The best books about the Buffalo Soldiers

Who am I?

Growing up, I dreamed of being Margaret Mead. When I realized that Margaret already had that job, I turned my anthropologist’s eye for the defining details of language, dress, and customs to fiction. I love to tell the untold tales--especially about women--who are thrust into difficult, sometimes impossible, circumstances and triumph with the help of humor, friends, perseverance, and their own inspiring ingenuity. In my eleven bestselling novels, I have been able to do this well enough that I was nominated for the International Dublin Literary Prize and in 2021 was honored with the Paul Re Peace Award for Cultural Advocacy for promoting empathy through my work.

I wrote...

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

By Sarah Bird,

Book cover of Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

What is my book about?

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen is an epic page-turner inspired by the true story of Cathay/Cathy Williams, the only woman known to have served with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers and the first to enlist in the peacetime U.S. military. Born into slavery, freed by the Civil War, Cathy refused the cruel future that awaited all women-- especially an unmarried, uneducated, Black woman like herself--in the defeated South. Instead, she made the majestic decision to disguise herself as a man and ride west toward grand adventure and true freedom with the Buffalo Soldiers.

The books I picked & why

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The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Black Cavalry in the West

By William H. Leckie, Shirley A. Leckie,

Book cover of The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Black Cavalry in the West

Why this book?

Published more than a hundred years after the first Black regiments were formed during the Civil War, historian William Leckie’s marvel of a book was a landmark achievement. For the first time, the extraordinary contributions of the Buffalo Soldiers were documented and celebrated in exhaustive detail.

The Buffalo Soldiers was the Rosetta Stone I used for translating the few bald facts we have about Cathy’s life into a language vivid and vibrant enough to match her courageous decision to risk everything in pursuit of a life of freedom and dignity.

First published in 1967, the book is still in print. Attesting to the volume’s enduring popularity, nearly a dozen revisions and updates have been released since then.

New Mexico's Buffalo Soldiers: 1866-1900

By Monroe Lee Billington,

Book cover of New Mexico's Buffalo Soldiers: 1866-1900

Why this book?

Drawing from military records, newspaper articles, personal correspondence, and other source materials, historian Billington shows that despite often extreme prejudice, inferior equipment, and intense bigotry from the citizens they were protecting, the Buffalo Soldiers not just survived but triumphed. I particularly appreciated his focus on New Mexico as Cathy was posted in that state.

Billington has excavated a wealth of detail about the daily life of a Buffalo Soldier. He writes of them storing pickled meats, molasses, pickles, and vegetables, making 25,000 adobe bricks, burning smoky fires to control mosquitoes, and repairing hard to replace shoes.  I found this granular examination of daily life invaluable in bringing Cathy to life.

The Buffalo Soldier Tragedy of 1877

By Paul H. Carlson,

Book cover of The Buffalo Soldier Tragedy of 1877

Why this book?

I based one of the most riveting portions of Daughter on Carlson’s meticulously-researched account of what one newspaper called the “Staked Plains Horror.” And horror it was.  In the middle of a dangerously dry summer, forty Buffalo Soldiers led by white officers set off on a routine scouting expedition. Several days later three Black troopers returned to report that all the men of Troop A were missing and presumed dead.

Eventually, all but four of the party made it back to Fort Concho with tales of having survived by drinking the blood of their dead horses and their own urine. Carlson’s careful examination of the records of the court-martial trials that followed reveal what a large role the officers’ bigotry and ineptitude played in triggering this catastrophe.

Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay: The Enlisted Soldier Fighting the Indian Wars

By Don Rickey,

Book cover of Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay: The Enlisted Soldier Fighting the Indian Wars

Why this book?

I was delighted to discover this compilation of personal accounts by enlisted men who’d served in the U.S. Army during the settling of the American West. Though the educated class of officers left extensive documentation of their lives on the frontier, the mostly illiterate rank and file were unable to chronicle their experiences. Rickey filled this void in the early sixties by interviewing over three hundred troopers, both black and white, who were still alive at that time.

The wealth of detail they supplied was invaluable to me in creating both Cathy’s voice and the world she passed as a man in.

The Wolf and the Buffalo

By Elmer Kelton,

Book cover of The Wolf and the Buffalo

Why this book?

If you’d like to understand why Elmer Kelton was voted the greatest Western writer of all time by the Western Writers of America read The Wolf and the Buffalo. Though every word of the dozens of books he authored are saturated in the authenticity of the Texas cattleman that Kelton was, this novel holds a special place in my heart.

Published in 1980 before there was a widespread appreciation for the achievements of the Buffalo Soldiers against great odds, Kelton presents fully-realized portraits of the formerly enslaved men tasked with protecting white settlers. 

All Kelton’s writing is alive with the language of the frontier. I am grateful to the master for helping me feel the rhythm of 19th Century, Western speech. On just one page, Kelton has his characters speak of fires that they “get to goin’,” of someone departing rapidly “skinning out the door,” and of how, if a character were younger he’d “like as not” answer the call of adventure.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Buffalo Soldiers, the American West, and pioneers?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Buffalo Soldiers, the American West, and pioneers.

Buffalo Soldiers Explore 5 books about Buffalo Soldiers
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Pioneers Explore 75 books about pioneers

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