United States Army Medal of Honor Recipient and Buffalo Soldier
William Othello Wilson, a native of Hagerstown, Maryland, enlisted in the U.S. Army on August 21, 1889, at age 22 in St. Paul, Minnesota.
He was subsequently assigned to the 9th Cavalry, I Troop in the western frontier during the Indian Wars. Soldiers in the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments were among the first black soldiers in the history of the United States Army.
Cheyenne warriors who later fought these cavalrymen gave them the name "Buffalo Soldiers." On December 30, 1890, during the Pine Ridge Campaign in South Dakota, William Wilson made history.
As the 1890's drew to a close, the Indian way of life among all tribes had been virtually eliminated. Many tribes were assigned to various reservations throughout the West. At the same time, the Ghost Dance theology spread through the Indian culture. The Ghost Dance rekindled pride and promised restoration of the Indian way of life.
By December 30, 1890, the atmosphere at the Pine Ridge Reservation had become tense due in part to the Ghost Dance theology. Major Guy V. Henry was given orders to return to Pine Ridge immediately to help calm the situation. Henry's supply train, under the command of Captain John S. Loud, was left behind in order for him to make better time. Indians in the Cheyenne Creek area then attacked and isolated the wagon train.
Captain John S. Loud prepared a message to Major John Henry for help. When scouts refused to carry the message, William Wilson volunteered and said "Lt., I will carry that dispatch." With Indians in pursuit, Corporal Wilson made the gallant ride to summon assistance at the pine Ridge Agency which was about two miles away.
Later Major Henry declared, "Corporal William O. Wilson, Troop I, 9th Cavalry, volunteer for the above duty and, though pursued by Indians, succeeded. Such examples of soldier-like conduct are worthy of imitation and reflect credit not only upon Corporal Wilson but the 9th Cavalry."
William Wilson's Medal of Honor was issued on September 17, 1891. Corporal Wilson was the last African American to qualify for the Medal of Honor in the West and the last one to earn it on American soil. On May 30, 1998, a ceremony was held at Rose Hill Cemetery to formally commemorate William Wilson's act of bravery.
His original home is located approximately one block south of this exhibit on West North Avenue. Exhibits regarding William Wilson's saga are on display at the office of Brothers United Who Dare to Care, Incorporated, at 131 West North Avenue.
His grave site is located in Rose Hill Cemetery, 600 South Potomac Street, here in Hagerstown.
The William Othello Wilson story is told in Frank N. Schubert's book, "Black Valor."