Buffalo Soldiers and Our National Parks
February is Black History Month, a time to commemorate the contributions and achievements brought about by African Americans. If you’ve never heard of the Buffalo Soldiers, their trailblazing leader, or the work they did for our National Parks, then read on.
The Buffalo Soldiers
Made up of the 9th, 10th, 24th, and 25th Cavalries, the Buffalo Soldiers were the segregated regiments of the United States Army. For a time they were stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco, acting as President Theodore Roosevelt’s escort during a visit.
They served in numerous battles, but the men also did work at some of our National Parks. In 1899, the 24th was sent to Yosemite National Park, where they patrolled and protected the park. The 9th served as patrol in Sequoia National Parks in 1903. It could be said that they “were some of the first park rangers in the Sierra Nevada.”
In 1904, the 9th was stationed in Yosemite and during their stay they built an arboretum. Major John Bigelow was Acting Superintendent and wrote that the new addition was intended “to preserve not only the trees, but everything that is associated with them in nature."
Colonel Charles Young
Charles Young (1864-1922) was the third black man to graduate from West Point Military Academy, and first to achieve the rank of Colonel. He was captain of the 9th Cavalry and promoted to Acting Superintendent of Sequoia National Park in 1903.
During the one summer he and the 9th were stationed there, they laid more road than the three previous summers combined. This progress allowed the park to be accessible to the public for the first time, leading visitors past Giant Forest and Moro Rock. The roads Young and his men built that summer are still maintained today.
Young, and the entirety of the Buffalo Soldiers, served the country honorably while enduring segregation and discrimination. In the face of hardship they were able to lead on and become some of the most honored men in US military history.
To be more immersed in the Yosemite experience the 9th would have had while stationed there, check out “A Buffalo Soldier Speaks”, a podcast that put on by National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson, who portrays Sergeant Elizy Boman in the podcast.
If you’re planning a Sequoia trip anytime soon, check out the Buffalo Soldier Scenic Route that takes you along the paths laid by the 9th.
-- top photo courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society, used with permission; bottom photo by iStock/traveler1116
Bianca Hernandez is an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.