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Gib Singleton

"Buffalo Soldier"

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From the Gib Singleton Newsletter

A big part of the “emotional realism” for which Gib is famous comes from the strength of character he projects into his subjects – courage, integrity, persistence and competence. His sculpture “Buffalo Soldier” represents his admiration for a unique group of men who embodied those qualities.

Most historians apply the term “Buffalo Soldiers” to post Civil War US Army units, but Gib’s view is broader. He traces their history back to the first black combat units in the Civil War, including the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, recruited from freed slaves, and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (about which the movie Glory was made).

“You have to remember that even after these guys were emancipated and fought for their country, they still had basically no rights,” Gib says. “And most of them had no place to go. America was a pretty racist place, and whites were afraid of what would happen if they started to compete for jobs.”

So what does a young man who can shoot and fight and endure hardships do in that situation? “He goes west,” Gib says. “That’s why he has his arm out. He’s pointing west, because that’s where the future is.”

The origin of the term Buffalo Soldier is obscure. Some historians argue that Native Americans saw a resemblance to the mane of a buffalo in the black men’s hair. Others claim it was because they fought with the fury of a wounded buffalo.

Gib has another explanation. “A lot of these guys became buffalo hunters,” he says. “They still wore parts of their uniform, because that was all a lot of them had when they left the Army. And they made coats and vests from buffalo pelts. When they met the tribes, the Indians saw buffalo hunters, wearing buffalo robes and Army blue, and that’s where the name came from.”

When Congress authorized six regiments of black soldiers in 1866, many of the buffalo hunters, as well as other black veterans, signed up. They were familiar with the West, and the dangers of frontier life were no obstacle. “Hell, Davis said he was going to kill them for being Union soldiers,” Gib says, “and they volunteered anyway. You couldn’t scare those guys.” (An 1862 proclamation by Confederate president Jefferson Davis ordered the execution of captured black soldiers and their white officers.)

The regiments formed, especially the 9th and 10th Cavalry, became the core of America’s peacetime army. During the late 1800’s, one of every five cavalrymen and one of every eight infantrymen was black.
Buffalo Soldiers served in all the nation’s major conflicts during their eight decades of existence. They fought from Montana to Mexico against Native tribes, including the warriors of Victorio and Geronimo. They rode with Teddy Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” at San Juan Hill, fought in Philippine jungles and spearheaded “Blackjack” Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa.

When they weren’t fighting, they built forts, roads and telegraph lines, escorted wagon trains, rode “shotgun” on stagecoaches, and mapped significant portions of the southwest.

Members of the Buffalo Soldiers earned 22 Medals of Honor, the highest US military award. They had the lowest desertion rate in the Army, despite harsh discipline, often racist officers, and generally miserable living conditions.

Artist Frederic Remington, who rode with, wrote about and sketched Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry, said,They may be tired and they may be hungry, but they do not see fit to augment their misery by finding fault with everybody and everything. In this particular they are charming men with whom to serve.”

genre

Western Sculpture Realism

edition

of 25

media

Bronze

size

18h x 15w x 10d

location

ADL