by Thomas Johnson
Los Angeles has been without a professional football team for decades. Investors and the wealthy have not been willing to take the risk of financing the construction of a stadium suitable for the NFL. Time passed with little being done to take advantage of the lucrative Los Angeles and Orange County markets. One man (a very rich man) purchased the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum from the county of LA and renovation started.
After a time a news conference was called by this very successful fast food restructure that grew up in West Texas. David Cloud made his multi-millions serving whole pecan fire roasted game hens in his fast food Game Cock restaurants. "How many birds do you want?" was his motto.
At the Los Angeles convention center Quincy Jones' Buffalo Soldier song was playing loudly as Mr. Cloud stepped to the podium. The haunting music faded into charged anticipation. The sixty year old very fit Afro American Indian man the color of Starbucks Carmel Macchiato, five foot eight with short wavy pecan brown hair, in a sharp charcoal gray Zanetti Italian wool suit began to speak, "My family history includes the Native Americans of the South West and the US soldiers that were liberated slaves from the south. I have been awarded a NFL franchise that will call its home the newly renovated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum." Loud cheering lasted for three minutes. "This team, a tribute to both Native Americans and the Black troopers, will be named after the forgotten heroes of the South West; The Buffalo Soldiers." A cheering standing ovation prevented any additional words being heard. David Cloud reached under the podium and pulled out a NFL helmet, black with a large brown logo of a First Sergeant chevron with a white and red eagle feather attached to the top of the chevron. The Buffalo Soldier saga played on thunderously as this son of the South West held the beautiful helmet high for all to see.
The Ninth Cavalry of Negro soldiers stationed at Ft. Stockton Texas had just completed Stand and Review in March of 1875, prior to a temporary reassignment to Ft. Stanton, New Mexico. Two hundred twenty-five mounted colored soldiers stood tall in the saddle as Colonel Merritt, while mounted, inspected Company K followed by Lieutenant Clark and First Sergeant Sam Antoine riding side by side.
After reviewing the troops, the two officers moved to face the middle of the formation. The First Sergeant took his place in front, facing the white officers.
"You have one trooper missing, First Sergeant. He is AWOL, and subject to disciplinary punishment when apprehended. You know who he is, First Sergeant Antoine, put his correct name in your report to Captain Beyer before you move out."
"Dismiss your troops, First Sergeant. Keep your powder dry, Ninth Cavalry, see you back here soon."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Turning to his mounted men, he dismissed them with an admonition to reassemble at zero nine hundred hours.
First Sergeant Sam Antoine was a very young first sergeant. He moved up quickly when they found that he could read and write and do numbers. He took care of all the paperwork involving the colored troops, and became a perfect liaison between the white and colored soldiers, moving easily in both worlds. He was the highest ranking non-commissioned colored soldier in the US Army western territories.
Routinely the solders would go out on patrol for one or two weeks at a time; this would be different. A temporary reassignment had never been done, but like the patrols in the past, Rose and Sara would meet Sam at the gate to say farewell with a hug and a sad kiss.
"This shouldn't take long, Rose. We'll round up the Apaches that left the reservation and bring them back. The hard part is getting to Fort Stanton, two hundred miles of rough trail. I'll write often, Rose. Sara, you help your mother read the letters, okay?"
Hugs, kisses, and tears all around. First Sergeant Antoine mounted his cavalry horse, and galloped to the front of the waiting formation.
"Company K!" He shouted.
"Platoon!" From the platoon leaders.
"Move out!" He waved his arm forward.
Heading west into the badlands of New Mexico, the Ninth Cavalry, Company K answered the summons to come west to help locate and apprehend a band of young Apache braves, and their leader Geronimo.
After the bivouac was set up the first night, Sergeant Antoine approached platoon sergeant Isaiah Cotton while he was having coffee and smoking pipes with a small group of soldiers of mixed rank.
"Cotton, how many days has Private Otis Handy been gone?"
"Oh, hello, Top. Three days this morning. Everything okay?"
"Yea. I reported him one day AWOL, that should give him a good start."
Corporal Titus asked. "You reckon he gonna make it all the way to Mexico, Top?"
