The buffalo soldier looms large in the folklore of the American West. Buffalo soldiers were the black recruits of the U.S. Calvary whose name came from the Indians, who likened the texture of their hair to that of the buffalo. The Indians respected these tough, tenacious fighters, among whom was Samuel Garland, one of the first buffalo soldiers to serve with the 10th U.S. Calvary.
Sam Garland was born a slave in Lafayette County, Mississippi, on February 24, 1847, to an African-American father and a Cherokee Indian mother. He was taken from his mother at age four and carried into Arkansas. When fourteen years old he boarded a riverboat on the Mississippi River and worked as a cabin boy. Sam never attended school but in his later years he acquired an education and understanding of business and political affairs that was remarkable.
Freed in 1865, Sam immediately moved to Illinois and worked at various occupations. In June 1867 he joined Company F of the 10th U.S. Calvary at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Over the next five years Sam was stationed at various Kansas forts and took an active part in making the frontier safe.
Sam had many thrilling experiences while fighting the Indians. He was a member of the rescue party in 1868 that saved the survivors of the Battle of Beecher Island in then-eastern Colorado Territory. Sam received several minor wounds in the course of his military career. His most serious came during a battle with the Indians near Victoria, Kansas, when he was shot in the forehead with an arrow and nearly died. Only by playing dead was he able to save his own life. In 1872 Sam returned to civilian life. On December 23, 1875, he married Mary D. Samuel in Wyandotte County, Kansas. The couple had two daughters and a son, Willie.
Even with a growing family Sam’s adventurous life continued. In April 1879 the Garlands joined a wagon train and moved from their home in Leavenworth to the Exoduster settlement of Nicodemus in Graham County, Kansas. There Sam ran a hardware store and real estate business. He was also a great orator for the Republican Party cause.
In 1880 Sam moved his family to Downs. They stayed only a brief time, however, before returning to Graham County. Sam then helped organize a colony that founded the all-African-American town of Manzanola in southeastern Colorado. In 1888 the Garlands moved back to Downs, where Sam worked at various jobs before taking over the sanitation duties at the high school in 1898. The students there grew to love this “kindly and courteous gentleman,” as the school newspaper put it in 1914. “He was ever ready to stop one student in the hall and tell him the latest joke.”
The Garland family lived happily in Downs until Mrs. Garland’s death in 1931. Sam then divided his remaining years between his two daughters’ homes in Kansas City and near Bogue, Kansas. He passed away July 9, 1936, at his daughter’s home near Bogue and was buried in the Napue Cemetery near Nicodemus.
In January 1991 a great-grandson, Alanzo Gillian Alexander, performed for the first time his one-man show depicting Sam and life in the U.S. Calvary. The memory of this steadfast buffalo soldier lives on through his work.