Legacy, history come alive during Buffalo Soldier Day
It may have looked like a simple toy, but the contraption Braxsten Williams, 12, and his brother, Brennyn, 8, played with Sunday in the fields behind the Institute of Texan Cultures carried the full weight of history — one obscured for too long.
“Come on, guy, get over!” exclaimed Brennyn, pinching together two sticks to make a small, wooden figure tied at the top do flip-flops.
“You got to pinch lower,” said Clifton Fifer, dressed in Buffalo Solider regalia as he stood beside an array of toys, tools, animal hides and other artifacts used by African-American soldiers who enlisted in the infantry and cavalry units assigned to the Texas frontier after the Civil War.
The Buffalo Soldiers — their service
long neglected by the sands of time — scouted and mapped Texas lands. They protected settlers, traders and the mail, installed telegraph lines and carried out numerous other tasks that helped shape early Texas.
The half-dozen or so Buffalo Soldier interpreters who regaled the kids and their parents at the museum did so as part of DreamWeek San Antonio, which began in 2013 and comprises events across the city aimed at exploring the past and finding a vision for the future.
But Sunday’s event had one specific goal in mind — capturing the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers for an audience that might not glimpse it elsewhere.
That was the mission of Braxsten and Brennyn’s mother, Dana Williams, who homeschools her sons and is always looking for a way to broaden their education, she said.
“Especially when it comes to African-American
history,” she said, watching as her husband, Julius Williams, helped the boys make the wood figure flipflop. “I like them to see the contributions of their ancestors, anything that will make the history come alive. And it really opens my eyes to what I didn’t learn in school — what was deleted.”
At a neighboring tent, Buffalo Soldier interpreter Allen Mack made Lucy Stalcup, 2, giggle as the two rode wooden stick horses around.
“This is important, because growing up I didn’t see people who looked like me in the history books,” said Mack, who belongs to a group of Buffalo Solider interpreters with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. “If I had, my life may have been a little bit different. We’re all about instilling pride and teaching history.”
At other tents, children learned how to pack a rucksack for a frontier patrol, read maps, track wild animals and play games that the soldiers enjoyed while off duty.
“How did they brush their teeth?” Elena Gutierrez, 4, asked William Reece, a Buffalo Soldier interpreter for 12 years with the Living History Foundation in Austin.
“They made a paste with coal from the fireplace and minty leaves,” he replied.
Luis Padilla, program supervisor of the park’s department Buffalo Soldiers program, said his group does more than 80 historical demonstrations and other events around Texas each year.
“We specifically target what is normally not taught in the schools, or not taught with great detail,” he said. “We also include everyone — the Hispanic and Asian soldiers who served alongside the Buffalo Soldiers, the white officers, the Native Americans, who were a huge part of the history. You can’t accurately tell history without including everyone.”
Interpreter Allen Mack, left, talks with Charles Johnson, of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Clubs, during Buffalo Soldier Day on Sunday at the University of Texas at San Antonio Institute of Texan Cultures.
Lucy Stalcup, 2, helps round up bad guys with help from Allen Mack. Buffalo Solider Day was part of DreamWeek.
Gil Tafolla Hernandez talks about his great-grandfather, Santiago, who was a cattle rancher, Methodist minister and fought in the Texas-Indian and Civil Wars, among other things.