"He'll make it to the Rio Grand all right, but getting across this early in the spring may cause a problem for him, he'll have to find a log or something to float across." First Sergeant Antoine said.
Platoon Sergeant Willy Ford, rubbed his bald head then added to the conversation. "That boy been running his whole short life. He from Mississippi, different folk from
Mississippi. Mississippi was hard on they slaves. We all seen those whip marks on his back from running. You know, Top, he once told me he joined the Army to shoot White folk here out west. All these Johnny Rebs out here outlawin' and killing, but all the colored troops get is shootin' Indians. He say ‘Indian ain't done nothing to me,' so he run. He make some sense."
After a day ride from Ft. Stanton, First Sergeant Antoine sent a trooper ahead to notify the fort they would be in the next day. Per protocol the new company should be met by an officer with standard pomp and ceremony, i.e., presenting of the colors of the Ninth Cavalry, and pass and review. The First Sergeant instructed all the platoon leaders to make sure every trooper had his gear squared away, and every mount had to be brushed down, mane and tail combed. Uniforms were cleaned and repaired as best as they could. Boots were polished.
Staff Sergeant Obadiah Johnson galloped up to the mounted First Sergeant on the arrival day. "We're looking good, Top."
"Thanks, Obadiah. Ninth Cavalry, Company K, forward trot!"
Two miles from the fort the trooper, Corporal Cecil Little, returned with interesting news. "First Sergeant, you ain't gonna believe this. They got a colored lieutenant at the fort, and we suppose to report to him."
"Are you sure about that, Cecil? Did you see him?"
"I did, Top. He half-white, light brown, skinny fella."
"Okay, Corporal. Good job. Fall in, Cecil."
This was big news. Most of the soldiers were thrilled to hear that at long last the colored soldiers would have someone on their side who was an officer, and understood the inequities of the colored soldier.
K Company rode in quick trot, four abreast, Old Glory and the Ninth Cavalry colors held high by the guidon bearers. A square mile area had been denuded of the native pine trees. Fort Stockton sat in the middle. A lone rider sat on a white horse, in dress uniform, in front of the open double-gate entrance to the stockade, which contained the buildings, barracks, and offices that comprised the fort. Guard towers on the front corners of the large rectangle structure were manned by white armed soldiers.
This is different, the First Sergeant thought, but not a problem. He trotted up to First Lieutenant Henry Flipper, performed a smart mounted about-face, and watched K Company form a straight line of mounted troopers with platoon leaders in front of their platoons. The guidons positioned in front of the First Sergeant. Another about face; a crisp salute: "Ninth Cavalry, K Company reporting for duty, Sir!"
A weak return of salute. "Well met, First Sergeant. I'll take your papers."
The orders were handed over to the very young lieutenant who had small hands like a little girl, and a face that had never known the feel of a razor. His voice was like a young boy prior to puberty.
"First Sergeant, we have no barracks for you. You will proceed to the back of the stockade. You will find material suitable for housing construction. That will be your
first duty assignment. Take your time getting settled, then report to me tomorrow; if you can locate me.
"Welcome to the wild west, First Sergeant. Stand down, and dismiss your troops."
"Thank you, sir!" A smart salute.
No return of salute. The lieutenant turned, and slowly walked his horse into the fort.
The next morning, First Sergeant Antoine attempted to locate Lieutenant Flipper. He walked to the fort Administration Headquarters building, and approached the desk sergeant.
"What can I do for you?" The desk buck sergeant asked, while eyeballing him.
"Good morning sergeant, I'm--"
"I know who you are. What do you need?"
Before he could answer a voice came from an adjacent room: "Please come in, First Sergeant Antoine."
"That's Colonel Hatch. Go!" the annoyed buck sergeant snapped.
The First Sergeant greeted his commander with the customary salute and was asked to take a seat, pointing to a very rough homemade chair.
Colonel Hatch looked to be in his early fifties, with a bushy mustache, thinning hair, and deep crows feet at the corners of his pale blue eyes. Seated behind an impressive desk in his field uniform he spoke pleasantly to the K Company First Sergeant.
"First Sergeant, we have a lot of problems here in the New Mexico territory. Geronimo is off the reservation, and young braves are joining him every day. Mexican
bandits are stealing cattle from the ranchers. Rebel outlaws are stealing, killing, and raping the good white people of the territory.
