Buffalo soldiers seek recruits

Christina Calloway

The Llano Estacado Buffalo Soldier Association in Roosevelt County is looking to recruit more active members.

Portales City Councilman Oscar Robinson and Portales resident Joe Terry are the only active members of the group.

The other board members were active in the organization of the group, but are unable to meet the time commitment and the physical requirements of being active participants.

The group needs a minimum of 25 men to become a platoon.

Terry, who was recruited by Robinson in 2006 because of his expertise in weaponry and knowledge of history, and Robinson have been dedicated to educating others about the history of Buffalo Soldiers.

Buffalo Soldiers were established by Congress, following the Civil War, as all-black regiments in the U.S. Army.

Every semester, Robinson and Terry do a special program for a graduate class at Eastern New Mexico University as well as smaller programs in local schools.

Recently the group served as the color guard along with other Buffalo Soldier members at Santa Fe’s Centennial celebration in the senate roundhouse last month.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, invited the group to act as the color guard for the program because the Buffalo Soldiers are part of New Mexico’s history.

“I have to say I was pretty honored because a Centennial celebration is once in a hundred years; it won’t happen again in my lifetime,” Terry said.

If fully formed, the group can participate in more historical events including Portales’ Heritage Day festivities. With more members they can also attend the battle sites in New Mexico, host more programs about their history, and stage re-enactments.

Terry is adamant that Buffalo Soldier history should be taught in schools because they were significant to the building of New Mexico.

“The second you can walk into a classroom of fifth graders and nobody in the room knows what a Buffalo Soldier is, we’ve lost history,” Terry said.

According to Terry, the first Buffalo Soldier units built the infrastructure of New Mexico.

“They were mapping New Mexico territory, everything that led us to becoming a state,” Terry said.

The Buffalo Soldiers helped survey roads and put up telegraph lines, and other peace-keeping activities. Terry said Buffalo Soldiers had a more hands-on history in other parts of New Mexico.

The Llano Estacado group helped erase a negative stigma related to a tragedy that happened in 1877 when several Buffalo Soldiers died from dehydration during a battle with Comanche.

The site near Lingo, a dot of a hill near the Texas border in southern Roosevelt County, was unofficially but widely known for generations as “Nigger Hill.”

“The name was an insult to the African-American community,” said Robinson. “People who lived here for years accepted the name.”

Robinson teamed with others in an effort to change the name of the hill to Buffalo Soldier Hill.

It took 14 years until the name was finally changed in 2006.