Four living, breathing monuments to the American West came to the Hilltop Street Fair on Saturday.
One of them was ridden by “The Outlaw” Jerome Young of Tacoma.
“You have to say ‘The Outlaw’ first,” Young said. “I don’t break character.”
Young and five other men from the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers of Seattle Reenactment Organization brought four horses to the annual event so they could ride in character as Buffalo Soldiers — members of the celebrated U.S. Army all-black cavalries that first formed in 1866 following the Civil War.
The horses and men in period Army uniforms were head and shoulders above everyone else in the crowd Saturday — except for a woman on stilts.
The riders were popular with festival goers. Many stopped to take pictures. Others wanted to pet the horses.
At People’s Park, the reenactors set up a small area to provide horseback rides for children.
Nearby, Young demonstrated the 10-foot long bullwhip he carried.
Heads turned with the thunderous crack of the whip.
“They were free men that wanted to fight for the United States of America,” Young, 53, said of the Buffalo Soldiers.
He joined the group because he’s had a lifelong fascination with black cowboys.
“I grew up wanting to be just like the Lone Ranger,” he said. “A big tall white guy that rode into our house every Sunday.”
Only later did he learn that a Lone Ranger-like man, Bass Reeves, was the first black deputy U.S. marshal in the American West.
Buffalo Soldiers served mainly in the West. They protected settlers and railroad crews and fought in wars against Indian tribes.
“Back then the whites did not want the blacks to fight alongside them,” Young said.
Despite his interest in the American West, he only recently became aware of Buffalo Soldiers.
“Being black you’d think I’d know something about it,” Young said. “It wasn’t until five or six years that I started getting educated because I joined this group.”
The group’s presence in an event like the Hilltop Street Fair can surprise festival goers, he said.
“When people see black people on horses they say, ‘Oh my God. Black people can ride horses?’ ” Young said.
“History can’t be told just by one group,” added Shahraim Allen, of Tacoma.
Allen is a new private in the organization. He was working ground patrol, what others might call the pooper-scooper.
He followed the men on horseback as they rode up and down Martin Luther King Way Saturday afternoon, quickly scooping up “road apples.”
The role he had on Saturday is quite the comedown from his day job: Sound Transit and BNSF locomotive engineer.
“If a man is worth his salt you don’t worry about what the job is,” Allen said. “You do the work.”