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Forgotten Buffalo Soldiers played important role in Arizona history

A group is raising money to place a monument that honors the segregated Army soldiers at Wesley Bolin Plaza.

PHOENIX — Chances are you’ve heard of the Buffalo Soldiers. Legendary reggae musician Bob Marley even recorded a song about them.

But who were they?

They were a segregated part of the Army Cavalry after the Civil War and played an important role in Arizona decades before statehood.

“The Buffalo Soldiers represented courage, dignity and pride,” said Fred Marable, the commander with the Buffalo Soldiers of the Arizona Territory.

The Buffalo Soldiers seemed to have faded into Arizona history.

In 2018, the organization was approved by the state to erect a monument at the Wesley Bolin Plaza across from the State Capitol. However, they have to raise their own funds to make it happen. The monument will cost over $400,000.

“The Buffalo Soldiers represented courage, dignity and pride,” said Marable. “Most of these men were slaves and free men who went into the Civil War and started fighting then. The dedication they showed, they didn't back down from anything.”

And they played a major role in the development of the Arizona territory.

“They mapped out your major highways, protected the gold mines, protected the stagecoach lines, telegraph lines and the settlers that came from the east,” said Marable.

The major Buffalo Soldier regiments were trained and stationed at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista.

“They were looked at as some of the best soldiers in the Army at the time,” said Paul Pipik, the director of the Fort Huachuca Museums.

Credit: Buffalo Soldiers of the Arizona Territory

Pipik says the Army life wasn't easy in the late 1800s. There was segregation, and members of the Buffalo Soldiers were respected for their dedication.

“They were a very cohesive type of organization because their soldiers tended to stay longer, gain experience,” said Pipik.

Deployed throughout the Arizona territory, some of their missions included engineering projects, law enforcement, battles with Indian tribes and securing the southern border.

“They basically became the border patrol," Pipik explained. "They occupied a series of satellite facilities from Nogales all the way over to Douglas.”

Everything was wild out here in the west. These men come along, and they were like Homeland Security, and they need to be recognized,” said Marable. “This is home for them. They protected it. They deserve it.”

For more information on the monument fundraiser, visit https://buffalosoldiersazterritorymonument.com/

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