By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers
A hill located near Lingo will be forever be designated as Buffalo Soldier Hill on federal maps in honor of African-American members of the U.S. Cavalry.
Lingo is 40 miles southeast of Portales, near the Texas border.
“This means no name other than Buffalo Soldier Hill may appear on federal maps,” said Bob Julyan, chair of the New Mexico Geographic Names Committee, who presented the proposal to change the name on Oct. 12 in Portland, Ore. “In my more than 15 years as chair of the N.M. Geographic Names Committee, I’ve encountered only three proposals that I regard as having a major positive significance — and this is one of them.”
African-Americans of the U.S. 10th Cavalry were trying to force a band of Kwahada Comanche warriors back to the Oklahoma reservation. The mission failed in July of 1877 at the foot of the hill and about 20 black soldiers died in the chase.
“It was not red versus black. It was the U.S. Cavalry versus the Comanche,” Oscar Robinson said. Robinson is a member of the Llano Estacado Buffalo Soldier Association and works in the personnel department at Eastern New Mexico University.
Some of the locals knew the hill as “Nigger Hill,” marking the end of the mission and death of black soldiers, said Julyan.
Approximately 150 people gathered with Robinson to celebrate the new name for the hill in June 2004. A historical marker was approved by the Cultural Properties Review Committee of New Mexico.
Robinson said two significant moments happened after the celebration: Sammie Simpson, mother-in-law of Wesley Pool, the owner of land near the hill, gave the land to the non-profit organization to be used for a memorial park and the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Portales said they would help with the construction of the park, Robinson said.
Phillip Shelley, a dean of graduate school and anthropology professor at ENMU, said he hoped the name change would promote awareness of the plight of the African-American soldier.
“It’s an important part of New Mexico history,” Shelley said. “I think few people knew about it. I hope people embrace it (the history of the site).”