Buffalo Soldiers (1997)

 

 

 

Director:     Charles Haid.

Starring:    Lamont Bentley (Cpl. Sea), Tom Bower (Gen. Pike), Timothy Busfield (Maj. Robert Carr), Gabriel Casseus, Danny Glover (Sgt. Washington Wyatt), Bob Gunton (Col. Grierson), Keith Jefferson, Robert Knott (Capt. Draper), Carl Lumbly (Horse), Clifton Powell, Matt Ross, Glynn Turman (Sgt. Joshua 'Joyu' Judges Ruth), Michael Warren (Cpl. Eddie Tockes), Mykelti Williamson (Cpl. William Christy), David Jean Thomas (Cpl. Roseman Lloyd).

Made for TV.

Story of black cavalrymen who have to fight not just against the Indians, but against racial prejudice in the US Army

 

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Indians burn down a farm house. One small boy is left alive. John Horse, General Pike’s scout, picks up the young boy.

Mescalero Apache Reservation, New Mexico Territory, 1880. A group of three Indian boys are being hanged by the Texas Rangers. The Rangers tell the Indians that until somebody talks, three boys will be killed on the hour every hour. Captain Orin Draper tells the Indians that he wants Victorio.

H Troop of the10th Cavalry (a group of black cavalrymen) arrive on the scene. First Sergeant Washington Wyatt tells the captain that he will be arrested for trespassing and murder. The captain protests that nine ranchers are dead because of the Indians. Wyatt sends out part of his group to keep pursuing Victorio, while he takes the captain and his men to the military base.

Fort Craig, established 1868. The white Second Cavalry has arrived at the fort. Therefore, the black troops are kicked out of their barracks and have to camp out.

Wyatt makes his report to his superiors, who are very critical of the actions of Wyatt as regards the Texas Rangers. General Pike compares the actions of the black cavalry with the actions of the Texas Rangers. Wyatt says that there is a big difference in the actions of the two groups: "H troop committed no murders."

Word arrives that the Mimbreno Apaches have left the reservations following another vision by Nana. Now the fear is that the Mimbreno Apaches will combine with the Mescalero Apaches.

The group of H Troop that was chasing Victorio come back to the fort riding hard. The sergeant says that they had a running gunfight with Victorio and his group.

General Pike says that First Sgt. Wyatt is a liar. The white C Troop will be given the task of catching Victorio. Pike tells Major Robert Carr that he will be in command of H Troop. Carr is offended and objects to commanding "niggers". Captain Calhoun volunteers to command H Troop. Colonel Grierson, upset at the disputes between the cavalry leaders, asks: "Does anyone in this room remember who the real enemy is?"

H troop is sent for firing practice. Carr takes the white troops out from the base. Wyatt learns that General Pike has let the imprisoned Texas Rangers go.

Mesa Caliente. Carr goes south. Calhoun with the black troops goes north. The black troops run into riflemen firing at them from the mountains. An advance group rides to the mountains to flush out the riflemen. A bigger clash results and in the ensuing action, Calhoun is killed. Before he dies he places the first sergeant in charge of the troops.

Christy and Tockes crawl up behind the riflemen. From here they are able to capture four Indians, a woman and three men. One of the captives turns out to be Nana himself. John Horse arrives with the news that Carr has run into Victorio. Carr wants Wyatt and his men to come to his assistance.  Wyatt is not happy with the capture of Nana, because it took seven dead men to do it.

C Company returns. They lost Victorio at the Gila River. Carr blames Wyatt for his dead.   He is joined in this by General Pike. Wyatt argues that he did not go to Carr’s assistance because he had to bring in Nana to the fort so the prisoner could be adequately secured. During the dispute, Grierson gets mad at Pike and Carr and says: "Have you forgotten who brought you Nana?" Pike insists, however, that Victorio is still at the heart of the rebellion and that he really wants Victorio captured.

Wyatt and John Horse don’t get along very well. John Horse wants the first sergeant to acknowledge his help when he and Grierson came to Wyatt’s support during the dispute between Carr and Wyatt.

Nana and the other captives with him keep singing and chanting. This gets General Pike so mad that he gets up from his bed and shoots one of the singing Indians. He says: "Now maybe you’ll shut up."

The Mimbrenos have arrived in the area. Pike gives the job of catching Victorio to H troop. Wyatt is to take Nana with him for some protection. John Horse tells Wyatt that Victorio is in the area. He will be seeking water at one of the watering holes along a 20 mile stretch of land. In a fight with the Indians Grierson is wounded. He places Wyatt in charge. Wyatt tells a few of his men to take Grierson back home.

