By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist
After the exemplary conduct shown by Colored units during the Civil War, the United States Congress created several all African-American peacetime regiments. These regiments included the 9th and 10th Cavalries and the 24th and 25th Infantries. Although the nickname Buffalo Soldiers was originally given to the men of the 10th Cavalry, it later came to be used for all of the all-black regiments formed in 1866.
The Buffalo Soldiers saw service throughout the Plains States and the American Southwest as well as the Spanish-American War (1898), the Philippine-American War (1899-1903) and the Mexican Expedition (1916). They are most famously know for their role in the so-called Indian Wars during the country’s westward expansion. Although they faced systemic discrimination from the army as a whole and were sometimes attacked by the very people they were fighting to protect, 19 Buffalo Soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their valiant service.
One of those men was local hero John Denny. Born in 1846, Denny was the oldest son of a family who owned and operated at 75-acre tobacco farm on the Olcott Road in Big Flats. He joined the army at the Elmira army recruitment station at age 21 in 1867 and seemingly never looked back. On September 18, 1879, Denny was serving as a Sergeant in Company C of the 9th Cavalry Regiment. The company was ambushed by a band of Apaches in Las Animas Canyon, New Mexico. They were trapped under heavy sniper fire for most of the day and, as darkness fell and ammunition started to run dry, the Captain ordered a retreat. One man, Pvt. Freeland, lay injured nearly 400 yards from both his fellow soldiers and the nearest cover. Denny broke cover and ran to retrieve the other man, hauling him back to safety under heavy fire.
Although Denny was recommended for a citation soon after, it wouldn’t be until December 1894 when he was issued the Medal of Honor and another month until he was formally presented with it. Denny continued to serve in the army until he retired after 30 years in uniform in 1897. He settled in Maryland rather than return to Big Flats. He died in 1901 and is buried in the Unites States Soldiers’ Home Cemetery in Washington, D.C.