Buffalo Soldiers: Yosemite National Park First Rangers
Yosemite’s Buffalo Soldiers, c1899National Park Service, Public Domain
Photo Credit: Public Domain
Yosemite National Park is the first national park in California, dedicated to relaxation and enjoyment and Yosemite set the standard for all future American National Parks. Yosemite National Park, located in central California, was founded in 1890. Wilderness covers almost all of the park's 747,956 acres (about the size of Rhode Island.) It’s rough mountains and valleys, formed by wind, rain, ice, and time, attract an average of 4.4 million people each year, making it one of the most popular national parks in the country.
It may be a new fact for most to learn that African Americans who were called “Buffalo Soldiers” were an integral part to the founding of Yosemite National Park and the legacy still carries on through rangers such as Shelton Johnson. Many of us remember “Buffalo Soldiers” from school as the all-Black United States Army Cavalry founded after the Civil War. As the story goes, the Native Americans, whom the Black soldiers fought during the Indian Wars, gave the Black soldiers the nickname because their curly black hair looked like a buffalo's coat (as bison are revered in Native American cultures, this was considered a term of respect).
In 1866, Congress established six segregated regiments, which were subsequently merged into four Black regiments: the 9th and 10th Cavalry, as well as the 24th and 25th Infantry. The service of these Buffalo Soldiers on the Western frontier has been documented by historians, but their service in several national parks has been almost forgotten. Approximately 500 Buffalo Soldiers were stationed in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Despite the added burden of racism, they accomplished many notable achievements. The Buffalo Soldiers were tasked with protecting the newly established park from poachers, squatters, fires, loggers, and other hazards.
In addition, the regiments worked on a variety of stewardship and infrastructure projects. Their achievements included, but were not limited to, the construction of the first usable road into Giant Forest and the first trail to the top of Mt. Whitney (the tallest peak in the contiguous United States) in Sequoia National Park in 1903; and the establishment of an arboretum near the south fork of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park in 1904 (regarded as the first museum in the National Parks System). According to one scholar, Yosemite contains the first marked nature trail in the national park system. As a result, the 500 Buffalo Soldiers will be remembered as an important part of that history. They were our nation's first park rangers, protectors and we appreciate their service. And with that we deem Yosemite National Park as a Black Landmark.
Photo Credit: Keith Walklet Courtesy of Yosemite Conservancy
Location: Mammoth Cave KY
Within a two-hour drive of well-known towns like Louisville, Lexington, and Nashville, Kentucky's Mammoth Cave is a gigantic network of tunnels and chambers that collectively make up the world's longest cave system. Along with its deep river valleys, rolling hills, and nearly every sort of cave formation, it is home to over 130 species of fauna. It is also the most diverse cavern system on the entire planet.
Address: Tioga Rd Hwy 120 & Hwy 140 Yosemite National Park, CA 95389
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Yosemite National Park is the ideal year-round outdoor playground. Sunny days abound during the summer months, allowing for epic walks and stunning views. Yosemite is blanketed with snow during the winter, making it ideal for skiing, skating, and snowshoeing.
- Colonel Charles Young, the third African-American graduate of the U.S. military academy at West Point, was the first African-American superintendent of a national park. Young was a Civil War soldier who ascended through the ranks of the army to become the highest-ranking Black officer at the time of his death in 1922. Colonel Young managed road construction, mapping, and other maintenance and protection operations for the Black cavalry deployed to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.
- Shelton Johnson, a current park ranger in Yosemite National Park, has carried on the Buffalo Soldier's oral history. Johnson has spent most of his life studying Buffalo Soldiers and frequently does interpretive performances in the original uniform. Johnson was featured in Ken Burns' National Parks documentary, and he even visited with former President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey to discuss his work.
- When President Teddy Roosevelt visited San Francisco in 1903, he personally requested that the Buffalo Soldiers serve as his security detail. This was the first time an African American regiment had been asked to serve as the President's Escort of Honor.
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