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African-American woman who posed as man to join Buffalo Soldiers remembered, honored in Trinidad

TRINIDAD, Colo. (KRDO) -- This southern Colorado town near the New Mexico line was home to Cathay Williams, a black former slave who later moved to Pueblo before settling here, and posed as a man for two years to join the all-black Buffalo Soldiers regiment.

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A plaque honoring her memory is on display at the Trinidad Historical Museum, and the museum recently included her in a new exhibit highlighting local and native peoples.

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But that's not enough for Haskell Hooks, a modern Buffalo Soldier who wants to erect a statue to honor Williams.

Hooks has spent several years conducting research on Williams and is trying to raise $50,000 to have a statue built by a New Mexico sculptor.

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"She moved to Raton, New Mexico where she worked as a cook and a seamstress," he said. "She also moved to Pueblo, where she got married and her husband took all of her money and her horses. She had him arrested. Her life really fascinates me because she achieved what she did at a time when women -- let alone black women -- had few opportunities."

Williams and his friends are organizing several fund-raising events to cover the cost, including a GoFundMe page, T-shirt sales and activities at Flo-Jo's Tavern & BBQ in downtown Trinidad.

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"One idea I came up with is a liquor wagon," said tavern owner Florence Behavin. "It's full of all kinds of liquor and will be given away at a raffle here next month. We've raised several hundred dollars for that. I'm supporting this because at a time when so many statues are being torn down, Cathay Williams is a sculpture that should be going up."

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Former city councilman Carlos Lopez said that he's getting involved by helping Hooks apply for a $20,000 grant.

"We wanted to apply this year but missed the deadline," he said. "We plan to try again next year. The money can be used to build the sculpture or to fund other fundraising events. Cathay Williams' home was just up the street from me. When you think of the history here that includes Wild West figures and the underground society, she deserves to be recognized."

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Little information about Williams exists, and no one knows exactly what she looked like, but Hooks said that she was born near Kansas City in 1844. She was free but later became a slave during the Civil War before regaining her freedom.

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Hooks said that in 1866, she decided to join the Buffalo Soldiers, the nation's first all-black Army regiment. However, women were not allowed in combat at the time, so she dressed as a man and continued the ruse until 1868 under the name of William Cathay.

Susan Norris

Williams' true sex, he said, was discovered during a medical exam after she became sick. She received an honorable discharge, briefly lived in Pueblo and finally settled in Trinidad until she died in 1892. Her burial site is unknown.

She lived at the corner of Second and Animas streets; the original home no longer stands.

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A book has been written about her, and there is talk of a movie, as well.

Hooks said that he'd like to place the statue on Main Street, across from Coal Miner Memorial Park.

Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.

Comments

2 Comments

  1. Go ahead and build a statue. In a few years after we found out she was also a lady of the night, we can tear the statue down.

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