"We will get you added to the patrolling routine in the near future, but until then we have a lot of construction details to keep everyone busy. This is a new fort, converting from a small outpost, and we just don't have the time, nor the man power, to do what we need to do to finish construction and protect settlers.
"Let me add that I have heard that you are an outstanding colored soldier. Your reading and writing will be called upon often, I'm sure. You will be left alone to do as you see fit with your men of company K until further notice.
"Do you want a drink, First Sergeant?" He reached for a bottle of whisky and glasses under his desk.
"No. Thank you, sir."
"The colored soldier is good with hard liquor, not like the Indian. The savage will lose what little mind he has with just one drink. Coloreds are more like the Mexican, just a lot darker. I believe the better you are at handling whisky, the more human you are." The Colonel took a big swallow from his tall glass. "Good stuff.
"You've met Lieutenant Flipper already. Captain Carroll is out on patrol. Then me is pretty much the chain of command around here for now. This is a growing fort, as you know, but it is okay to come directly to me at any time, for any reason. "Any questions, First Sergeant?"
"Yes, sir. I was ordered to see Lieutenant Flipper today. Where will I find him, sir?"
"Don't worry about Flipper, First Sergeant; I've just given you the briefing Flipper would have given. Lieutenant Flipper is conducting riding lessons this AM." No longer a colonel with a pleasant face at the mention of Lieutenant Flipper "Anything else?"
"Yes, sir. The post office, I have letters."
The Ninth took to their new duties with enthusiasm. The skills they acquired as slaves were put to use in the performance of the construction duties. Carpenters built buildings, brick layers worked on the stockade wall. Some of the men felled trees, and processed them into boards for use in permanent barrack construction.
Several days after K Company arrived, their horses were taken from them and given to the white troopers. K Company took in the worn-out mistreated animals, some with bullet and arrow wounds, and nursed them back to first-rate shape with skills learned while in forced servitude.
K Company kept their military skills sharp by daily drills at the rifle range they built. They rilled in formation while in gallop, trot, and canter until perfect. This didn't go unnoticed by the officers and white troopers as Corporal Demitrius Smith improved his bugle skills. Different platoons of K Company were charging and shooting at targets all day, every day.
After seven months of the routine of fort life, the First Sergeant received a summons to report to Colonel Hatch, immediately.
Colonel Hatch with his glass of whisky and Captain Carroll received the First Sergeant. Lieutenant Flipper was not in attendance. The colonel began the little meeting.
"First Sergeant, we have a development. Outlaws have been robbing settlers of their cattle, and selling the beef to the Mexicans. We know where their hideout is located, but can't seem to get them out. I am reassigning the Fifth Cavalry to our Geronimo headache, and your K Company to rounding up those outlaws, assisting the New Mexico authorities."
After a meeting of platoon sergeants, who decided that two platoons would be enough to assist the New Mexico authorities. The platoons would be away from the fort for about a month, and then two fresh platoons would rotate in. After the meeting, First Sergeant and his trusted friend, Platoon Sergeant Willy Ford, sat on tree stumps smoking pipes, and watching another beautiful New Mexico sunset.
The First Sergeant asked. "Lieutenant Flipper hasn't been around lately, what do you think is going on, Ford?"
"Not sure, Sam. But I do know the other officers don't like him riding off with that white gal, teaching her to ride in all. I don't know fo sho, but I bet his daddy is some big general up in Washington DC. His mama most likely work fo his daddy. I use to see it all the time befo the war. Mister be keeping all his half-colored babies close to him working in the Big House. I can't figure how that boy get so far from his daddy. Daddy got mad, I reckon. He gonna be in big trouble out here real soon, I'll wager."
Sergeant Ford the oldest trooper in K Company had a big round bald head, with a body as strong as the mythical John Henry. The man was the first to laugh at his own jokes, which were always new. He loved the Army. He joined the Union Army days
after the war started. A young runaway slave, ran directly into a patrol of Union soldiers and asked to join. Now he was the confidant and adviser to the young first sergeant.
"Sam, I spoke to that man driving that supply wagon. He say he be going to Fort Stockton his next stop, and they gonna close the fort and move out west, you can send something home by him. The Indian reservation is still there."
