• New exhibit spotlights Buffalo Soldiers

  • The Frontier Army Museum reinvigorated its permanent exhibit honoring Buffalo Soldiers this month with six new objects from its collection.

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  • Christopher Burnett | Staff Writer
    The Frontier Army Museum reinvigorated its permanent exhibit honoring Buffalo Soldiers this month with six new objects from its collection.
    “The Buffalo Soldiers celebrated their 150th anniversary last year,” said Museum Specialist Megan Hunter. “We wanted to commemorate that sesquicentennial by introducing some of the related historical items stored in the museum archives and also refresh the current permanent display.”
    Hunter said adding the new items to any permanent exhibition serves three primary purposes. She said changing elements of an exhibit refreshes the overall presentation, enhances the visitor experience and preserves artifacts in the museum collection by rotating the items on display.
    “Rotation of objects is especially good for textile items,” Hunter said. “By taking them off of display mounts every few months, these type of materials have time to return to shape. This procedure serves as mitigation of deterioration and damage.”
    Hunter said among the new items on display is an overcoat made from a bison’s hide. She said troops required cold-weather gear to protect them from the sub-zero temperatures of northern Plains winters and were issued the garments during the 1880s.
    “The Army issued these long buffalo overcoats,” Hunter said. “But, protective measures by the government to avoid extinction discontinued that practice of harvesting the animals for this purpose.”
    In addition to the winter clothing items and silk unit standard, Hunter said the new exhibit would include an original model 1884 Springfield carbine used by a soldier from the 10th Cavalry. She said museum staff installed the pieces and volunteers like Scott Wilson fabricated display cases.
    “Installation of the items is a Frontier Army Museum team effort,” Hunter said.
    Wilson said he has been helping build display cases for several years. He said he made the large case to show the long buffalo overcoat and was finishing work on the case to hold the carbine.
    “I taught myself how to weld and doing so has become a useful skill for my volunteer work here,” Wilson said. “I build to the specifications the museum staff gives me. For this particular case, Russ (Ronspies, museum specialist) cut the plexiglass and I fit it in place.”
    Hunter said muskrat skin hat and gauntlets are on display with the coat to depict a typical uniform combination worn by the soldiers. She said the picture next to the exhibit shows Buffalo Soldiers wearing each of the things on display. Hunter said the muskrat gauntlets from 1879 could become wet and then dried without becoming brittle.
    “The Army experimented with different types of animal furs and skins to make special winter clothing for troops,” Hunter said. “Blanket-lined canvas coats eventually replaced the use of skins.”
    Page 2 of 2 - She said the regimental flags are for identification of a particular unit and creation of esprit de corps.
    “This presentation rotates the guidon of the 9th Cavalry out and replaces it with the 1884 regimental standard of the 10th Cavalry,” Hunter said. “The silk standard is hand-painted, and the same flag 10th Cavalry soldiers would carry in mounted movements and ceremonial formations.”
    Hunter said the significant efforts of an artifact conservator successfully restored the 10th Cavalry standard. She said preservation and presentation would have been difficult otherwise.
    “When the museum received this object, it was falling apart due to age,” Hunter said. “We can now display the standard for visitors to enjoy because of the restoration backing material applied to it.”
    George Moore, museum director, said the Buffalo Soldiers’ history is significant because African-Americans frequently fought in protection of the United States, but it wasn’t until after the Civil War that they would serve in an official capacity.
    “It wasn’t until 1866 when Congress reorganized the militar, that the first formal enlistment of black soldiers into the United States Army was permitted,” Moore said. “Buffalo Soldiers’ primary role in the Army was to protect settlers moving west and support the westward expansion by building infrastructure for new settlements. Buffalo Soldiers also served concurrently with white soldiers as the first national park rangers.”
    Moore said the Army established four all-black infantry units, along with the 9th and 10th cavalries. He said the units were comprised of black enlisted men with predominantly white officers.
    “Fort Leavenworth was the home of the 10th Cavalry, and it recruited soldiers from the northern states,” Moore said. “The 9th Cavalry recruited soldiers from the south and set up headquarters in Louisiana.”
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