Cultural dating perspectives

Elements of the buffalo-soldier myth started to appear coincident with wider knowledge of the black regiments.

William Leckie’s 1967 book, The Buffalo Soldiers, essentially a campaign history of the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments, brought the service of these units to popular attention and popularized the term "buffalo soldiers." Leckie suggested that the Indians gave the name to the black soldiers of the 10th Cavalry because they saw some resemblance between the buffalo and these brown-skinned men, some of whom had woolly looking hair and who sometimes wore buffalo hide coats in the winter.

In the course of forty years, Leckie’s cautious guesses evolved into the hyperbolic text on the Wal-Mart website.

The giant retailer offered a Black History Month study guide in 2005, which declared that "Their name--Buffalo Soldiers--was bestowed on them by the Cheyenne people.

All Army units, white as well as black, received left-over Civil War equipment and mounts, from a Department of War that focused on cutting costs and reducing manpower. On the scholarly side this myth found expression as recently as 1999 in historian Charles Kenner’s assertion that the Buffalo Soldiers' "lives and deeds have largely been overlooked." Only the year before, Bruce Glasrud's bibliography on African Americans in the West contained over twenty-four pages and more than 300 entries devoted to the black regiments.

The buffalo was a sacred animal to the Indian, and it is unlikely that he would so name an enemy if respect were lacking.

It is a fair guess that the Negro trooper understood this and thus his willingness to accept the title." Over the years since Leckie offered this cautious explanation, we have moved to the point where many people regard the nickname "buffalo soldiers" as honorific, showing that the Indians considered the black troopers to be exceptional, perhaps the best soldiers that the army had.

The alleged bestowal of this name “Buffalo Soldiers” as a sign of respect by Indian warriors has not gone unchallenged.

The most serious objection has come from contemporary Native American leaders, who were angered over the publicity attending the issue of a buffalo-soldier postage stamp in 1994 and resented the suggestion that there was some special bond between the soldiers and their warrior ancestors.

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These are not manifestations of an untold story, but of one that is embedded in the popular culture.

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