Mastodon The Writing Desk: Guest Post by Charles Ray: The Buffalo Soldier Series is Born

1 May 2014

Guest Post by Charles Ray: The Buffalo Soldier Series is Born

'Ride along with the Buffalo Soldiers as they face death, danger
and discrimination on the western frontier'

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

A few years ago, during a conversation with some young people who worked for me, I discovered that they were completely misinformed about American  history as it relates to the settlement of the American west. Like many people who get their history from popular media, they were of the opinion that the cowboys and cavalry of the Old West were all Caucasian. Imagine their shock when I pointed out to them that ten percent of the soldiers who came riding to the rescue of the pioneers or ranchers were African-American, and that during the period after the Civil War, African-American cavalry and infantry served in all areas west of the Mississippi, including the Dakota Territory – and as far north as Alaska – and were among the first units to secure our national parks.

After that conversation, I decided to expand my writing portfolio from mystery and fantasy to historical fiction. I began researching to fill in the weak areas of my own knowledge, and started mapping out a series of stories of the Buffalo Soldiers – the nickname given to the African-American soldiers by the Native Americans they fought against, because their hair resembled the curly hair of the buffalo, an animal that was revered in their culture.

During my research, I learned a few things that even I – a history nerd – didn’t know. For instance, the cavalry didn’t as a rule use the Winchester repeating rifle. Instead, the army procured the cheaper and sturdier single shot Springfield carbine. In addition to fighting the warring Indian tribes, the cavalry also helped local law enforcement catch outlaws and maintain order. They built roads – the first roads in Yosemite National Park were built by the Buffalo Soldiers, helped survey territory and make maps, and built or rebuilt the forts in which they lived. They often spent days in the saddle while on patrol, going from scorching temperatures in the lowlands during the day to almost freezing cold in the mountains at night.

Because people seem to dislike reading history, I decided to fictionalize the stories. I keep the history as accurate as possible, and occasionally insert an actual historical figure, such as Col. Edwin Hatch, the first commander of the Ninth Cavalry, with fictionalized encounters or conversations. The central character is Ben Carter, a former slave who walked from his East Texas home to New Orleans to enlist when he learned the army was taking black soldiers. In the first book, Trial by Fire, Ben, a sergeant when the series opens, is put in charge of a small detachment that is fighting a bunch of Comanche renegades. We follow Ben Carter and his men through a series of adventures in each book – one main mission, such as peacekeeping, per book – and see how he matures over time. I try to make sure the equipment and weapons are accurate, and use research and my own 20 years of military experience to make the tactics and manoeuvres as historically accurate as possible.

In the most recent of the series, Battle at Dead Man’s Gulch, Ben and his men come to the rescue of a group of white cavalrymen from the Sixth Cavalry who are pinned down by attacking Apache warriors. Incidents like this happened frequently as army units moved across the territories in pursuit of renegades who fled the reservations to which the Native Americans were consigned.

The stories are mainly about the African-American soldiers, but I try to show the Native American perspective as well, In addition, I include a diverse collection of characters, white, Asian, and Hispanic, because the west was, popular media notwithstanding, a diverse place. Because I want the books to be accessible to younger readers, I avoid sex scenes – of course, this series is also categorized as western, and we all now there’s no sex in westerns – and I keep profanity to a bare minimum. In fact, I often use euphemisms to indicate profanity. I know that’s not authentic, but it is fiction, and like I said, I want parents to be comfortable allowing teens to read these books.

I treat the question of race relations directly – sometimes using words that some might find offensive, but always in context, and never more than necessary to show character motivation or set up a conflict for a character.

This series started as a labor of love. I never expected it to catch on. The first four in the series did okay, but they were no barn burners. Then I published Renegade, a story about a mission to capture a group of Apache renegades making a run for the north. I did the cover art for it – as I do for all of them – but, instead of realistic art, I did a semi-abstract painting. To my surprise, the first weekend after it appeared for Kindle on Amazon, I sold 800 copies. Afterwards, people started buying the first four. None of the others in the series have quite beaten that record, but there has been a relatively steady stream of readers who have discovered the Buffalo Soldiers, and based on unsolicited reviews on Amazon, love them.

There is, I believe, a lesson to be learned here. If you love a subject, and are truly interested in it, you can do a good job of writing about it. It also proves that history can be made interesting.

Charles Ray

# # #

About The Author

Charles Ray from North Potomac, Maryland, won a National Sunday school short story writing contest when he was around 13 and has been writing ever since. Even during his long military service he wrote for national newspapers and
magazines. Charles now devotes his time to writing, art, photography, and public speaking on leadership and international affairs. For more about his work and interests, see his blogs at:
on Twittter @charlieray45
and his Amazon author page


  1. I failed to include links to my books. They can be found at the bookstore on the right side of my blog, and on my Amazon author page.
    Here, though, are the individual links:
    Battle at Dead Man's Gulch:

    1. Great post Charlie - and a great series!


Thank you for commenting