PALESTINE — Hailing from the 19th century, a valiant soldier and friend of the frontier settlers appeared in Palestine Thursday to visit with students and friends in the Palestine High School parking lot.
The peace keeper of yesteryear was none other than local historian Norris White, who had been active in costume at the school since sunrise that morning, dressed head to toe in a thick wool uniform that the frontier-fighting Buffalo Soldiers wore while riding the West Texas plains.
White, a seventh-grade Texas History teacher at Palestine Junior High School, was there for a special educational event held in honor of Juneteenth — the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
The event, with free admission, was put on by Texas Parks and Wildlife in conjunction with Palestine’s Texas Afterschool Centers for Education (TACE) program.
Juneteenth denotes a time in history when — on June 19, 1865 — Union soldiers landed at Galveston proclaiming news that the war had ended and slavery was a thing of the past. In 1866, the United States government began extending its authority into the borderland regions of the Southwest to create the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments and the 9th and 10th Calvary Regiments.
These regiments employed African American soldiers to keep order in a real “wild west” of thieves and gunslingers, as White called them — and during the time the Indian Wars Campaign was in full swing. The 9th Calvary, which White's costume represented, was scattered throughout the Texas Plains and badlands of the Rio Grande Valley to subdue the Indian threat and rid the territory of unscrupulous characters.
As White told listeners via an interactive demonstration, black soldiers were dubbed “Buffalo Soldiers” by a group of Native American warriors who “had never seen African American people before,” he said, thus basing the nickname on the darker color of their skin.