Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Robinson, Nebraska

In the racially segregated military that followed the Civil War, one of the first Cavalry regiments for black soldiers was headquartered in Nebraska for more than a decade. These soldiers played a notable role in social and military changes of the late 1800s. Brian Shellum tells the story of the Ninth Cavalry Regiment, which fought discrimination as well as Native Americans on the Great Plains.

A Ninth Cavalry squadron on the drill field, circa 1892-93. Each of the four troops has its own guidon and its own color of horse.
The shadow of the reviewing stand is visible in the foreground; Crow Butte and a few of the Fort Robinson buildings are visible in the right background. RG1517-93-20

By the end of the Civil War, black volunteers made up about 10 percent of the Union’s manpower, had fought all over the country and had suffered 36,837 deaths. But it wasn’t until after the war that Congress established the first regular regiments of black soldiers – nicknamed “Buffalo Soldiers” by the Native Americans because of the soldiers’ dark skin and curly black hair. One of these regiments, the Ninth Cavalry, fought in the Apache Wars in New Mexico from 1875-1881, and was later headquartered at Fort Robinson, Nebraska from 1887 to 1898.

In terms of organization and equipment, the Buffalo Soldier Regiments were almost identical to white regiments in the Regular Army. Shellum explains that “the army simply could not afford to cripple one tenth of its combat power by deliberately issuing substandard items to the black regiments. The army bureaucracy was by regulation color-blind when it came to all things official such as recruiting, medical services, military pay, and pensions.”

Interior of an 1887 adobe barracks at Fort Robinson.
Interior of an 1887 adobe barracks at Fort Robinson.
The all-black Ninth Cavalry lived in buildings that were identical to those of their counterparts in the all-white Eighth Infantry. RG1517-93-13

However, that did not protect the Buffalo Soldiers from the fierce racism of some white regiments and officers. Fort Robinson hosted large numbers of black cavalry along with white infantry soldiers, creating what Shellum calls “a breeding ground for racism.” When Frank B. Taylor became an officer in the Ninth Cavalry, he made clear his contempt for the black soldiers and officers. In 1881 Taylor was court-martialed for verbally abusing, pistol-whipping, and beating a black trooper with the butt of a carbine. When the black Lt. Charles Young arrived at Fort Robinson in 1889, Taylor actively avoided serving with him.

Fortunately, not all the white officers were so hostile. Louis H. Rucker treated the enlisted men of the Ninth Cavalry with respect, and was a mentor to black officers John Alexander and Charles Young. Over time, the Buffalo Soldiers won the respect of others as well. Black regulars had higher enlistment rates but lower desertion rates than whites, causing Secretary of War Redfield Proctor to suggest raising a black artillery regiment.

The Buffalo Soldiers’ faithful service not only helped diffuse racial tensions, but also paved the way for future generations of black soldiers.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

How pioneer trails shaped Omaha streets

How pioneer trails shaped Omaha streets

Marker Monday: Atlas D Missile Site A

Marker Monday: Atlas D Missile Site A

The Woman on the White Horse

The Woman on the White Horse

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

Education Digital Learning Resources

Find games, lists, and more to enhance your history education curriculum.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

History Nebraska Services

Digital Resources

Find all of our digital resources, files, videos, and more, all in one easy-to-search page!

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.