The Buffalo Soldier Tragedy of 1877
Texas History - African American Studies
6.125 x 9.25, 192 pp.
22 b&w photos., 5 maps.
Pub Date: 07/17/2018
Price:        $22.95


Published by Texas A&M University Press

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2004 Rupert N. Richardson Prize, presented by the West Texas Historical Association

The Buffalo Soldier Tragedy of 1877

By Paul H. Carlson

In the middle of the arid summer of 1877, a drought year in West Texas, a troop of some forty buffalo soldiers (African American cavalry led by white officers) struck out into the Llano Estacado from Double Lakes, south of modern Lubbock, pursuing a band of Kwahada Comanches who had been raiding homesteads and hunting parties. A group of twenty-two buffalo hunters accompanied the soldiers as guides and allies.

Several days later three black soldiers rode into Fort Concho at modern San Angelo and reported that the men and officers of Troop A were missing and presumed dead from thirst. The “Staked Plains Horror,” as the Galveston Daily News called it, quickly captured national attention. Although most of the soldiers eventually straggled back into camp, four had died, and others eventually faced court-martial for desertion. The buffalo hunters had ridden off on their own to find water, and the surviving soldiers had lived by drinking the blood of their dead horses and their own urine. A routine army scout had turned into disaster of the worst kind.

Although the failed expedition was widely reported at the time, its sparse treatments since then have relied exclusively on the white officers’ accounts. Paul Carlson has mined the courts-martial records for testimony of the enlisted men, memories of a white boy who rode with the Indians, and other buried sources to provide the first multifaceted narrative ever published. His gripping account provides not only a fuller version of what happened over those grim eighty-six hours but also a nuanced view of the interaction of soldiers, hunters, settlers, and Indians on the Staked Plains at this poignant moment before the final settling of the Comanches on their reservation in Indian Territory.

PAUL H. CARLSON is professor emeritus of history, Texas Tech University, and retired director of the Texas Tech University Center for the Southwest. He resides in Ransom County, Texas.

What Readers Are Saying:

“In high summer of 1877, a routine army patrol on the drought-stricken Llano Estacado of Texas turned into disaster for Capt. Nicholas Nolan and his 40-man command of Black Buffalo Soldiers. The tragic episode, that made headlines across the nation, is vividly described by Carlson, who writes authoritatively and with clarity. A highly engaging mini-epic that is also a significant contribution to Southern Plains history.”--Marc Simmons, Historian and Author of Massacre on the Lordsburg Road

An almost-forgotten tragedy of the Texas plains occurred in 1877 when Captain Nicholas Nolan led a detachment of Tenth Calvary buffalo soldiers in pursuit of Comanches and became lost in the blistering heat of summer. Paul Carlson gives a grueling day-by-day, almost hour-by-hour account of the ordeal from the viewpoints of its various participants. He also puts the even into perspective in regard to time, place and conditions which set the stage for disaster. I found Paul’s research the most thorough I have seen on Nolan, his men and the hunters, and his account very gripping.” --Elmer Kelton

“Although this harrowing tale has been related in previously published articles and book chapters, no one has offered more thorough and balanced coverage than has Paul Carlson. . . . Well-written history often comes in relatively small packages, and this is one such case where cogent analysis of broader historical themes can be gleaned from an otherwise singular event. Persons interested in the Southern Plains, Native American history, frontier military life, and race relations within American institutions will be pleased with all that this book has to offer.” --Journal of Military History

“. . . Carlson does an excellent job reconstructing this event from often-contradictory accounts. He provides background for and the perspectives of the three groups involved–the buffalo soldiers, Comanche, and buffalo hunters–and vividly describes the hardship and chaos endured by the survivors. . . Carlson is especially adept at pulling firsthand accounts from primary and secondary sources and weaving them into an informative and interesting narrative.” --CHOICE

“ Paul H. Carlson has added scholarly depth and breadth to what was previously considered a minor episode in black military experience in the Indian Wars.” --Western Historical Quarterly

“Carlson tells a compelling, if not always heroic, story.” --East Texas Historical Journal

“...the author virtually places readers alongside the troopers on those hot, dry plains.” --East Texas Historical Journal

“The overall result is the most complete and detailed account of the Lost Troop Expedition yet written, one that will not likely be surpassed for some time.” --East Texas Historical Journal

“...readers will be rewarded with fine examples of historical research and storytelling.” --East Texas Historical Journal

“. . . Carlson gives greater depth to the buffalo soldier tragedy than previous chroniclers. . . once Carlson begins his story, casual and advanced readers alike will be engrossed until Nolan’s command returns to Fort Concho.” --American Historical Review

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