52 Weeks of Thankfulness: Honoring Buffalo Soldier, Cathay Williams

February is Black History Month and this week I’m honoring Cathay Williams in my “52 Weeks of Thankfulness” at Haddon’s Musings. Perhaps you know of her?  I had not heard of her until my recent trip to New Mexico. And in all honesty, I wasn’t expecting a historical lesson as I voyaged north on I-25.  But indeed I did learn a lesson, courtesy of the sign below.  Seriously, it almost beckoned me to pay a visit.  The sign, the sky…absolutely breathtaking; it must have been the best view the sky could offer at that given moment. And I simply couldn’t resist the temptation to learn more about the signs lonely position. Clearly, I’d been bitten by the Land of Enchantment. 
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So this sign says: 

“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.

If you should conduct your own research please note many sites spell her name either Cathy, Cathey or Cathay, although I believe the accurate spelling is Cathay.  And if you have heard of her story, please do share what you discover. Finally, if you are traveling within New Mexico, I want to encourage you to stop for New Mexico’s Historic Markers such as Cathay Williams. This is an initiative to recognize New Mexico’s women and their contributions to New Mexico history. The Historical Marker Database hopes to “inspire and provide a guide for future generations.” 
 
Works Cited
“Cathy Williams, A Buffalo Soldier Born.” African American Registry. 2013, Accessed, 17 Feb. 2017.
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