Back to News Front

Hallowed ground

Woman fights to save memory of historic soldiers near JBLM

Black troopers from the 9th Cavalry Regiment pass in review following the American Lake Maneuvers of 1904 on what is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Courtesy photo

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

The daughter of a Buffalo Soldier and former American prisoner of war is fighting to protect a military site utilized by one of the Army's historic black regiments in Washington state from commercial development.

Jackie Jones-Hook, executive director of the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Tacoma, wants to enact state and federal protections to preserve a bivouac area used by the 9th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, or raise $1.62 million requested by the DuPont city attorney to purchase the site. Both options would protect the land from a local developer's plans to build warehouses on the site.

"It has huge military significance," Jones-Hook said. "This area was the genesis of JBLM (Joint Base Lewis-McChord). During 1904, during the first American Lake Maneuvers, over 4,000 Buffalo Soldiers performed war games at this site."

"Buffalo Soldiers" was the nickname given to soldiers serving in the 10th Calvary Regiment, the U.S. Army's first "colored" regiment formed after the Civil War. The term was eventually used to describe all black soldiers serving in the Army after the Civil War up until near the end of World War II.

Jones-Hook's father, William Jones, was a Buffalo Soldier and later held as a prisoner of war during the Korean War. Before he passed in 2009, he requested that memories of his time serving as a Buffalo Soldier be preserved. His daughter took his words to heart, and in 2012, Jones-Hook established the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum at its current site in Tacoma, one of only two museums in the country dedicated to Buffalo Soldiers. The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum is located in Houston.

"Without the full story, you can't really understand the history that has proceeded us," said Dr. Darrell Millner, a professor emeritus of black studies at Portland State University. "It helps us understand where we came from, so we can understand where we are today."

Jones-Hook hopes that by establishing a historical landmark at the site, local residents and families stationed at JBLM will have the opportunity to experience history at what the local Weekly Volcano newspaper has called a "hidden gem." From the Sequalitchew Creek trailhead in DuPont, visitors can both experience the history of the American Lake Maneuvers and Camp Lewis, and follow a trail to a Puget Sound beach which features views of the Olympic mountain range.

In 2017, the Army and JBLM celebrated the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Camp Lewis. But the history of the state's second-largest employer goes back at least to 1904 when thousands of Buffalo Soldiers established an encampment at Camp Nisqually on Sequalitchew Creek to participate in the first of the American Lake Maneuvers, proving to military that the Nisqually Plain area was an ideal location for a large military base on the west coast.

Maj. Gen. Arthur Murray, commander of the Army's Western Department, inspected the area in 1912 and observed, "there is no finer post site anywhere in the U.S. In this area, there is every physical condition desirable for Army training and maneuvers."

The maneuvers continued at the American Lake area every other year until 1912 and produced topographical maps and other data that were used to select the site for a permanent Army post.

But not only were these maneuvers a critical step toward the selection of the American Lake for Camp Lewis, the movements were one of the first military exercises that integrated reserve units into the regular Army in what is now known as the Total Force.

"The American Lake Maneuvers in 1904 represented the birth of the modern integrated Army," said Dr. Erik Villard, a historian at the U.S. Army Center for Military History.

It was "the first glimmer of the Army as we know it," he added.

In January 1917, Pierce County bonded itself for $2 million to purchase 70,000 acres of land at American Lake which was donated to the U.S. Government for the development of Camp Lewis. Construction at Camp Lewis began the following June.

In addition to Camp Lewis, Buffalo Soldiers played important roles at Fort Lawton in Seattle, Fort Nisqually, Fort Vancouver, Fort Walla Walla and Fort George Wright. The 25th Infantry Regiment's baseball team at Fort Lawton won several U.S. Army championships and was at one time the top-ranked nonprofessional team in the country. The Army band that was in Seattle was one of the first to perform jazz.

"Most people don't know that the Buffalo Soldiers were here in Washington state during that time period," Jones-Hook said.

Jones-Hook, the Tacoma Buffalo Soldiers Museum and others are leading several efforts to prevent the Buffalo Soldier's contributions from being erased from the Pacific Northwest's memory.

Last year, the Buffalo Soldiers Museum received a $57,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, in collaboration with School's Out Washington and the Lewis Army Museum, to create a summer learning program for youth to experience the forgotten military history of the era.

"It's a part of education and learning that you can't replicate any other way," Millner said.

The Buffalo Soldiers Museum also hosts an annual Labor Day festival which strives to "honor the past and embrace the future." As a nod to Fort Lawton's legendary black Army baseball team, the festival sponsors an Air Force vs. Army baseball game held at Heidelberg Park.

Buffalo Soldiers courageously fought in every American war between Civil War and World War II despite the discrimination they faced both inside and outside of the military. They had the lowest desertion and court-martial rates of their time, even though they received some of the least-desirable horses, clothing and equipment.

"The story of the Buffalo Soldiers is intimately woven with the Western movement and also with the racial history between the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century," Millner said.

However, Millner says the low desertion rates may also be attributable to the lack of suitable alternatives for blacks in America in the post-Civil War era.

During World War II, a total of 19 Buffalo Soldiers received Congressional Medals of Honor.

While the inevitable growth and urbanization of South Puget Sound will surely create economic benefits for some, there is a lot to be lost if equally robust action is not taken to preserve the area's past.

"Every day, more people pass on who know the secrets, know the history, know the context and why it's important to themselves, their families and their communities," said Seattle resident Kevin Washington, who is the son of a Tuskegee Airman and a grandson of a Buffalo Soldier who was stationed at Fort Lawton.

"We would lose a context that would be completely different about how we treat each other, solve issues and move forward," he said.

Read next close

Military Life

Military Family Bouncefest

comments powered by Disqus