necessary because applicants had to demonstrate historical connection and significance of the site.
Robinson said once the Llano Estacado Buffalo Soldier Association members gain tax-exempt status, he hopes by June, they can send the request to the N.M. Department of Transportation for a historical marker on the site.
Julyan said the USBGN’s decision doesn’t necessarily mean federal map makers have to have the name Buffalo Soldier Hill listed on the map, but if any name is given it has to be Buffalo Soldier Hill.
“The name Buffalo Soldier Hill will be included in the national Geographic Names Information System database,” Julyan said. “The more than 2 million names here are official for all federal maps and publications.”