History lives in Timonium at Buffalo Soldier reunion

August 01, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

IF YOU'RE reading this paper, that means you're awake. And if you're awake before 9 a.m., drop this paper and head out to the Holiday Inn in Timonium. History awaits you.

From 9 a.m. until 11 a.m., there will be a presentation on the history of the Buffalo Soldiers. The presentation comes to you courtesy of the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Association, which has been holding the 132nd Annual Buffalo Soldier Reunion at the hotel since Wednesday. Visitors will be able to view exhibits on the history of the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments, buy 10th Cavalry caps, navy-blue cavalry hats circa the 1880s, T-shirts, books and insignia. In between, you may be able to talk to members of the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Association and maybe chat with some Buffalo Soldier re-enactors.

Virgil Griffin, 44, traveled from Los Angeles for the reunion. He's been a Buffalo Soldier re-enactor the past five years.

"I met this cowboy who used to do presentations on black soldiers and cowboys," Griffin said of how he got into the re-enacting business.

Dressed in the navy-blue tunic and light-blue pants of a 19th-century U.S. cavalryman, Griffin continued, "My great-uncle was a Buffalo Soldier. He used to say, 'You know, son, when I was in the military, we were called Buffalo Soldiers."

Griffin's great-uncle was in Company K of the 9th Cavalry from 1918 to 1919.

"He was very proud of being a veteran," said Griffin, a six-year member of the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Association. After military service, Griffin's great-uncle became involved in civil rights efforts.

Griffin's duties as a re-enactor include giving a history of the Buffalo Soldiers. Congress authorized the formation of four all-black units in 1866 (President Harry S. Truman officially integrated America's armed forces in July 50 years ago), the 24th and 25th Infantry and the 9th and 10th Cavalry.

"They built forts, patrolled borders, strung telegraph lines, escorted stagecoaches, assisted sheriffs and protected settlers from Indians and bandits," Griffin said of the duties of the Buffalo Soldiers.

"They didn't wear uniforms as nice as the ones we have," he continued, glancing at his clean, neatly pressed uniform. Their uniforms "were hand-me-downs from the Civil War. Sometimes they got seconds, thirds and fourths."

Buffalo Soldiers chased Pancho Villa back across the Mexican ++ border when he was making a pest of himself, Griffin noted, and were instrumental in the defeat of the Apache leader Victorio in 1881.

"There was a fierce fight at Rattlesnake Springs," Griffin recounted. The Buffalo Soldiers so damaged Victorio's forces that he fled into Mexico, where Mexican soldiers finished off his weakened band.

That Victorio-Buffalo Soldiers clash was the subject of Danny Glover's movie "Buffalo Soldiers," which ran within the past year on Turner Network Television. Griffin, in what may be the classic understatement of our century, said Glover "took a little artistic license" with the ending.

"It portrayed a Catch-22 situation," Griffin said. "You had the blacks fighting to prove their manhood and worth and the Indians fighting to protect their homelands."

For those who don't know, here's an example of the "artistic license" Glover took and the reason that as many folks as possible need to attend today's seminar on the history of the Buffalo Soldiers: The black cavalry unit has Victorio and his warriors in its gun sights at Rattlesnake Springs. Instead of shooting him, as they surely would have, they drop their weapons. They let Victorio and his party walk into Mexico and then file a false report that he escaped.

"Hollywood is Hollywood," Griffin said with a sigh. It is a thought that should make the blood chill in all our bones. There's enough Buffalo Soldier history for many more films. Griffin has a suggestion for Tinseltown's producers, directors and writers before they sally forth to make asses of themselves again.

"I would like to see them consult with some of these old soldiers and some of the association's historians," Griffin advised. But that's not a guarantee of historical accuracy. Glover sent the script for "Buffalo Soldiers" to an association member and ventured off into fiction anyway, Griffin lamented.

For those with a hankering for some history as opposed to Hollywood fiction, the historians of the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Association await you in Timonium.

Pub Date: 8/1/98

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