New book details bravery of ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ and role at Milk Creek

MEEKER | Thousands of freed Black slaves joined the Union Army during and after the Civil War. Many were sent West, where they found themselves entrenched in the Indian wars, subject to extreme prejudice, occasional lynchings, and subjected to extremely harsh conditions.

According to a new book by history writer Nancy K. Williams, the Plains Indians were at first intrigued by the Black soldiers, comparing their dark skin and curly hair to that of the buffalo the tribes revered. The Plains tribes were later impressed by the bravery of the troops in battle. The Cheyenne, fierce warriors, are credited with giving the Black troops the “Buffalo Soldiers” moniker.

Williams’ book, “Buffalo Soldiers on the Colorado Frontier,” opens with the Sand Creek Massacre in 1865, where Major John Chivington and his troops murdered Native Americans at Sand Creek and ignited the Colorado War. The book closes with the story of Nathan Meeker, the White River Agency, the Battle at Milk Creek in 1879, and the removal of the Utes to reservations.

Growing up in Arizona, Williams became acquainted with stories about the Buffalo Soldiers during visits to historic forts and sites with her family.

“I’d always thought that the Buffalo Soldiers were assigned mainly to fight Apaches in Arizona and was surprised when I found them mentioned in Colorado and then at Milk Creek. There are no books about their service in this state, and I wanted to learn more,” she said via email.

Williams spent two years working on the book, with most of that time devoted to research.

“The book on the Buffalo Soldiers was the most difficult to write because of the poor military records, and the way the troops were scattered throughout the West.”

The first book she could find about the Buffalo Soldiers wasn’t written until 1967.

“As I started researching the Buffalo Soldiers, I found so many instances of bravery. Most of these men never received the Medal of Honor, and their courage was just commended by their commanding officers and appreciated by their comrades,” Williams said. Many were also denied pensions after their service to the U.S. government came to a close.

Asked specifically about her takeaways from her research on the Milk Creek Battle and the Meeker Massacre, Williams was clear: “It didn’t have to happen.”

Nathan Meeker’s unwillingness or inability to understand the Utes and attempt to force them to abandon their way of life, and “how he repeatedly hounded the various commanders to send troops to back him up and force the Utes to do what he wanted,” came as a surprise to Williams. “There is plenty of criticism of Meeker now in the history books, and he bears partial blame for the tragedies,” she said via email.

Her book also describes the anti-Indian sentiment in Colorado at the time from leading political figures, and how that sentiment, coupled with the hunger for land and gold by White settlers, created an ideal climate for justifying breaking of treaties and eventually forcing the Utes onto reservations.

Williams’ other books include “Haunted Hotels of the California Gold Country,” “Haunted Hotels of Northern Colorado” which includes a chapter on the Meeker Hotel, and “Haunted Hotels of Southern Colorado.” All three are available for purchase on Amazon.