Mark Matthews: Buffalo Soldier
Mark Matthews loved horses. He was born on August 7, 1894 in Greenville, Alabama. Growing up African-American in the south in the 19th century, he saw his share of prejudice. At some point his family moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where he found a job doing stable work at a racetrack. When he was 15, members of the 10th Cavalry, the original unit of Buffalo Soldiers, rode through Lexington.
Buffalo Soldiers have a special significance in American history. During the Civil War, there were many regiments formed to fight for the Union, called “United States Colored Troops.” These regiments were mainly made up of African-Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Asian Americans. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, it became legal for black men to join the army, though these regiments were still segregated. These regiments became known as “Buffalo Soldiers,” because during the American Indian Wars, Native American tribes admired the soldiers for their bravery, or so the story goes.
Naturally, the existence of these Buffalo Soldiers appealed to Matthews. They appealed to him so much that he forged papers to meet the Army’s minimum age requirement; like now, you had to be 17 to enlist. This sparked a prestigious lifelong career. In 1916, he participated in the hunt for Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa. During World War II, he staged horse shows to sell war bonds, and tended to Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal horses. Later, he was stationed in the Pacific and fought in the Battle of Saipan, where he became First Sergeant. After the war, Matthews retired from the Army, and the Buffalo Soldiers were disbanded shortly after as the Army became integrated.
After his military career, he became Chief of Guards at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In 2005, he died of pneumonia at the age of 111 in Washington, D.C. Of his character, the local children would be the best judge. According to the Washington Post, “he spent time with the children, enjoyed looking after them. He took them fishing with him, made sure they got to school, took them in if they needed a place to stay. ‘They called him Daddy,’ daughter Mary Matthews Watson recalled.”