Once a slave in Independence, Missouri, Cathy Williams lived andworked in the 'big house' as a servant to its mistress. And thoughbeing a house servant carried greater privilege and status thanthat of the field hand, Cathy began to resent the menial tasks she performed as much as she resented her masters.
After the death of her owner, and having the good fortune of not being sold to pay debts, Cathy realized that the fundamental premise of slavery was a lie and this life was not her chosen destiny. So in November 1866 she disguised herself as a man, used the name William Cathay, and enlisted in Company A, 38th U.S. Infantry and became a Buffalo Soldier. As the first and only African American woman to serve in one of the six black units formed following the Civil War. Interestingly enough, Williams was able to become a member of the Army without detection of her sex, and it was imperative that she keep her true identity unknown. Her adventures took her from Missouri to the Mexican border where she served for nearly two years. After her military career Cathy did not envision returning to her roots in Missouri, plus her heart was now in the West. So she married and created a life for herself on the Western frontier, as a business-woman in Trinidad, CO.
There is much contention surrounding the validity of Cathy's story. Historians claim Tucker's only source about Williams' alleged service as a Buffalo soldier is based on a newspaper account published in 1876 and that there are no official records in existence to authenticate her Civil War service. Some believe it was easy for Williams to get discharge certificates from the 'real' William Cathay and pass it off as her own. And that 'Far too many of the speculations about Williams are colored by a 21st century "politically correct" perspective'.
Yet others offer a more positive analogy, "Phillip Thomas Tucker the prize-winning author of The Confederacy's Fighting Chaplain tells this remarkable tale of Pvt. William Cathay of Company A, 38th U.S. Infantry, who in fact was a big-boned, 5' 7" black woman named Cathy Williams. This is a unique story of gender and race, time and place.
Tucker's work is a recommended read that reaches across categories, from American, African American, and military history to Western and women's history." -- Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ.
Regardless of the controversy, this was a fascinating story presented more in the vein of a documentary than a novel and it allows readers to experience a non-traditional, non-typical life for a 'Colored' woman in the 1800's. Tucker uses this storyline to captivate and educate, and he introduces a believable character who unknowingly and unintentionally charted a course for the role of today's women in all branches of the military. This story vividly brings to life another chapter of our colorful history.
Reviewed by aNN Brownof The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers