Laurie A. Wilkie offers a master class on how to use the discipline of anthropology to explain the everyday lives of Black regulars, popularly known as “Buffalo Soldiers,” at Fort Davis from 1869 to 1875. These soldiers were most likely to face “hostile” Native tribes or problems associated with U.S.-Mexico borderland peoples.

The work shines brightest when it focuses on how artifacts recovered in digs around Fort Davis can be used to recreate a hidden past. The triangulation on various things from images of Antinous to epaulettes to the books used by soldiers learning to read and write in the post–Civil War army offer fascinating windows into the past and the multiple meanings associated with these objects. With these object lessons, or microhistories as Wilkie calls them, we learn so much about sexuality, gender, army life, and notions of citizenship.

The main takeaway is that the Black regulars have a...

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