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Frontier Women - July 29, 2016

Buffalo Soldier Mural Near Van Horn, Texas (Flickr Photo by Jan)

Q: Buffalo Soldiers were the first African-American regiments formed after the American Civil War. This included the 10th Cavalry, which was formed at Fort Leavenworth in 1866. A statue honoring the nation’s only female Buffalo Soldier has now been dedicated in Leavenworth. What was this woman’s name?

A: Cathay Williams 
In the 1800s, women weren't allowed to serve in the U.S. Army. So, in order to enlist, Cathay Williams dressed like a man and told army recruiters her name was William Cathay. It worked, at least for a while. She served two years as a soldier in the U.S. Army -- as a man.  
Eventually, her true gender was discovered and she was dismissed from service. This African-American woman had been born a slave and was forced to serve as a cook for the Union Army. It was after the war that she pretended to be a man, enlisted and served at Fort Riley and Fort Harker. 
Regardless of how she enlisted, Cathay Williams became the first female Buffalo Soldier. Buffalo Soldiers were the first African-American regiments formed after the American Civil War and included the 10th Cavalry, formed at Fort Leavenworth in 1866.  
Earlier this month, Williams was honored with a memorial unveiled at the Richard Allen Cultural Center and Museum in Leavenworth. This tribute -- the latest addition to other Buffalo Soldier monuments in Leavenworth -- is a bronze bust of Williams. Originally from Independence, Missouri, Williams is the only black woman known to have served in the U.S. Army during the 19th century. After her service, Williams eventually settled in Colorado, working as a cook and seamstress until her death.

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