"Thanks, Willy. I haven't heard from Rosy yet, I'm beginning to worry some."
The troopers from K Company were so successful at catching and bringing in outlaws that the civilian authorities began to complain to the Army that it was an insult to have colored troopers running down and arresting white, former Confederate Southerners. K Company was reassigned to assist the white troopers in the hunt for Geronimo and his band of renegades hiding out in the hot mountains of the southern New Mexico desert.
Sergeant Ford suggested to the First Sergeant that a stockade should be built to house the Apaches who would be brought in. "We need to build a jail, Sam, we ain't got one."
"Where did the white troopers take the Indian prisoners?"
"They took no prisoners, Top. They kilt all they got."
"We'll be different, then. I'll ask the colonel about a stockade; a big stockade."
K Company had been rounding up renegade Apaches through the first winter into spring with great success forcing Geronimo to hide out in the mountains of Old Mexico and Arizona, requiring longer and tougher Army patrols and longer raiding parties for the Apaches.
First Sergeant Antoine long ago realized that this was not a temporary duty assignment, but when an Indian scout came in from Fort Stockton and told him the Indian reservation, where he lived with Rose, had moved south of Fort Davis, he knew what he had to do. "Colonel, Sir, my five-year enlistment is up. Sir, I'm ready to be discharged. I haven't heard from my family since I left Fort Stockton a year ago, Colonel."
"I didn't know you had a family at Fort Stockton, First Sergeant. Not many colored women out west. You're from Alabama, right?"
"Arkansas, Sir. My wife is Kiowa, we have a little girl."
"Kiowa!" He made it sound like he was going to puke while reaching for the bottle. "You might as well forget her. That reservation was moved when Fort Stockton closed. This Army is moving west into Arizona. It's called Manifest Destiny, man." He finished a shot of whisky, then pointed to the other glass, offering a drink that was declined.
"We are in a declared war, First Sergeant, that means we are all in this Army for the duration. The US Government has declared war on the Apache Nation. Your request for discharge is impossible at this time, but I do have a development that involves you and Flipper. I am going to assign Flipper to post commissary officer, and promote you to Sergeant Major. You will be the first colored Sergeant Major, responsible for all the duties I expected Flipper to perform. You will be on patrol a lot more, something I had trouble getting Flipper to do, and working closer with Captain Carroll.
"You know, Captain Carroll enjoys fighting with you colored troopers. I agree with him and believe if the South had used their slaves we would all be eating grits every day instead of beans. And you boys charge like devils when ordered and ride like you become part horse. You all learned to follow orders while slaves. That Flipper experiment failed, as I knew it would. You are dismissed, Sergeant Major. Man, get yourself another Kiowa, or one of those plump Sioux gals; good bed warmers. You can have your choice of any of the young Indian maidens, man, we've killed most of the men; take two even. A lot of lonely squaws on the reservations these days. Heaven knows, my officers spend more time under the buffalo blankets than on horseback. I don't worry about women, I'm married to this bottle, and I know where she is." He stroked the bottle lovingly.
"We get Geronimo, we all go home." The Colonel reached for his glass.
The new Sergeant Major marched out of the little office, overheated by a Ben Franklin stove, to the sound of pouring whiskey.
The Tenth Cavalry of colored troopers were sent to the Arizona Territory after a young Lieutenant Colonel, George Custer, refused to have colored troopers under his command. With the Tenth in Arizona, and the Ninth in New Mexico, the heat was applied to Geronimo and his renegade Apaches. Army mules hauled cannon and Gatling gun over the roughest terrain in the Southwest in the pursuit of Geronimo, as ordered by the Great White Father in Washington.
Geronimo would swoop down out of his mountain hideouts with the intent to steal cattle, raid supply trains, and kill and burnout settlers, only to be met by colored troopers he began referring to as Buffalo Soldiers. The Buffalo Soldiers beleaguered the Apaches every summer, forcing Geronimo to new hideouts. The Apaches began to attack the Mexican rancheros and towns. The Mexican government reluctantly invited the US Army in to get the US Apaches out.
