NICODEMUS — As part of the Nicodemus Buffalo Soldiers Association when it first was put together in 1995, Randy Wilkie traveled across the country with the organization.
Started as a way to honor and depict the all-black cavalry regiment of the U.S. Army established in 1866 by Congress, the group gives demonstrations through re-enactments. Wilkie, one of just a few white members the Buffalo Soldier organization has had, was the first officer the group had. He retired from the organization in 1998.
“I miss it a lot. It was great,” said Wilkie, who lived south of Nicodemus at the time he was with the association. “I remember one time we were in Fort Davis, Texas. We had to put on a re-enactment of a camp, so we put on a little bonfire and we were all practicing our lines. We were just having a good time. We grew real close together.”
Now a spectator of what is something Wilkie has a lot of memories of, he was back in Nicodemus on Saturday for the organization’s celebration of the 150-year anniversary of the first Buffalo Soldiers.
Wilkie and his wife now live in Havensville.
The celebration also was part of the Nicodemus group’s 21st birthday, which is included in the town’s 20th anniversary being registered as a national park. The National Park Association is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
“There’s moments you just can’t describe,” Wilkie said walking around the Township Hall looking at pictures from past encampments the group has traveled to across the country.
On a day the temperature dropped below 90 degrees, the crowd that formed for the celebration could enjoy the light breeze that blew through the first black settlement west of the Mississippi.
“We knew what we wanted to do,” said Angela Bates, Nicodemus historian and co-founder of the Nicodemus Buffalo Soldiers. “It wasn’t really hard (organizing the celebration). This is one of the things I’ve done for years to bring the history to life. Thank God we have a lot of folks we can pull from.”
The celebration included a parade, encampment, tour of the town and a program. There were 11 members of the Nicodemus association who rode a horse in the parade. Along with the local actors, there also were members from Kentucky and Texas who were in attendance.
“The first encampment I went to was in Abilene,” Trooper Jay Clark said. “From that point on, I loved it and I’ve been doing it ever since. I try to go to all the rendezvous I possibly can — as long as it works into the family plans.”
Clark grew up in Nicodemus and moved when he went to college at Kansas Wesleyan University in the early 1980s. He now lives in Wichita. Clark was one of the troopers stationed at one of the four historical buildings in Nicodemus. He stood in front of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Others were at the St. Francis Hotel, Nicodemus Township School and First Baptist Church.
During the program, there were re-enactments from the Buffalo Soldiers and portrayals of Abraham Lincoln and Buffalo Bill. The Rev. Victor Williams gave his portrayal as the Rev. Simon Roundtree, one of the founding members of Nicodemus.
“The group was formed with the purpose of educating the public of Buffalo Soldiers, which played a very significant part of settling the west,” said Barrie Tompkins, the first sergeant of the Nicodemus Buffalo Soldiers Association, and who started the organization with Bates. “We want people to not only read about it, but we want to bring it to life as a living history. We want to express how they were the highly decorated cavalry regiment in all of military history.”