by Tom Keener
RosieLeetta “Lee” Reed portrays Cathay Williams, the first documented African-American woman to enlist in the U.S. Army and the only woman to serve in the U.S. Army as a man. She shares this amazing story at 3:00 p.m. Saturday, February 25, at the Allen Public Library and the program is free.
Born in Missouri to a free man of color and a woman in slavery, Williams was legally a slave. As a teenager, she worked as a house slave on the Johnson plantation near Jefferson City, Missouri. In 1861, Union forces occupied Jefferson City and captured slaves who were designated by the Union as "contraband." At age 17, Williams was impressed into the 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel William Benton.
She traveled with the 8th Indiana, accompanying the soldiers on their marches through Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia, and witnessed the infamous Battle of Pea Ridge and the Red River campaign. Later, she was transferred to Little Rock, where she would have witnessed uniformed African-American men serving as soldiers, which might have inspired her to join the Army.
Williams enlisted in the United States Regular Army on November 15, 1866, at St. Louis for a three-year engagement, posing as a man. Assigned to the 38th infantry, she was hospitalized after contracting smallpox. After rejoining her unit, she was stationed in New Mexico. The post surgeon discovered she was a woman and informed the post commander. She was discharged from the Army by her commanding officer, Captain Charles E. Clarke on October 14, 1868.
RosieLeetta “Lee” Reed is president of the Texas Buffalo Association, dedicated to preserving Texas history and the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers. A founding member of the Lakeside Riders, she participates in rodeos, parades, and honor guards. A recipient of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for “Outstanding Public Service Benefiting Communities,”
Reed continues to educate people about the history and heritage of Cowboys and Cowgirls of Color. She is also the health and wellness coordinator of the Huff Wagon Train Project that serves students from California and Texas. In this program, participants are required to board mule-drawn wagons and retrace the route of gold rush adventurer William P. Huff.
Presenting for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the National Cowboys of Color Museum, Panhandle Plains Museum and the George Bush Memorial Library, Reed specializes in presentations about Cathay Williams as well as Stage Coach Mary Fields, the first African-American woman to work for the U.S. Postal Service.
The library is located at 300 N. Allen Dr. Call 214-509-4911 for more information.