June 1, 2009, - 2:19 pm

American War Hero Cpl. Mays Finally Gets His Due

By Debbie Schlussel
The story of Buffalo Soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, Cpl. Isaiah Mays, sounds like the stuff of movies. It’s the story of a wrong righted, even if it’s almost a century later. And it illuminates the efforts of a group I’ve promoted on this site previously, the Missing in America Project.
Mays, a freed slave, endured significant injury in the line of duty and struggled to get help while wounded. Still, his treatment in later years did not reflect that heroism.
On Friday, Mays, who died in 1925 and was buried in a makeshift pauper’s grave after spending his last years in a mental hospital, was finally given a hero’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Isaiah Mays Wears His Congressional Medal of honor

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Isaiah Mays Burial, Friday, @ Arlington Natl Cemetery

Mays was born a slave in Virginia in 1858 but spent most of his life west of the Mississippi, joining the famed Buffalo Soldiers as the black cavalry and infantry troops fought in the frontier Indian Wars.
In 1889, he was part of a small detachment assigned to protect a U.S. Army pay wagon, which was caught in an ambush by a band of bandits. A gunfight ensued and almost all the soldiers were wounded or killed. Mays was shot in both legs. The bandits made off with $29,000 in gold coins.
Despite his wounds, Mays managed to walk and crawl two miles to a ranch to seek help. He was awarded a Medal of Honor on February 15, 1890. . . .
Mays left the Army in 1893 and many years later applied for a federal pension. But he was denied.

Many sources that I read say the reason given for this denial was, “ineligible,” because Mays was Black. Because he was poor, hobbled from military injury, and had no place to go, he lived the rest of his years alone in a hospital with mental patients. In those days, the indigent and mentally ill shared a hospital.

He was committed to an Arizona state hospital that cared for the mentally ill, tuberculosis patients and the indigent.
When he died in 1925, Mays was buried in the hospital cemetery in a grave marked only with a number.

Reports say Mays was wrapped only in a sheet from the hospital and dumped into a grave.
In 2001, Mays’ missing remains and burial plot were located by hospital officials. Just weeks ago, his remains were dug up. The Missing In America Project–a volunteer organization which seeks to identify and honor the unclaimed remains of American veterans– rode with Mays remains, transporting them on motorcycle from Arizona to Arlington National Cemetery at the groups’ own expense. Friday, Mays was given the hero’s burial he deserved.
Despite the incredible heroism and sad life of this great Black American, I’ll bet if I took a poll, the chasm between the many Black Americans under 30 (and probably over 30) who are familiar with rappers like Lil’ Wayne and the scant few who ever heard of Isaiah Mays would be vast. I’m sure the gap would be just as wide amongst White Americans of the same age group. As I always say, this is about the problems of a culture–which celebrates, elevates, and emulates garbage, not a race–which has many historic American heroes, like Mays, of whom it can and should be very proud.
Cpl. Isaiah Mays, Rest In Peace.
Read more about Isaiah Mays.

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10 Responses

:( How sad that he did not get the honor due him. If Obama was more like him, I would have no objections to him at all.

mindy1 on June 1, 2009 at 3:20 pm

“this is about the problems of a culture–which celebrates, elevates, and emulates garbage, not a race–which has many historic American heroes, like Mays, of whom it can be very proud.”
Amen to that…your statement says it all!

kaps on June 1, 2009 at 3:47 pm

This is a great post. Thank you.
I do have one small quibble. You wrote:
“Mays, a freed slave, went on to fight for the Union in the Civil War.”
But since he was born in 1858 and the Civil War ended in 1865, I don’t see how that could be true.
[P: HMMM . . . SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE RIGHT AND THAT USA TODAY AND THE SEVERAL MEDIA SOURCES THAT CLAIM HE’S A CIVIL WAR VETERAN ARE WRONG. I’VE REMOVED THE REFERENCES, AND WILL CHECK FURTHER. JUST GOES TO PROVE THE POINT YET AGAIN–THAT YOU CAN’T BELIEVE WHAT YOU READ IN THE MSM. THE USA TODAY BLURB I HAVE IN MY HANDS (FROM THE FRIDAY PRINT EDITION) SAYS HE WAS A CIVIL WAR VET AND EVEN SAYS SO IN THE HEADLINE. BUT, AS YOU POINT OUT, HE’D BE LIKE 7 IN THE CIVIL WAR. COULDN’T BE. DS]

Perpetua on June 1, 2009 at 3:52 pm

I was moved by this story.
As a Combat Vet I can attest that this man has gone far beyond the call of duty.
I’m glad our standards as a society no longer support this kind of treat of indivduals.
Sadly, the freedoms Cpl Isaiah fought for are now facing some serious challenges.

SamAdams on June 1, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Debbie,
Thanks for the post on Cpl Mays. Now that was a man! He was the kind of Black man that I wish would be more prominently featured in the media and in American history texts.
Ironically, I pride myself as an amateur historian, but I must admit I had never heard of Cpl. Mays until your post. As a result, while at Half-Price Books, I looked through an old book on the Buffalo Soldiers. They had a nice blurb on Cpl. Mays in there, as well as a detailed account of the shootout. There was also some good info on the Web.
Another legendary Black lawman I came across was the US Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves (July, 1838 – January, 1910). He had over 3000 arrests and killed 14 felons during his career. In between that, he and his wife had 10 kids…five girls and five boys!
Hopefully I and others can at least strike a blow to getting the “culture” back to appreciating this kind of manhood instead of what is celebrated today.-
[JJ: I WROTE A THESIS PAPER ON THE MANY BLACKS AND JEWS WHO HELPED DEVELOP THE OLD WEST AND FOUND CITIES, BUILD BUSINESSES, ETC. MANY OF THE COWBOYS IN THE SOUTHWEST AND WEST WERE BLACK, AND THEY DON’T GET THE ATTENTION THEY DESERVE, PARTICULARLY DURING BLACK HISTORY MONTH. I’VE MENTIONED SOME OF THEM HERE:
http://www.debbieschlussel.com/archives/2007/02/so_this_is_blac.html
DS]

JibberJabber on June 1, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Rest in peace, Cpl. Mays.
You’ve finally received the honor you so richly deserved.
Thank you for defending our country.

mplumb on June 1, 2009 at 6:55 pm

A lot of this colorful history of post Civil War America and the struggle to conquer and tame unknown land and build a country isn’t very well known to most Americans. Its one that deserves more awareness and figures like Cpl. Isaiah Mays were part of that era. Its good to see that he got long overdue recognition from the country and every American alive today owes him a debt of gratitude.

NormanF on June 1, 2009 at 7:17 pm

God bless him.

Mats on June 2, 2009 at 8:31 am

Nice piece. I enjoyed reading about Cpl. Mays.

kt on June 2, 2009 at 9:53 am

What a great post. I’m going to print it out and share it with my kids. BTW, it is very possible that he was a Civil War vet – many boys, white and black, served as drummers and runners. It’s not well known, but it is a fact. Especially if he were ‘adopted’ by a group of soldiers after being liberated. Similar things happened with orphans in Europe and Asia during WWI, WWII, Korea, etc.

Lin_in_Longmont on June 4, 2009 at 2:05 am

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