FORT DOUGLAS One hundred and 10 years ago next April, the 24th Infantry Regiment an all-black unit left Fort Douglas to make history as it charged up Cuba's San Juan Hill with Col. Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War.
The 24th, one of the regiments of so-called "Buffalo Soldiers," as they were called by American Indians during battles on the frontier, compiled an outstanding record of service from after the Civil War to its inactivation in 1951.
Although the regiment left Salt Lake City permanently in the early 1900s, it still has a presence here as its six-by-eight-foot battle flag the one that went up San Juan Hill and remained with the regiment in subsequent wars is at the Fort Douglas Military Museum.
The regimental battle flag, more than a century old and made of wool, has some moth holes in it and is in need of restoration so it can be put on display when the museum opens its $6 million expansion, said retired Col. Robert Voyles, museum director. Restoring the flag will take some time and cost an estimated $25,000 to $35,000, including a special display case to preserve it at the proper temperature and humidity.
Voyles hopes the black community will pitch in and help pay for the preservation. If the flag could be sold it would fetch an estimated $50,000 to $100,000, but its real value to the museum is priceless, he said. The flag originally belong to Maj. Jay Milton Thompson, of the 24th Infantry, and his daughter donated it to Fort Douglas, where it found its way into the museum.
The 24th Infantry came to Fort Douglas Oct. 22, 1896, bringing approximately 600 men, women and children to the city. The 24th's posting to Fort Douglas was a reward for its many years of service on the frontier.
And, some 21 members of the regiment plus nine family members are buried in the fort's cemetery. Although most of the regiment's members were from other states, mostly in the East, several of them asked to be buried with their comrades at the fort, including Edward Lee of Ohio, who, in 1922, was the last soldier buried there.
The flag will need to be restored by experts who will carefully weave wool threads into the holes, strengthening the flag. It is too weak to be properly cleaned until it is restored. The museum plans to display the flag as part of its 24th Infantry display in the expanded space. The museum is planning to raise $2.8 million this year, with $500,000 from the Legislature's capital improvements funds and the rest from private donors.The other, more famous Buffalo Soldier regiments were the 9th and 10th Cavalry, which also fought on the frontier. The 9th Cavalry served at Fort Duchesne about the same time the 24th was at Fort Douglas. The 9th also served briefly at Fort Douglas. There were numerous all-black regiments formed during the Civil War and disbanded afterward. All regiments raised by the Army at that time were called United States Colored Troops.
Help restore flagTo donate for the flag restoration, send checks to Fort Douglas Military Museum Association, Attn. Flag, 31 Potter St., Salt Lake City, UT 84113. All contributions are tax-deductible.