The Buffalo Soldiers of New Zion

By Matt Carter, November 22, 2009

New Zion Marker

Inscription. On Nov. 23, 1872, former slaves Calvin Hamilton and Primus Keene purchased 23 acres. They sold plots to other freedmen and formed black community of Briar Hill; it was later named New Zion. Keene sold land for community well, school, and church. Calvin Hamilton's home survives. Descendants of founders still live in New Zion. Presented by Scott County Fiscal Court.

Erected 1993 by Kentucky Historical Society. (Marker Number 1938.)
Location. 38° 10.645′ N, 84° 29.314′ W.

The Buffalo Soldiers of New Zion

By Byron Brewer
Aug 17, 2010

During the 19th century, Georgetown’s cultural and economic lives were closely tied to the deep South. While Kentucky remained officially neutral during the Civil War, Scott County’s leanings were Southern.

After the war, many of Scott County’s African-American citizens took part in a great migration West, settling in the newly-formed community of Nicodemus, Kansas. But the hardships of life there were not what many had in mind, and so they returned to Kentucky.

On Nov. 23, 1872, former slaves Calvin Hamilton and Primus Keene purchased 23 acres, forming the community of Briar Hill, now called New Zion. Hamilton’s home survives, and descendants of the founders still live in the area.

(New Zion residents will be holding a celebration of their community and its rich history Saturday, Aug. 21. The public is invited to join.)

In New Zion’s cemetery lie the remains today of four local residents who seized the opportunity to join the first all-African-American military units formed during peace time, the 9th and 10th Cavalries, and the 23rd and 24th Infantries.

They were the Buffalo Soldiers.

In the cemetery, adjacent to its United Methodist Church, lie:

  • Robert French, who was the great uncle of Winston and Gregory Figgs. Mr. French was in the Indian Wars most of his adult life. According to Winston’s father, Luke, Mr. French came home around 1915 and stayed less than a year before he reenlisted and returned to the military. Mr. French’s photo is on display at the Kentucky Horse Park. It was part of an exhibit once held there on the Buffalo Soldiers.
  • Zepedee Boulder, who was in the 9th and 10th Cavalry. “I remember him from when I was a little girl,” said Willa Gentry, New Zion historian and daughter of former News-Graphic columnist Sarah Relford. “He used to tell us stories about cowboys and Indians.”
  • Henry C. Sidney, who came home and ran a bootleg operation in the home of Mattie Young. The house is still in New Zion. No one has lived in it since the summer of 2009 when James Harold Young passed away.
  • Will Young, who was the great uncle of Ernest Talbert. Not much has been documented about this Buffalo Solider, according to Willa.

The regiments served at a variety of posts in the Southwestern United States and Great Plains regions between 1866 and the early 1890s. They participated in most of the military campaigns in these areas and earned a distinguished record. Thirteen enlisted men and six officers from these four regiments earned the Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars.

In addition to the military campaigns, the Buffalo Soldiers served a variety of roles along the frontier from building roads to escorting the U.S. mail.

After the Indian Wars ended in the 1890s, the regiments continued to serve and participated in the Spanish-American War (including the Battle of San Juan Hill), where five more Medals of Honor were earned. They also took part in the 1916 Mexican Expedition and in the Philippine-American War.

The Buffalo Soldiers were often confronted with racial prejudice from other members of the U.S. Army. Civilians in the areas where the soldiers were stationed, most notably Texas, occasionally reacted to them with violence.

During World War II, the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments were disbanded, and the soldiers were moved into service-oriented units, along with the entire 2nd Cavalry Division. One of the infantry regiments, the 24th Infantry Regiment, served in combat in the Pacific Theatre.

Four honored sons of our soil lie resting in New Zion, and it is an honor for me to continue to tell their stories so that they receive the amount of respect and dignity befitting a Buffalo Soldier. Gentlemen, thank you for your service.