The faded faces look back at you from the past. An old photograph taken in 1890s Nebraska showing the U.S. Army’s 9th Cavalry’s K Troop or, as they were better known, buffalo soldiers. One of my journalistic quests for the last two decades has been the search for any personal effects belonging to the soldier seated third from the left. The man under that hat is Medal of Honor Recipient First Sergeant George Jordan. He also held a Certificate of Merit – the two highest commendations a U.S. soldier could receive in his era.
Jordan was born in 1847 in Williamson County, Tennessee, enlisting in the Army six months after President Andrew Johnson signed the 1866 bill allowing African-Americans to serve in the post-Civil War Army. Jordan educated himself, learning how to read and write, and joined K Troop four years later. He remained there throughout his career, proving to be one of the best field commanders in the Army west of the Mississippi. No one buffalo soldier so epitomized their motto of “We can. We will.” The white officers in charge of the all-black units often trusted Jordan with half of their commands because of knowledge and skill in the field. He served 30 years in the Army and retired.
His retirement pension provided enough for a small home in nearby Crawford, Nebraska, where other former buffalo soldiers made a community. He did well there for a few years, but fell sick. His doctor twice sought to admit him to Fort Robinson Hospital, which refused to treat him and told Jordan to try the soldier’s home in Washington, D.C. His race was said to have played a part in the decision.
He died Oct. 14, 1904, from what the post chaplain said was “want of proper attention and living alone where he had no one to attend his wants.” The entire fort turned out for his funeral, and Jordan was buried with full military honors. Fort Robinson’s Hospital’s inaction brought national rebuke from the Surgeon General regarding the medical treatment of retired veterans. Then all traces of his life vanished. A headstone, a bureaucratic record of military awards in D.C. and that faded group photo is all the nation possesses of such a legendary life as his.