Wyatt uses a little torture to get Nana to tell him that Victorio will be heading to Rattlesnake Springs. Wyatt plans to get his troops there before Victorio arrives. The troops find the released Texas Rangers tortured and killed, except for the captain who begs for one of the troops to kill him. Tockes shoots the captain dead.

H Troop is attacked. A trooper had been shot. Wyatt and John Horse ride out. Tockes kills a rifleman. Wyatt wrestles with an Indian. John Horse comes to the first sergeant’s rescue by cutting the throat of the Indian.

Wyatt is able to arrive at Rattlesnake Springs before Victorio. He puts part of his troops up on the ridge overlooking the springs. Victorio and his people arrive. They are taken by complete surprise by the soldiers. Wyatt talks to Victorio. He tells the leader to lay down his weapons, but Victorio refuses to do so. Wyatt then tells him that he will kill everyone in the canyon.

Wyatt is told that he can’t kill all the Indians, but Wyatt won’t budge. He prepares his men to open fire on the native Americans, but changes his mind and lets the Indians proceed on to Mexico.

His men are very impressed by his decision and they salute him. Wyatt and his troop start the trip back to the base. They come to the local town. They are not supposed to ride into and through the town because it might cause trouble. But this time Wyatt leads his men right through the center of town.

 

Fairly good movie spoiled by the ending.  If black troops proved so sympathetic to the enemy, they would never have been used.  The policy of the US was to force all the Indians onto the reservations.  The Apaches, especially Geronimo, resisted.  Victorio was part of this resistance.  And as long as the Indians resisted, white settlers would die.  Troops who decide to cooperate with the enemy are just not fit for army service period.  From the very beginning of the coming of the Europeans to what became America, one could predict what was going to happen.  All the Indian tribes would be subdued in one way or the other.  But, of course, many tribes could not foresee this ending and fought to the death against the new settlers.  However, some native American tribes cooperated with the whites from the beginning of their first contact.  For instance, the Shoshones never chose to fight the whites.  Those who fought were killed and then forced onto reservations. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

Buffalo Soldiers served at Wounded Knee, with Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba, fought Crazy Horse, and helped capture Geronimo and Billy the Kid.

 

The division of Apachean groups:

1)  Navajo (northwestern New Mexico);

2)  Western Apache (east central Arizona);

3)  Chiricahua (southwestern New Mexico);  the Mimbrenos are part of this Apachean group; 

4)  Mescalero (southeastern New Mexico); 

5)  Jicarilla (northeastern New Mexico);

6)  Lipan (south Texas);

7)  Plains Apache (formerly Kiowa-Apache) (Oklahoma).

 

c.1825 – Victorio (Bidu-ya, Beduiat) grew up in the Chihenne band (sometimes called Eastern Chiricahua).

1845-1854 – in his 20s, Victorio rode with Geronimo and other Apache leaders

He became a warrior and chief of the Chihenne band of the Chiricahua Apaches in what is now New Mexico. Victorio's sister was the famous woman warrior Lozen ("Dextrous Horse Thief").

1853 – the US Army considers Victorio a chief or sub chief of a band of Chiricahuas sometimes also called Warm Springs or Mimbres) and Mescaleros and fought against the Army.

1866 (September 21) – the black 10th Cavalry formed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Their white leader was Civil War hero Benjamin Grierson. Because of prejudice, Grierson got his unit moved to Fort Riley, Kansas.

1867 (July 1) – The 9th and 10th cavalry (buffalo soldiers) were sent to Fort Davis, Texas. Companies C, F, H, and I of the 9th cavalry under Lt. Col. Wesley Merritt rebuilt the fort, patrolled the Mexican border and fought Indians until 1881.  The Buffalo soldiers fought in 127 battles, inflicting a average of 4.6 casualties per skirmish.

1870-1886 – Victorio and/or his band were held in at least three different reservations. Victorio wanted live on traditional land at the Ojo Caliente reservation.

1877 – Victorio and his band moved to San Carlos Reservation, Arizona Territory. He and other Apache bands left the reservation. He was fairly successful at raiding and evaded capture by the military.

1880 (April) – Victorio led the "Alma massacre" on Alma, New Mexico, in which several settlers were killed. His warriors were fended off by the arrival of U.S. Army soldiers from Fort Bayard.

1880 (October 14) – along the Rio Grande in northern Mexico, Victorio and most of his band were surrounded and killed by soldiers of the Mexican army at Tres Castillos, municipality of Coyame, state of Chihuahua.

 



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