The Buffalo Soldiers at San Juan Hill: What Really Happened?

It remains one of the most mythologized images of the Spanish American War: Theodore Roosevelt charging on horseback, leading his Rough Rider volunteers up Cuba’s San Juan Hill through the smoke and chaos of battle to achieve victory decisive. Carefully crafted by Roosevelt himself, it was an image that raised his public profile and propelled him to the White House.

But that’s not entirely accurate.

A combination of savvy public relations and racial bias overplayed the 40-year-old Roosevelt’s combat role while downplaying the bravery and contributions of the black troops, known as the Buffalo Soldiers, who served alongside white soldiers on this same battlefield. In his book on the war, Roosevelt referred to them as “shirkers”. But for many historians, they are among the toughest fighting heroes of the Three Week War.

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