Last weekend I visited the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Tacoma in order to research a piece I was writing for Grit City. I’ve been interested in checking the place out from the moment I first saw its sign just off 19th Street a couple months ago, but I underestimated how moving the experience would actually be.
“Buffalo Soldiers” was a term given to African American soldiers in the late 1800s, reportedly by Comanche or Cheyenne Indians (there’s some debate among historians over which it was) seeing a resemblance between the hair of the soldiers and the tufts of hair between buffalo’s horns. Some sources suggest that the tribes were also impressed by the buffalo-like toughness that the soldiers displayed.
Whatever the exact inspiration for the name, the term “Buffalo Soldiers” became the widely used monikers for black Army units back when the military was segregated. The term persisted all the way up until the end of the Korean War, when the last all-black unit was dissolved.
I already knew about the Buffalo Soldiers before I went to the museum, but actually walking among the artifacts they used and the stories hit me a lot stronger than I expected it would. I’m a veteran, and it really bothered me to hear about the disrespect that those men had to endure while they were serving their country. As Colin Powell said it, “For a long time they served a country that didn’t serve them.”
It was difficult for me to not allow my anger to overshadow everything else in my experience. I didn’t want that to be my focus. Those men deserved to be honored, not pitied, and I made sure to keep my mind fixed on that outcome. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bothered by it.
It’s remarkable to think of the hardships the Buffalo Soldiers endured. The thing that stuck with me the most from the visit was something that the woman running the museum told me.
Her name is Jackie Jones-Hook, and her father, William Jones, had been a Buffalo Soldier and POW in the Korean War. The museum was stated in his honor.
When I asked Jones-Hook if her father ever talked about the racism he and his brothers in arms had to endure while they were doing something that should have been commended, she replied that he used to repeat the phrase, “We got this far by faith.” William Jones was a man of deep faith in the Good Book, and he lived his life by that standard.
Ultimately, Jones-Hook told me, her father and his compatriots served for their faith in God more than anything else. When their own country disrespected them, they went right ton serving, because they had faith that God would make things right some day. I found that notion moving and powerful, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot ever since, and it’s something I doubt I’ll ever forget.
It’s hard to fathom the strength of character it takes for men to persist in the way that William Jones and the Buffalo Soldiers did. I’m left humbled and awed by their example. Sincerely, I want to be a better person in light of their stories.
I also want to encourage as many of you as possible to visit the Buffalo Soldiers museum in Tacoma. The place doesn’t have a big budget and so doesn’t have a lot of advertising. Go there and tell others about it, if you’re so inclined. The place deserves to continue operating because the men and women it memorializes deserve to be remembered.
I’m not going to write any more about what I saw or felt there. I’m not that fond of talking about myself, but most importantly, I’d like to encourage you all to go see it for yourself rather than take my word for it.
It’s well worth the trip.