“Born into slavery, Cathay was liberated in 1861 and worked as a cook for the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1866 she enlisted in the U.S. Army as a Private William Cathey serving with the Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Cummings and Fort Bayard until 1868. She is the only documented women to serve as an enlisted soldier in the Regular U.S. Army during the 19th Century.”
When I read the sign, I was surprised. The sign paints a very small depiction of Williams’ life, and since then I have learned more about her. One, she disguised herself as a male in order to enlist and did so for two years. During this time, no medical examination was required to enlist, but keeping her secret would prove somewhat difficult. On various occasions, she fell ill and did have to seek medical treatment, but through her cleverness was never exposed until she–herself–decided to reveal her identity. She was discharged October 14, 1868, and lived many years after her military service–note the sign does not mention her death. However, the African American Registry states that Cathay Williams died at the age of 82 in Raton, New Mexico. I’m glad to hear she had a long life, well beyond her years at war. Pvt. Cathay Williams, may you forever rest in peace and thank you for your service.