“Buffalo Soldier” is a reggae song written by Bob Marley and Noel “King Sporty” Williams, and recorded by Bob Marley and the Wailers. It did not appear on record until the 1983 posthumous release of Confrontation, when it became one of Marley’s best-known songs. The title and lyrics refer to the black U.S. cavalry regiments, known as “Buffalo Soldiers”, that fought in the Indian Wars after 1866. Marley linked their fight to a fight for survival, and recasts it as a symbol of black resistance.
The song has been recorded by many other artists, such as Cultura Profética (on their album Tribute to the Legend: Bob Marley).
The origin of the term “Buffalo Soldier” is theorized as given to black troops by Native Americans, who thought African Americans’ hair felt and looked like a buffalo’s pelt. The name was embraced by the troops, who were well acquainted with “the buffalo’s fierce bravery and fighting spirit”. The Buffalo Soldier’s duties were settling railroad disputes, building telegraph lines, repairing and building forts, helping settlers find a place to live, and protecting the settlers from attacks by Native Americans.
The song’s bridge, with the lyrics woe! yoe! yo!, was rumored to be inspired by the chorus from the Banana Splits’ “The Tra-La-La Song”, the 1968 theme from their TV show, written by Mark Barkan and Ritchie Adams. There has been no proof of this, and a story by the BBC in 2010 seems to cast doubts on this origin story. There has never been any history of litigation connected to the chorus, as the melody in question is derived from the public domain song “Shortnin’ Bread”.