Cathay Williams

When Cathay Williams enlisted in the army, women were not allowed to Infantry. As a result, she become the first and only known female Buffalo Soldier. Williams was born into slavery in Independence, Missouri in 1842. She worked as a house slave from William Johnson, a wealthy planter in Jefferson City, Missouri. She worked for him until his death. About the same time, the Civil War broke out and she was freed by Union soldiers. Thereafter, she worked for the Army as a paid servant. While serving the soldiers, she experienced military life first hand. She served Colonel Benton while he was in Little Rock, Arkansas. She also served General Sheridan and his staff. She was recruited to Washington to sever as a cook and laundress for them. While traveling with them, she witnessed the Shenandoah Valley raids in Virginia. After leaving Virginia, she traveled to Iowa and then to St. Louis. Throughout her time working for the Army, she also had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans, Savannah, and Macon.When the war was over, Williams wanted to maintain her financial independence. In November 1866, she enlisted as William Cathay in the 38th U.S. Infantry, Company A in St. Louis, Missouri. At that time, only a cursory medical examination was required and she was quickly found to be fit for duty. There were only two people that knew her true identify – a cousin and a friend, who faithfully kept her secret. She informed her recruiting officer that she was a 22-year-old cook. He described her as 5′ 9″, with black eyes, black hair and black complexion.On February 13, 1867, Williams was sent to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri and a few months later, in April, the troops marched to Fort Riley, Kansas. By June, they were on the march again, this time to Fort Harker, Kansas, and the next month, on to Fort Union, New Mexico, more than 500 miles away.On September 7, the regiment moved on to Fort Cummings, New Mexico, arriving on October 1st. They were stationed there for eight months, protecting miners and traveling immigrants from Apache attack. While she was there, a brief mutiny broke out in December, 1867 when a camp follower was expelled for stealing money. Several men were brought up on charges or jailed, but Williams was not among them. In 1868, Williams grew tired of military life so she feigned illness. She was examined by the post surgeon who then discovered that she was a woman. She was discharged October 14, 1868.

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