Bexar County officials will build a new memorial to commemorate the Buffalo Soldiers, Black Army regiments whose history is intertwined with San Antonio’s.

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) on Thursday announced Pletz County Park, 3726 Willowwood Blvd., on San Antonio’s East Side, as the location for a statue honoring the soldiers, who were instrumental in American expansion into the West.

As part of the county’s 2022 budget, Calvert secured $400,000 for the statue, whose location in a county park also opens it for additional county funding, he said.

“The statue shall promote postcolonial reconciliation, heal the wounds of genocide, and promote how the Buffalo Soldiers service expanded freedom, justice, the Constitution, American ideals, and the work towards a more perfect union,” Calvert said at a Veterans Day event at Fred Brock American Legion Post 828.

The statue will honor the Black soldiers, many of them formerly enslaved, who enlisted in the Army’s five all-Black infantry and cavalry units following the Civil War. For three months in 1867, the 9th Cavalry Regiment assembled at what is now San Pedro Springs Park north of downtown San Antonio, where a marker commemorates the training ground.

Stationed throughout the Southern Plains, New Mexico, Arizona, and the Mountain West, the Buffalo Soldiers fought Native American tribes and opened the Western frontier for American expansion. Later on, some regiments quelled an 1892 land feud in Johnson County, Wyoming, and fought in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

Established in 1999, the Bexar County Buffalo Soldiers Association works to preserve that history. On Thursday, the group held its annual Veterans Day celebration at the San Antonio National Cemetery. Members wore their blue and yellow uniforms and riding gloves in the style of late-19th century cavalrymen.

“There’s nothing in the history books, so if we don’t go out and tell that story, who’s going to hear it?” said Turner McGarity, one of the group’s members.

Details on the statue’s appearance and is still in the works. Calvert invited the American Legion post and the Bexar County Buffalo Soldiers Association to submit members to serve on a statue committee, adding that he intends to invite local indigenous groups to serve on the committee as well.

The statue’s location within Pletz County Park isn’t certain yet, but the park’s connection to Salado Creek has historical significance. On the banks of the same creek, 13 Buffalo Soldiers were executed after a trial over their involvement in a riot in Houston on Aug. 23, 1917.

Pletz County Park is adjacent to Salado Creek and features large trees, playground equipment, and pavilions. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The violence was the result of tension between the all-white Houston police and the all-Black 24th Infantry Regiment, a Buffalo Soldier regiment dispatched to guard a construction site for a military training camp. According to the Texas Historical Association, police officers beat, shot at, and arrested multiple soldiers and officers before the riot broke out.

The police abuse led to a mutiny against white Army officers, and more than 100 Buffalo Soldiers marched on Houston. They killed four Houston police officers and 11 white residents; another 12 were seriously wounded. Four Black soldiers were killed; two of them shot by their own men.

The Army held its courts-martial against the accused members of the regiment at Fort Sam Houston, finding 110 of them guilty. Only military officers and the Bexar County sheriff were present when 13 soldiers were hanged on Dec. 11, 1917, according to a press report.

Brig. Gen. Shan K. Bagby, the Buffalo Soldiers Association’s keynote speaker at its event Thursday, spoke of the history of racial oppression in the U.S. But as the first Black dental officer to achieve his rank, he also noted the country’s ability to transcend its past.

“We live in a country and society where our history is not necessarily our destiny,” Bagby said.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.