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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Performance at URI to present story of Cathay Williams,
only woman "Buffalo Soldier"

KINGSTON, RI -- November 19, 2001 -- In conjunction with the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts (RISCA) and Stories by Melody, the University of Rhode Island Multicultural Center will present Only A Woman, a dramatic portrayal of the life of Cathay Williams by R.I. storyteller Melodie Thompson. Free and open to the public, the performance will be held on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2001 at 7 p.m. in the Multicultural Center’s Hardge Forum, Room 101.

In the tough-minded and humorous performance, Thompson shares the story of Williams’, the only known woman to enlist in the highly acclaimed African American regiments, known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

Born in 1842 near Independence, Missouri, Williams grew up in captivity on the estate of William Johnson, a wealthy white farmer. When Johnson died in 1861, Williams became familiar with the military milieu as a servant for the 13th regiment of the Union army and later as a cook in Washington, D.C. On Nov. 15, 1866, she enlisted in the 38th Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops, under the name of William Cathay. Since no physical exams were required upon entrance, Williams was able to conceal her identity until she was discharged two years later.

The 38th Infantry was among six regiments, predominantly African American, who were held in high esteem for their valor in combat. According to legend, their Native American foes paid them the ultimate compliment by observing that the soldiers fought with the courage of the buffalo. At least ten of the Buffalo Soldiers received Congressional Medals of Honor.

Reflecting the austerity of the conditions she faced on the frontier, military records indicate that Williams encountered illness on four occasions, forded the muddy Rio Grande River, and mutinied at Fort Cummings, New Mexico, along with fellow soldiers. Like many other hardy frontier women of the era, she adapted to the condition of her Spartan lifestyle. After leaving the army, she purchased land in Trinidad, Colorado. Ironically, her request for a military pension based on her years of service and honorable discharge was denied.

"As a former resident of Texas, I was deeply moved by Melodie Thompson’s performance and the many layers of meaning, the attention to detail, and the depiction of historical context," said Melvin Wade, Multicultural Center director, who viewed the performance several months ago.

For more information contact: Mailee Kue,, 874-2851

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