SALISBURY – Many of Willie Edley Jr.’s friends looked twice at their television screens on New Year’s Day as they were watching the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.
Was that Edley riding with the Buffalo Soldiers?
Yes, that was Edley on top of a borrowed horse named Trouble and trotting down the parade’s “Camera Alley,” where the bleachers on both sides of the street are filled with so many spectators it could pass for a football stadium.
Those lights, the huge crowds and the pageantry behind all the floats, bands and other parade entries seem to hit you all at once.
It sort of takes your breath away, said Edley, a Salisbury resident and, for the past four years, national president of the 1,200-member Ninth & Tenth (Horse) Cavalry Association, also called “The Buffalo Soldiers.”
“I have been in a lot of parades and done a lot of activities,” Edley said, “but I had no idea what it took to organize and orchestrate that Rose Parade.”
Edley’s wife, Velma, sent him a text telling him of all the calls she had received from friends, family and fellow Buffalo Soldiers who spied him on television.
“Some of them weren’t sure it was me,” Edley said. “My phone was just blowing up right after the parade and through the rest of the evening.”
The parade was the most recent Buffalo Soldier adventure for Edley, who presides over 40 chapters from coast to coast and also belongs to the association’s Greater North Carolina Chapter.
Edley appeared in the parade at the invitation of Larry Thorton in Los Angeles and the New Buffalo Soldiers, who are regular participants.
In his presidential duties for the association, Edley attends many banquets, officer installation services, color guard presentations and parades. On a local level, he has participated in educational programs at many schools.
But the Rose Parade was something Edley had wanted to participate in for a long time, even though his 14-year-old gaited horse, Gent, couldn’t make the long trip.
“I have a pretty good mount,” Edley said proudly.
As a young man, Edley served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, and he laughed when he said he had “the big head to go along with that.”
It was back then that he and some black buddies referred to themselves as Buffalo Soldiers, and it was after he left the Army and joined the N.C. National Guard that Edley became interested in the history behind the black cavalrymen.
The 9th and 10th Calvary Regiments of “colored” men, authorized by Congress, date back to 1866. The 9th Cavalry Regiment took root in Greenville, La., and the 10th Cavalry was activated at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Later, two other black regiments also were formed – the 24th and 25th Infantry.
For more than 20 years, the 9th and 10th Cavalry fought against Indian tribes from Montana to territories in the Southwest.
Plains Indians are believed to have given the black regiments the “Buffalo Soldier” name because they saw a resemblance between the black men’s hair and the manes of buffalo.
“Another reason,” a chapter history says, “was when a buffalo was cornered or wounded, he fought ferociously, showing unusual courage and stamina, a quality the Indians also saw in the fighting spirit of the black cavalrymen.
“The buffalo was sacred to the American Indians; ... therefore, the Buffalo Soldiers were found worthy of tribute.”
Beyond Indian fighting, the black cavalry regiments built forts and roads, located and guarded water supplies, erected telegraph lines, escorted wagon trains and cattle drives and rode shotgun on stage coaches or during mail runs.