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  • Writer's pictureKyra Mangold-Ostovich

Voices of the Past: Wise Cole

Location: Old Section F, Lot 180

Born: 10 Apr 1862, Sugar Valley, Gordon Co., GA

Died: 13 Dec 1935, Homestead, Allegheny Co., PA

Special thanks is extended to Ellis Michaels for his research and expertise in ordering and replacing the illegible monument.

It's difficult to find much on Wise A. Cole, beyond what can be gleaned from a handful of Census records and military applications. On one particular Census, his name appears as Wilson A. Cole, yet all other supporting documents show only "Wise." From what we can tell, he was born on 10 Apr 1862 in Sugar Valley, Gordon Co., GA, to his mother, Mary Hill, a Georgian native. His father's name is listed as "unknown" on Wise's death certificate, but all censuses list both of his parents as Georgian natives.

The first that we see Wise is in the 1880 Census. Aged 18, he was living as a boarder with the family of Mr. Chapman Cupid, a painter, on Holland Street of Atlanta, Fulton Co., GA. He was single, attending school, and his race was listed as "mulatto." It's possible that he was a schoolmate and friend of the Cupid's son, Thomas H. Cupid, who was aged 17.

In 1885, Wise enlisted with the United States Army. His register states that he was 25 years of age, had been working as a molder, and stood at a height of 5 feet and 4 3/4 inches. He was placed in Company E of the 24th Infantry, where he served as a Sergeant. He served from 25 Sep 1885 - 24 Sep 1890.

Surname Letter Range or Title: A-D. U.S., Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914

Following the Civil War, the US Colored Troops were disbanded in the fall of 1865, and restructured by an 1866 Act of Congress into six all-Black regiments, each consisting of about 1,000 soldiers. Their purpose was to help rebuild during Reconstruction and patrol the western frontier against raids conducted by the American Plains Indian tribes during the final decades of the nearly three hundred year period of time known as the American Indian Wars.

Buffalo Soldiers, 24th Infantry Regimental Flag, 1860s

In 1867, the Army authorized the installation of two Colored Cavalry Units, the 9th Cavalry and 10th Cavalry; and four Colored Infantry Units, the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st. By 1869, the four units were reorganized as the 24th Infantry (formerly the 38th and 41st), headquartered in Fort Clark, TX, and the 25th Infantry (formerly the 39th and 40th), headquartered in New Orleans, LA, albeit briefly. These regiments, composed of all Black enlisted soldiers, were commonly known as "Buffalo Soldiers," and commanded by a white commissioned officer or Black noncommissioned officer.

"Once the Civil War ended, the Army’s primary postwar mission was to occupy and help rebuild the South, but it faced a problem. Civilians, especially in the South, refused to accept armed Black Soldiers. Unable to post Black regiments in the east, the Army could only station them west of the Mississippi River without risking revolt. At the same time, droves of Americans migrated west, following trading and rail routes built before the war. To help this expansion, the United States negotiated with and fought Native American tribes in a series of conflicts called the Indian Wars. The wars presented an opportunity: these regiments would help fill an immediate need for security in the Great Plains region and beyond." - Jonathan Curran (

The Buffalo Soldiers duties included establishing and creating lumber camps and sawmills, managing food, supply and travel routes, establishing roadways, forts, and telegraph lines, and escorting settlers, cattle herds, and railroad crews during the westward expansion of the Country. In addition to their military duties, the Buffalo Soldiers also served as some of the first care takers of the national parks.

While not specifically a photo of Sgt Wise and Company E of the 24th Infantry, this photo depicts Company F of the 24th in 1892, 2 years after Cole had been discharged.

Buffalo soldiers of the 25th Infantry, some wearing buffalo robes, Ft. Keogh, Montana, 1890.

While it's unclear who specifically coined the "Buffalo Soldier" nickname, it's widely believed that different tribes of the American Plains Indians adopted the name due to the resemblance of the soldier's dark curly hair to a buffalo's coat. According to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Cheyenne warriors called the soldiers "Wild Buffalo;" Col. Benjamin Grierson, founder of the 10th Cavalry, attributed the Comanche as the originators; the Apache were credited, as well. Other Plains tribes said it was because of the buffalo hide coats the soldiers wore in the winter months; others said the soldiers embodied the buffalo's fierce spirit with their nature of fighting. Whatever the reason, the soldiers considered the name high praise, as buffalo were deeply respected by the Native peoples of the Great Plains. Eventually, the image of a buffalo became part of the 10th Cavalry's regimental crest.

Wise Cole Army Pension Card

Following his honorable discharge, Wise married Annie Elizabeth Gunn (09 Jul 1867/1872 - 03 Jan 1942) in 1892. She was a daughter of J. B. Gunn of Atlanta, GA. Her mother was listed as unknown on her death certificate.

