Henry Flipper, the son of slaves, was born in Thomasville, Georgia, on 21st March, 1856. He became the first African American to graduate from West Point. On 15th June, 1877, Flipper was commissioned as second lieutenant of the 10th Cavalry. Highly respected by the Native Americans these men were called Buffalo Soldiers because their short curly hair resembled that of the buffalo. His book, The Colored Cadet at West Point, appeared in 1878.
Flipper served under Captain Nicholas Nolan at Fort Still. He took part in the Indian Wars and fought against Victorio and the Apache in 1880. Colonel Benjamin Grierson wrote that "He came under my immediate command during the campaigns against Victorio's band of hostile Indians, and from personal observation, I can testify to his efficiency and gallantry in the field."
After being transferred to Fort Davis he became quartermaster. When Colonel William Rufus Shafter became commanding officer of Fort Davis in 1881, he immediately sacked Flipper as quartermaster. Flipper suspected what he later called a systematic plan of persecution, and is said to have been warned by civilians at the post of a plot by white officers to force him from the army. The following year, when he discovered post funds missing from his quarters, he attempted to conceal the loss until he could find or replace the money. When Shafter learned of the discrepancy, he immediately filed charges against him.
Flipper was accused of embezzling $3,791.77 from commissary funds. Flipper denied the charge and claimed that he had been framed by his fellow officers, who hated him because he was African American. A court-martial found him not guilty of embezzlement but on 30th June, 1882, convicted him of conduct unbecoming an officer and ordered him dismissed from the Army.
In 1893 Flipper became a mining engineer for the Justice Department. He also worked as a consultant for the Sierra Mining Company (1908-1912) and as resident engineer for the William Greene Gold-Silver Company (1912-1922). Fluent in Spanish he was interpreter-translator for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations investigating Mexican Affairs (1922-23).
Flipper continued to prosper and was appointed assistant to the Secretary of the Interior (1923-1930) and held a senior position at the Pantepec Company in New York until he retired in 1931. His memoirs, Negro Frontiersman: The Western Memoirs of Henry Ossian Flipper, was published after his death.
Henry Flipper died in Atlanta, Georgia, on 3rd May, 1940. His supporters continued to campaign to overturn the sentence of the court-martial that had taken place in 1882. This was finally achieved in December 1976 when he was granted a posthumous honorable discharge. On 11th February, 1978, he was given a full military funeral at Thomasville, Georgia.