The origin of the term ’Buffalo Soldier’ is theorized as given to black troops by Native Americans, who thought African Americans' hair felt and looked like a buffalo’s pelt. The name was embraced by the troops, who were well acquainted with ‘the buffalo's fierce bravery and fighting spirit’. The Buffalo Soldier's duties were settling railroad disputes, building telegraph lines, repairing and building forts, helping settlers find a place to live, and protecting the settlers from attacks by Native Americans.
My father was a man whose formal schooling in Kilkenny, Ireland, like many other children of his time from poorer families, was curtailed at the age of 12 years of age to go out to work for the family. Consequently, he never placed too much importance on education and felt that nothing like hard honest work with one’s own hands could be beaten when it came to determining the true character of a person.
Indeed, the only other pleasure I ever saw my father indulge (apart from sucking toffees) was watching western films and reading copious cowboy paperbacks about the wild west whenever he went to the lavatory for a half hour sitting. Often, in order to get the last word, dad would end heated discussions with some well-remembered quotation from one of the John Wayne films as he walked off. One of his oft-quoted lines was John Wayne saying, “A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do!"
Apart from his lack of formal education, my father’s knowledge (outside the workings of a coal mine) comprised mostly of ‘The Wild West’ and was largely confined to the life and times of famous cowboys, gunslingers, and the native Indians, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. He would have performed very well on University Challenge with ‘The Wild West’ as his chosen topic of expertise.
It was my dad who first told me about the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ who were recruited into the American Cavalry in the 19th century to fight the ‘Indian Wars’.
In later years, after my dad’s death, I had extensive contact with many prominent Jamaicans during a three-year period at the start of the New Millennium (when I liaised with the Jamaican Minister for Education and Youth Culture during a ‘Trans-Atlantic Pen-Pal Project’ I established and managed between 16 schools in Falmouth, Trelawny, Jamaica and 16 schools in Yorkshire, England). I had two trips across to Jamaica to facilitate this work, and it was in Jamaica that I next heard the term ‘Buffalo Soldier’. It was one of their famous reggae singer’s songs; the late Bob Marley.
Dad would never know how he and a cannabis-smoking Jamaican reggae singer would enjoin to cement one moment in my memory bank.
Love and peace Bill xxx