Approximately 20 percent of the U.S. Cavalry involved in the Plains Indian Wars (1866–90) were African American soldiers. These soldiers made up the Ninth and Tenth U.S. Cavalry Regiments.
The Cheyenne and Comanche tribes nicknamed these men Buffalo Soldiers because they were courageous and strong, qualities shared with the mighty buffalo. The hair of the Buffalo Soldiers reminded the tribal warriors of the tuft of hair between a buffalo's horns, as well. Given that the buffalo was important and necessary to the Native Americans’ way of life, the nickname was an honor, and one the soldiers accepted with pride.
The Buffalo Soldiers fought in more than 177 conflicts against the Plains tribes, and at least seventeen Medals of Honor were awarded them throughout the Indian Wars.
Fighting was not all they did, however. The Buffalo Soldiers mapped miles of southwestern frontier territory (wilderness at the edge of a settled region) and strung hundreds of miles of telegraph lines. Without the protection of these famous soldiers, construction crews would not have survived long enough to build the railroads throughout the frontier.