By Kara Briggs
Photo by Katherine Fogden, Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian Leila Butts, as August Jackson, hands a bundle of sage to David H. Sawyer, who plays her uncle Craig Robe in the production “Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
Playwright William S. Yellow Robe Jr. draws a story of adult siblings, descendants of an African-American Civil War cavalryman and a Native woman, who find themselves driven apart by their mixed feelings about their blended heritage.
At its core, “Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers” is a love story. It begins with the grandparents, who find love and leave their respective peoples to start a family together, and continues with their modern descendents, who renew their love for each other and themselves.
“Whenever you hear a story about the Buffalo Soldier, it becomes that the Indian woman was raped,” said Yellow Robe, 50. “There is no conception that these people might have been in love and that they were leaping into new relationships.”
Indian tribes in the West have a complex history with Buffalo Soldiers, who were all-African-American units in the U.S. Army. Tribes gave them the name “buffalo.” But the soldiers were assigned by the U.S. government to subjugate tribes, making them enemies to many. Still, in some instances, Indian women and African-American soldiers married.
Below: "Leila Butts, as August Jackson, hands a bundle of sage to David H. Sawyer, who plays her uncle Craig Robe in the production Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian." (Photo by Katherine Fogden)