Cathay Williams only woman Buffalo Solider by William Jennings from the U.S. Army.jpg marked as public domain, more details on Wikipedia Commons
Buffalo Woman Soldier
The history of Black-American Women is impressive, especially when they are the first Black-American in American History to push forward breaking new ground that would make history. They didn’t think about creating a legacy of hope for generations to come. I believe this is the case for Cathay Williams. I find Cathay’s only desire was to survive during one of the dark and grimmest times in our country’s history.
To discover Williams, I went from website to website, fascinated by a woman who went from being a slave freed by the Union Army to become the cook and laundress for General Philip Sheridan and his staff. In these positions, she experienced military life first hand. As this position ended, she joined the U.S. Army to avoid depending on anyone and making her way in life. Thus; she became the first black woman documented for her service in the U.S. Army before women were officially allowed to enlist.
Linda Kirkpatrick bio
I have been involved in cowboy poetry, ranch history, history of the west and women of the west history for 25 years. I grew up on a ranch in the Frio Canyon of Texas. It was there that I learned to appreciate the role of the cowboy and his place in the settlement of the state of Texas. Those cowboys didn’t do it all on their own though, there were many amazing women involved too. I have written numerous poems and recited the writings of others. I have two published books, “Somewhere in the West”, “Tales of the Frio Canyon, and a CD “Beneath a Western Sky”.
I first heard the story of Cathay Williams in 1998. I realized at that time that I would have to tell her story. I was invited along with Cowboy Sunset Serenade to perform at a program on the steps of the Texas State Capitol in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers. At that time there were only a few known facts about Cathay Williams and there is probably not many more, if any today. What is known is that she disguised herself as a man and joined the 38th all black infantry. This unit was formed, after the War Between the States, to give the black soldiers who had served with the Union an opportunity to further their careers in the military. After the invitation to tell her story in Austin, I got busy and with a bit of folklore, I told her story in rhyme.
I still write and recite and tell stories. I will be telling Cathay’s story at Lost Maples State Natural Area this January and again in February at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Alpine, Texas.
I can be contacted on Facebook or at email@example.com
A Poem by Linda Kirkpatrick
In a tiny shotgun cabin
Martha’s baby girl was born.
A baby born to slavery
That no one could forewarn.
Cathay Williams was determined
And never was deterred
As she began her life as a house girl
Being seen but never heard.
Then the Civil War broke out
And the Union soldiers came
And taking Cathay with them
Her life would never be the same.
Cathay learned the ways of military life
And became an accomplished cook.
She was sent to General Sheridan
A job she proudly undertook.
Then the Civil War was ended
And Cathay was finally free
And in seeking out her freedom,
She found her place in history.
Her own way she needed to make
And a burden to no one be
So as a Buffalo Soldier she joined up
In the 38th U. S. Infantry.
Cathay Williams became William Cathay
And no one was to know
The secret of her identity
As a soldier she did grow.
The troops moved west to Ft. Cummings
To keep the Apache at bay.
There were one hundred and one enlisted men
And among them was William Cathay.
After two years as a soldier
In the 38th Company A
William went to see the doctor
And her secret came out that day
Discharged as a Buffalo Soldier
Cathay did her very best
As she continued to make her way
In this land they called the West.
Because of her illegal enlistment
Her pension passed her by
But she picked herself up and moved on
And never questioned why.
Life ended for Cathay Williams
At the age of eighty-two
She lived a long independent life
A life that was tried but true.
A salute to Cathay Williams
The hero of this rhyme
A special woman of the west
A legend in her time. ¹
¹ Female Buffalo Soldier- With Documents Cathay Williams or William Cathay (Cathey) Private, Thirty-eighth U.S. Infantry 1866-1868 An Exceptional Womanhttp://www.buffalosoldier.net/CathayWilliamsFemaleBuffaloSoldierWithDocuments.htm
PERMISSION: This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author’s written permission. The above poem is written by Linda Kirkpatrick and copyrighted July 1999.
Permission to repost is granted by Linda Kirkpatrick, Author