Sunday, February 1, 2015

Black History Month Day 1: Cathy Williams The first and only female Buffalo Soldiers

I want to start Black History Month off on a positive and uplifting note. I am going to change it up this year and make this month of blogs both educational and little bit controversial. I hope to be as objective as I possibly can, but we shall see. 
A phenomenal woman indeed Ms. Cathy Williams was the first and only Buffalo Soldier. A poem about her life quotes:
"Cathy Williams became William Cathy
And no one was to know
The secret of her identity
As a soldier she did grow"
Cathy Williams was born into slavery in 1842 in Independence, MO. Shortly after the civil war broke out she was freed by Union soldiers and went on to work for the Federal Army as a paid servant. 
When Congress passed an act authorizing establishment of the first all Black units of the military, later known as the Buffalo Soldiers, Williams joined the Army. At that time women were not allowed to serve as soldiers so she posed as a man, calling herself William Cathy. At that time only a cursory medical exam was required and she was deemed fit for duty. 
It was recorded that Williams was admitted to 4 different hospitals on 5 occasions and it was never discovered that she was a female.
On July 13, 1868 Williams was diagnosed with neuralgia. It was during this hospitalization that her true identity was discovered. On October 14, 1868 Williams was discharged at Fort Bayard with a certificate of disability.
Williams spent time after that working various odd jobs and fighting to get her pension and disability. However, after various doctor's exams and investigations it was determined that no disability existed. Additionally, the wording on the discharge certificate noted that her "feeble condition" existed pre-enlistment so she was not eligible for it. Finally, since she was a female, her service in the Army was never legal and any type of pension and/or disability was denied. 
It is not known exactly when Williams died. She is believed to have passed away sometime between 1892 and 1900 as her name no longer appeared in the census rolls from 1900. 
And the poem of her life ends...
"A salute to Cathy Williams
The hero of this rhyme
A special woman of the west
A legend in her time"

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