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ArlingtonHistorian draws on ancestor to tell story of Buffalo Soldiers

Historian draws on ancestor to tell story of Buffalo Soldiers

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Alfred Pride spent nearly three decades in the U.S. Army, much of that time enforcing complicated and frequently contradictory government policy aimed at pacifying Native Americans while moving them out of the way as white settlers spread into the West to fulfill the nation’s sense of its Manifest Destiny.

The story comes to life in “Following the Trail of Trooper Alfred Pride, Buffalo Soldier (1865-1893): A Patriot and a Pawn,” a scholarly yet lively account written by Pride’s great-grandson, Dr. Alfred Taylor Jr.

To mark publication, Taylor spoke on June 11 during a program at Macedonia Baptist Church in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood.

Trooper Pride began his service in what would come to be known as the Buffalo Soldiers in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. The African-American troops were sent west to provide security at newly created Native American reservations and, when the need arose, battle the tribes whenever they fought to retain their sovereignty in what came to be known as the Indian Wars of the late 19th century.

“They were fighting a double battle,” Taylor said of members of the 10th Cavalry Regiment in which his great-grandfather served. “The government didn’t want them. The Native Americans didn’t want them. The settlers hated their guts. They had to survive torrid summers . . . and then frigid winters. They were real, live people who had to go through a lot of atrocities.”

Service could be fraught with danger. In 1890, Trooper Pride (by then serving in the 9th Cavalry) and others rode for 24 hours nonstop from Nebraska to South Dakota to reinforce the 7th Cavalry in what would become known variously as the Battle of Wounded Knee or Massacre at Wounded Knee, which saw several hundred Lakota men, women and children killed.

The soldiers, as nearly always is the case, had little say in the matter.

“I can’t blame people now for what happened then,” said Taylor. “They were only doing what they were ordered to do. [The government used Buffalo Soldiers] as a pawn to clear the land for the settlers.”

In 1891, Trooper Pride found himself stationed at Fort Myer, where he served the remaining two years of his military career. Upon retirement, he and his wife lived in the Foggy Bottom section of the District of Columbia.

Despite almost two decades in the Army, Pride received no pension because he had not, technically, served in wartime. It wasn’t until seven years after his 1910 death that his widow began receiving a small government stipend. (She died in 1928; husband and wife are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.)

There are no confirmed photographs of Trooper Pride, although he almost assuredly can be found in photos of the regiments. Taylor said he has studied the photos. “I have to wonder, ‘Which one [is he]?’” Taylor ruefully noted.

Among those in attendance on June 11 was Dr. Elizabeth Clark-Lewis, a professor of history at Howard University. She praised Dr. Taylor for adding “new voices and new views to history” by spotlighting the real-life, rather than Hollywood, story of African-American soldiers of the era.

“We don’t often get [to put] the faces to the names of people who made history,” Dr. Clark-Lewis said.

Dr. Taylor spent a decade on research for this book, and has spent decades more on other historical inquiry. In response to an audience question at the Macedonia event, he lamented the current polarization on issues ranging from the teaching of history to the renaming of infrastructure to the removal of statues.

He takes a middle-ground approach, Taylor said, citing the need to have “real conversations, some difficult conversations” but ones that have no rancor attached.

“We should able to agree to disagree,” he said. “Now, everyone has chosen sides and the two sides never talk.”

“You’ve got to know where you’ve come from and how you got to the place you are today,” he said. “If you erase it, how can you measure your progress?”

• • •

“Following the Trail of Trooper Alfred Pride, Buffalo Soldier (1865-1893): A Patriot and a Pawn” is available at www.bookbaby.com.

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