Ten years after Custer's Little Big Horn, the same year Sam Atoine was promoted to Sergeant Major, Geronimo surrendered to Buffalo Soldiers of the Tenth Cavalry, A Company. The Tenth handed Geronimo over to the Fourth Cavalry white troopers, who took credit for the capture of the notorious Geronimo.
The Apache wars were over.
The Ninth Cavalry was preparing to move to Arizona to help make sure the Apaches stayed on the reservations. Several of the Buffalo Soldiers of K Company, Ninth Cavalry were given discharge orders; the Sergeant Major was one of those.
On the evening of his last day as a US Soldier, Sergeant Major Antoine and Platoon Sergeant Ford were puffing on pipes, and talking while looking over the corralled horses and mules. "Do you think Flipper did what they said he did, Ford?"
"Oh yea, he did it. That be one angry man. He was thankin' he was getting' back at the Army by tradin blankets and supplies to civilians, and Indians. The first colored man in our stockade is Flipper. Never know how it gonna go, Sam, you never know."
"What are you gonna do now, Ford? Where you gonna go?" Sam asked his old friend.
"No more dirt farming for this old slave, that be fo sho. I'll try cattle ranchin'; I saved good, buy me some land up by Albuquerque, build me a house, and Top, I do believe I'll take the Colonel's advice and get me a plump Sioux gal."
After the laughing and back slapping stopped, Sergeant Ford asked very seriously "Sam, do you really reckon you can find yo people?"
"They gave me Ol' Stone Wall Jackson here, a good mule, I can keep this Winchester repeater, and with my money I'll travel all over southwest Texas trackin' my folks."
"She might think you dead, Sam, and moved on. It been over ten years."
"Over ten years for us both, Willy. She might be dead, I don't know, but I'm not dead. I didn't move on. We do things the same way."
Two young children, a boy and his younger sister, were walking home from Texas Indian Reservation School on a cool early spring afternoon. An armadillo ran across their path. They chased it hoping to bring something home for Mom to cook. She would be so proud of them. It was a big Armadillo, digging under an old pecan tree stump, rapidly trying to get underground and away from them. The boy knew to grab the tail quickly and pull with both hands before it got away. The armadillo expanded its toughened protective bands, making it impossible for the nine-year-old to pull out.
A large, very black, weather worn hand gently covered the small two hands. "I got it, boy. Only one way to get him out now, he's in tick tight. Go get me a stick about the size of your finger."
They had no trouble finding a stick per the man's instructions. He took the stick while on one knee, spat on one end, and then raised the tail of the Armadillo. The cicadas stopped their deafening racket as he slowly inserted the stick into the anus of the animal. Almost immediately the armadillo relaxed. The man pulled it out of the hole, broke its neck, and then handed it to little, Sally. The cicadas restarted their clamor.
"Thank you, Mister." The boy said.
"Not a problem, son. Where did you kids get that curly hair?" He asked while sitting on the dead stump with new spring green grass growing all around it.
He was very thin, not very tall, gray stubble on his blue-black face and an old cowboy hat on his small head. Yellowish sun-damaged smiling eyes. He wore blue Army pants, dirty old boots, and a very dirty white long-john shirt.
"I don't know, Mister, we always had it." The young man took his sister's hand and started walking away.
"Son, is your mother called Sara?"
"Yes, sir." He stopped and turned to see him rising from the stump.
"Is your grandmother still alive, boy?"
"Big Mama is at the house, Mister."
"Let me get my mule, I'd like to go home with you, if you don't mind. Your Big Mama is an old friend of mine."
A big handsome black and chestnut Army mule was waiting patiently, eating the new grass on the side of the road. The mule was brought over and the man put Sally in the saddle. The man led the mule home, following the boy's directions.
"Mah'dear! Mah'dear! We got company." He called from the mule's back to the familiar dogtrot cabin with the normal flock of tiny full grown chickens in the yard shaded by two giant Apache Oak trees. He scattered the birds as he ran through the screen door of the Indian reservation home.
"Who you got out there, Mathew?" Big Mama asked walking through the screen door, squinting against the evening sun light. "Did you lose your way, Mister? Where you trying to get to?"
"Hello, Rose. I found my way; I been trying to get here for a very long time." The stranger spoke bashfully holding the bridle of his mule in both hands.
