The Female Buffalo Soldier

buffalo-soldier-blogCathay Williams was born a slave in Missouri in 1842, but was freed by Union soldiers during the Civil War. She worked as a paid servant for the Union Army under General Philip Sheridan, who took her with him to Washington as a cook and laundress. After the war, she wanted to maintain her financial independence, and in November of 1866, enlisted in the 38th U.S. Infantry, known best as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” under the name William Cathay—since, of course, it was illegal for women to join the military. She/he was a cook with the unit, stationed in New Mexico Territory. William Cathay was discharged on October 14, 1868 due to repeated illnesses—amazingly, although she/he was often hospitalized, nobody realized she was a woman. Later, when she tried to get a military pension, it was refused, in part because they discovered her true identity and noted she’d been “illegally” enlisted. Her end is unknown, but she was last recorded in Colorado prior to the 1900 census. She remains the first and only woman to serve as a Buffalo Soldier!

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