The 10th Cavalry was formed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1866. Very high standards of recruitment were set by the regiments' commander and Civil War hero Benjamin Grierson. As a result, recruitment and organization of the unit required slightly over one year. By the end of July 1867 eight companies of enlisted men had been recruited from the Departments of Missouri, Arkansas, and the Platte. Life at Leavenworth was not pleasant for the 10th. The Fort's commander, who was admittedly opposed to African- Americans serving in the regular army, made life as difficult as he could on the new troopers. Grierson sought to have his regiment transferred, and subsequently received orders moving the regiment to Fort Riley, Kansas later that summer. Within two months of the transfer, the final four companies were in place.
For the next eight years, the 10th was stationed at numerous forts throughout Kansas and Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). They provided guards for workers of the Kansas and Pacific Railroad, strung miles of new telegraph lines, and to a large extent built Fort Sill. Throughout this period, they were constantly patrolling the reservations in an attempt to prevent Indian raids into Texas. In 1867 and 68, the 10th participated in Gen. Sherman's winter campaigns against the Cheyennes, Arapahos, and Comanches. Units of the 10th prevented the Cheyenne from fleeing to the northwest, thus allowing Custer and the 7th Cavalry to defeat them at the decisive battle near Fort Cobb, Indian Territory. In 1875, the 10th Cavalry moved its headquarters to Fort Concho in west Texas. Other companies were assigned to various forts throughout the area. The regiment's mission in Texas was to protect mail and travel routes, control Indian movements, provide protection from Mexican revolutionaries and outlaws, and to gain a knowledge of the areas terrain. The regiment proved highly successful in completing their mission. The 10th scouted 34,420 miles of uncharted terrain, opened more than 300 miles of new roads, and laid over 200 miles of telegraph lines. The scouting activities took the troops through some of the harshest and most desolate terrain in the nation. These excursions allowed the preparation of excellent maps detailing scarce water holes, mountain passes, and grazing areas that would later allow for settlement of the area. These feats were accomplished while having to be constantly on the alert for hit-and-run raids from the Apaches. The stay in west Texas produced tough soldiers, who became accustomed to surviving in an area that offered few comforts and no luxuries.
The 10th Cavalry played an important role in the 1879-80 campaign against Chief Victorio and his renegade band of Apaches. Victorio and his followers escaped from their New Mexico reservation and wreaked havoc throughout the southwest on their way to Mexico. Col. Grierson and the 10th attempted to prevent Victorio's return to the U.S., and particularly his reaching New Mexico where he could cause additional problems with the Apaches still on the reservations. Grierson, realizing the importance of water in the harsh region, decided the best way to intercept Victorio was to take control of potential water holes along his route. The campaign called for the biggest military concentration ever assembled in the Trans-Pecos area. Six troops of the 10th Cavalry were assigned to patrol the area from the Van Horn Mountains west to the Quitman Mountains, and north to the Sierra Diablo and Delaware Mountains. Encounters with the Indians usually resulted in skirmishes, however the 10th engaged in major confrontations at Tinaja de las Palmas (a water hole south of Sierra Blanca) and at Rattlesnake Springs (north of Van Horn). These two engagements halted Victorio and forced him to retreat to Mexico. Although Victorio and his band were not captured, the campaign conducted by the 10th was successful in preventing them from reaching New Mexico. The 10th's efforts at containment exhausted the Apaches. Soon after they crossed the border, Victorio and many of his warriors were killed by Mexican troops on October 14, 1880. In 1885, the regiment was transferred to the Department of Arizona. Once again the 10th was involved in the arduous pursuit of renegade Apaches under the leadership of Geronimo, Mangus, and the Apache Kid. After twenty years of service in some of the most undesirable posts in the southwest, the regiment, now under the command of Colonel John K. Mizner, was transferred to the Department of Dakota in 1891. The regiment served at various posts in Montana and Dakotas until 1898.