"Oh my God! Samuel? It's Samuel! Lordy, Lord, my husband is back! Sarah! Sarah! Come out here, honey, your Daddy is home."
The little chickens were startled into flight as Rose jumped down, then sprinted the short distance to engulf the skinny dirty man in her arms, frightening the mule.
"I knew you be comin' back, Sam. I told everybody my husband be home as soon as he could." Rose jumped up and down like a little girl. Her long hair, in a braided pony tail hanging the length of her back, flopped around like a black snake.
"You so bony, Sam. You ain't sick is ya, Sam?" Holding him at arm's length.
"I'm fine, Rose. Tired is all. Did you wait for me Rosy?"
"Do I act like I been waitin'? What I gonna do, Sam? No word come if you alive or dead. Not one letter, Sam, but I knowed you catch up with us if you alive."
"I'm so sorry about the things I had to do. Is that Sarah?" Sam asked, looking at the young woman on the porch.
Sara put her shotgun against the cabin wall, then ran to embrace her father while Rose smiled as tears ran down her face.
"Gal, you're all grown up." His daughter, a tiny little pecan-brown lady, had two thick short plaits of hair to her shoulders; now a woman.
"Yes I am, Daddy, and you all shrunk up. Mama, lets get those chickens we was fat'n up in the pin for supper tonight; one bird for each of us. We gonna make merry tonight."
Sam took a bath in the tub and shaved. Rose bathed him, and got her pony tail wet, which prompted Mathew to ask "why is yo hair wet Big Mama?" and was quickly hushed by his mother. They both looked much younger to him as they smiled at one another like children with a secret.
The armadillo was cleaned and put in a pot to boil with onions, sweet potatoes, and herbs on the convection wood stove so it could be added to the jack-rabbit stew planned for the next day. The big kitchen smelled of rosemary, sage, cilantro, and peppers. Roasting chickens and boiling armadillo added to the unforgettable day.
Sam entertained at the dinner table by raving over how good the food tasted. It was like he was singing….Hummm, Auuuu, Ohooooo. All had one of the small chickens on a plate with dumplings and biscuits, collard greens and Indian squash. A huge pot was on the stove with more smoked little birds. Sam partook of all, and food quickly disappeared down his gullet.
After supper Sam had questions. "Why are your chickens so small?"
"I smoke'em up real good and sell'em to people travelin. The little ones keep better and longer. Better tasten than jerky."
"Why do the children call you Big Mama, Rose? I was expecting to see my little Rose a big Rose when they told me Sarah's mother was Big Mama," Sam asked, smiling at Rose while holding her hand.
"I guess the children got two Mamas, and I have always been the bigger, but not by much." She smiled back.
"Speaking of the children" Sam continued, "where is the daddy, Sarah?"
"He's working for the Texas and Pacific Rail Road this summer near Pecos, Daddy. You remember Johnny Cloud, Daddy; we got married about ten years ago."
Rose added. "We are responsible for twenty acres, but it's almost impossible to work the land without a horse. Johnny got a job on the rail road; we sho need the money he sends home."
"I remember Johnny Cloud's father. Thunder Cloud was a scout while we were at Fort Stockton. You said you have twenty acres for planting? I'll take a look at it; old Stone Wall Jackson and me can turn twenty acres in one or two days, depending. Jackson would love to be in harness pulling a plow. That old mule has pulled cannon and Gatling gun over every mountain in New Mexico. Plowing is easy. We're both retired Army, looking for easy work.
"It's early in the season, the spring rains haven't started yet; let's get some seed tomorrow from the commissary, and by the time Johnny Cloud gets back he can help with the harvest. I gotta tell ya you got poor dirt on this reservation but let me see what I can do about getin us out of here in a couple of years and movin us all to El Paso, me bein a U S citizen an all and you-all my family; unless they changed me back to bein a slave while I was in the territories. But I like what you all is doin with them little chicks. I wan‘a hear more about them little birds you got running around everywhere."
"Children." Big Mama spoke while holding Grandpa's big hand in her two small weather brown hands. "Did you know that your Grandpa, Sergeant Sam Antoine, is a Buffalo Soldier?"