Arizona State Hospital

All Souls Cemetery

isaiah mays portrait

Did you know that one of America’s Black heroes – a Buffalo Soldier who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor – was buried at the Arizona State Hospital?

Corporal Isaiah Mays was buried at the hospital’s “All Souls Cemetery,” where he rested with more than 2,400 other patients and staff.

Mays and Sergeant Benjamin Brown, of the 24th Infantry, were awarded the Medal of Honor in 1890 for "gallantry and meritorious conduct" while defending an Army pay wagon against masked bandits near Tucson.

In a fierce battle with the robbers, several soldiers were seriously wounded. Mays, shot in both legs, walked and crawled two miles to a nearby ranch to sound the alarm. (Mays' and Brown's regiment was one of several famous Black "Buffalo Soldier" regiments formed after the Civil War and sent West during the Indian Wars.)

The robbers got away with $29,000 in gold (worth nearly half a million dollars today) that was never recovered.

Mays' and Brown's gallantry caught the attention of his superiors, who said the men "behaved in the most courageous and heroic manner."

Born a slave in Virginia in 1858, Mays left the Army in 1893 and worked as a laborer in Arizona and New Mexico. In 1922, he appealed for and was denied a federal pension.

Because of a fire in 1935, the hospital has no records of actual burial sites.

For decades after his death, Mays’ estimated grave was marked only by a modest brick-like marker etched with a number.

In 2001, Mays finally received a Medal of Honor headstone from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for his bravery 110 years earlier.

The headstone was unveiled just a few days before Memorial Day in 2001 at a formal ceremony with members of the American Buffalo Soldiers in attendance. In 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs transferred Mays to Arlington National Cemetery where he was buried with full military honors.

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