The troubled times of Buffalo Soldier Emanuel Stance

Time Before Now, May 1870President Ulysses S. Grant had recently signed into law equal rights for Black Americans which allowed them to serve on juries and hold elective office.  John D. Rockefeller incorporated Standard Oil 10 days into the New Year and construction began on New York’s Brooklyn Bridge in January, as well.  It wouldn’t be completed until 1873.  Texas became the first Confederate state to rejoin the Union and political cartoonist Thomas Nast gets credit for popularizing the donkey as a Democratic Party symbol in Harper’s Weekly that February. (Right)

May 20, 1870

On this day acts of valor by Sergeant Emanuel Stance against the Apache earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, the first post-Civil War Buffalo Soldier to receive the award.  He died 17 years later, believed to have been murdered by his own men.

Known as both Emanuel and Edmund, Stance proved to be as mercurial as his identity.  Provably tough and courageous, he was also considered volatile and heavy handed, his legacy as murky as his life.

Possibly born a slave, Stance enlisted in the 9th Cavalry Regiment just 12 days after it was formally organized in September, 1866.  He was promoted to Sergeant six months later.  It was a quick rise perhaps helped by the fact he could read and write, indicating he may have actually been a freedman.

Fort Davis in West Texas, circa 1870

Stance received his Sergeant’s stripes in March and was immediately granted a two-month leave. Rejoining Troop F at Fort Davis in West Texas, he’d barely missed a bloody face-off between Black soldiers and their White officers.  Nearly a dozen soldiers had deserted and two soldiers were killed under the questionable leadership of First Lieutenant Edward M. Heyl. (Right)  

The 23-year-old Lieutenant from a distingushed military family, was the younger brother of a Navy surgeon, Dr. Theodore Heyl, and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Charles Heyl.  He was, apparently, however, singularly unsuited for an assignment to the 9th Cavalry, having named his horse the “N-word.”

Fort McKavett in central Texas, in 1871

By 1869 F Troop had moved to Fort McKavett in central Texas in efforts to quell a rise in Apache activity following two major battles with the Kiowa and Comanche.  On May 16, an Apache raiding party kidnapped two young brothers, Willie and Herman Lehmann, from the family’s wheat field.

Four days later Stance and a patrol of nine men encountered a dozen Apache who quickly scattered in the face of the soldier’s superior fire power.  The patrol continued to skirmish with the raiders for two days, recovering 15 horses along with one of the young Lehmann children.  Willie, just nine, escaped during the patrol’s pursuit but 11-year-old Herman was taken to New Mexico. 

Fort McKavett’s commander, Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, (right) was so pleased with Stance’s success he recommended the Sergeant be awarded the Medal of Honor for “gallantry on scout after Indians.”  A relentless adversary of Native Americans, Mackenzie went on to “distinguish himself” in 1876 with the burning of the Dull Knife camp in northern Wyoming, leaving several hundred Cheyenne men, women and children to freeze to death. 

Stance received his medal on June 28, 1870.   But sometime in the next nine month he was demoted to private, reportedly for drunkenness and failing to report for duty.  It was the first of at least four such demotions.   He would be returned to Sergeant each time.

Fort Robinson, Nebraska, 1885

When his original enlistment ended in 1871, he reenlisted as a Private under the name of Edmund, only to spend six months in the guard house for fighting and drinking on duty shortly thereafter.   Finally achieving a promotion to First Sergeant after several more demotions, he was assigned to Nebraska’s Fort Robinson.  In spite of a checkered record, Stance was honored at the fort in 1886 for his 20 years of service with a celebratory dinner and dance. 

Believed to be the Sergeants at Robinson, Stance, upper left

It was apparently one of the post’s happier occasions.  Fraught with racial unrest, there was frequently tension among officers, sergeants and Black soldiers.  Stance was involved in nearly half the serious disciplinary problems that arose during his tenure.  Considered heavy-handed by subordinates, he often employed tactics learned from Lieutenant Heyl as a new recruit.

It all came to an explosive conclusion on Christmas morning, 1887, when Lieutenant Joseph Garrard found Stance dead on the road to the rough and tumble railroad tent city of Crawford, shot four times with a service revolver.  After two grueling decades on the frontier, his life of conflict and bravery had ended at the hands of his own soldiers.

Following a lengthy dispute between military and civilian authorities over jurisdiction in the investigation, the sheriff of Dawes County arrested a Buffalo Soldier, Private Miller Milds.   Milds was never tried for the murder.

Stance was not the only one to suffer misfortune among the people who had figured in his life story.  Ranald MacKenzie’s 1873 campaign in Mexico was said to have inspired parts of the 1950 John Ford western, “Rio Grande,” starring John Wayne. (Right) 

In fact, Mackenie’s brutal military career on the frontier ended with a whimper.  After falling from the back of a wagon at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he was ruled mentally disabled and died an invalid in New York in 1889 at the age of 48.

And the outcome for the captured Lehmann brothers was decidedly mixed, as well.  Young Willie, rescued by the Stance Patrol, was returned to his family.  Herman, however, lived his adolescent years among the Apache as the adopted son of Chief Carnovista, reaching the status as a minor chief himself.

After killing an Apache shaman over Carnovista’s death, Lehmann fled to the Comanche.  He was eventually persuaded to surrender to U. S. soldiers by Quanah Parker.   Parker’s mother,  Cynthia Ann Parker, had also been captured as a child and Quanah had been raised among the Comanche.  After divorcing one wife and abandoning another, Lehmann (right) briefly became a folk hero with the publication of his 1927 autobiography, “Nine Years Among the Indians.”  At the time of his death in 1932 he was listed on Comanche tribal rolls as Quanah Parker adopted son.

The Buffalo Soldier National Museum, 3816 Caroline Street, Houston, Texas, is in the heart of the city’s famed museum district.  At it’s current location in the 23,000-square-foot Houston Light Guard Armory since 2012, the museum is home to an array of historical artifacts, documents and memorabilia.  The story of the Buffalo Soldiers is not only that of the six African American units created post slavery, but of the American frontier and beyond. 

Representing the first professional Black soldiers, in all 18 members of the Buffalo Soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor in the American West.  Another 23 African Americans earned the medal during the Civil War, some continuing to serve as Buffalo Soldiers. 

The museum is open 10 to 5 weekdays, 10 to 4, Saturday. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.  Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students, seniors and military.  Children 5 and under are admitted free and there is free adult admission from 1 to 5 each Thursday.  For more information go to, e-mail, call (713) 942 – 8920 or write the museum at 3816 Caroline Street, Houston, Texas 77004.

© Text Only – 2021- Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.