He had moved to Pittsburgh, Allegheny Co., PA, by the 1900 Census, and was living in a rented home at 49 Vera Street of the 13th Ward. At the time of the census, he was aged 38, and was living with his wife of 8 years, Annie, aged 32; and children, Arthur E., aged 14, Pearl Irene, aged 4, Madeline S., aged 3, and Walter H., aged 1. Wise was working as a laborer in a pipe mill.

By 1910, the family had purchased a home in the 5th Ward of Homestead, Allegheny Co,, PA, at 136 E. 12th Avenue. Arthur was no longer in the household, but 7 year old James had joined their ranks. Wise was working as a steamfitter in the steel works.

Over the next decade, tragedy repeatedly struck the Cole family, first with the death of Madeline in 1915. She succumbed on 15 Feb to pulmonary tuberculosis and laryngitis following a grueling 6 month battle. She had been a dress maker, and was aged 18. Her burial, handled by Gillen & Coulter, took place on 17 Feb 1915 in the Homestead Cemetery. Within two years, Walter had contracted the same disease and died on 03 Jul 1917, at the age of 18, following a two month illness. Walter's burial, handled by Gillen & Coulter, took place on 06 July, 1917. It's worth noting that the Cole family marker has the incorrect spelling of Madelene [sic.] and year of Walter's death on the inscription.

All of the children but 17-year old James had left the household by the 1920 Census, and Wise and Annie had opened their doors to several young, Black male lodgers who worked as laborers in the steel mills.

The couple, now retired and empty-nesters, last appear together in the 1930 Census. Wise died on 13 Dec 1935 of lobar pneumonia and cardiac failure in Homestead, Allegheny Co., PA.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, PA, USA; Pennsylvania (State). Death Certificates, 1906-1968; Certificate Number Range: 103501-106500

National Archives at Washington DC; Washington DC, USA; Applications for Headstones For U.S. Military Veterans, 1925-1941; NAID: 596118; Record Group Number: 92; Record Group Title: Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General

Annie, aged 71, appears in the 1940 Census, still in their E. 12th Avenue home, with her son, James, aged 37; his wife, Lucille R., aged 32; and their sons, James H., Jr., aged 4, and Wendell A., aged 10 months. James was supporting his family and was working as a dentist who owned his own practice. Annie died of a cerebral hemorrhage on 03 Jan 1942. her death certificate lists her as 69 years of age. She was buried next to Wise in the Homestead Cemetery on 06 Jan 1942.

Pearl, while included on the family marker, married Wallie Jefferson and was buried in the Washington Cemetery of Washington, Washington Co., PA, when she died on 15 Jul 1965. James and Lucille also now rest in the Cole family lot, as well as their son, James, Jr.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, PA, USA; Pennsylvania (State). Death Certificates, 1906-1968; Certificate Number Range: 000001-001650

Information gathered from:


  • Chap. CCXCIX. 14 Stat. 332 from "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U. S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875". Library of Congress, Law Library of Congress.

  • Lehmann, H., 1927, 9 Years Among the Indians, 1870-1879, Von Boeckmann-Jones Company, p. 121

  • Mills, Charles K. (2011). Harvest of Barren Regrets: The Army Career of Frederick William Benteen 1834–1898. University of Nebraska Press. p. 331. ISBN978-0-8032-3684-4.



  • Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, PA, USA; Pennsylvania (State). Death Certificates, 1906-1968; Certificate Number Range: 010051-013500

  • Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, PA, USA; Pennsylvania (State). Death Certificates, 1906-1968; Certificate Number Range: 072921-076000

  • Schubert, Frank N. (1997). Black Valor: Buffalo Soldiers and the Medal of Honor, 1870–1898. Scholarly Resources Inc. pp. 4–5.

  • Surname Letter Range or Title: A-D. U.S., Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914

  • Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917 - 9/16/1940. NAI 76193916. Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773 - 2007. National Archives at St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.

  • Year: 1880; Census Place: Atlanta, Fulton, Georgia; Roll: 148; Page: 295C; Enumeration District: 095

  • Year: 1900; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 13, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1359; Page: 4; Enumeration District: 0158

  • Year: 1910; Census Place: Homestead Ward 5, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1294; Page: 7b; Enumeration District: 0099; FHL microfilm: 1375307

  • Year: 1920; Census Place: Homestead Ward 5, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: T625_1513; Page: 14A; Enumeration District: 149

  • Year: 1930; Census Place: Homestead, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 0635; FHL microfilm: 2341699

  • Year: 1940; Census Place: Homestead, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: m-t0627-03406; Page: 7B; Enumeration District: 2-243

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As always, all of you really put a caring effort into the memorials and family of those buried in Homestead Cemetery. My hats off to all of you and especially Ellis for his work and efforts. Each and every person buried there had a family, had children, had a life that everyone forgets over time. You all bring that back to life and it does matter. Great biography on Wise Cole! So many families contributed to Homestead, Munhall, and the surrounding area. One would never know if it wasn't for all of you, thank you, Mark Race

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