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Cavalry in the park

Buffalo Soldiers program honors contribution of African American soldiers

At the turn of the century, Buffalo Soldiers provided valuable service in the country’s national parks. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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The convergence of Veterans Day with the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War in 1917, allows for moments of reflection about all veterans who have served.

One of these moments will occur Friday, Nov. 10, at AMVETS, hosted by Tacoma Buffalo Soldiers' Museum.

To recall the start of World War I, the museum will present "Heroes and Legends," a program which honors the contributions of African-American veterans.

The presentation will feature the history surrounding WWI heroes like Eugene Bullard, America's first black combat pilot, and Sgt. Henry Johnson, who earned the French Croix de guerre.  

In 2015, Sgt. Johnson was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving with the famous "Black Rattlers" of the 369th Infantry Regiment.

Lourdes Alvarado-Ramos, Washington State Director of Veterans Affairs, will attend.  Also participating in the program is Amanda Schramm of the National Park Service.

Her presentation will focus on the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers as the nation's first "park rangers."

"The Buffalo Soldiers Museum is honored to present this program," said Jackie Jones-Hook, the museum's executive director, "and we are very excited to honor the service of Buffalo Soldiers in our national parks and the history they made."

In 1866, Congress mandated the creation of four black regiments:  the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry.

Many African-Americans enlisted for the $13 per month because they could make more in the military than anywhere else.

Native Americans coined the term "Buffalo Soldiers" because they said the soldiers' dark curly hair resembled a buffalo's coat.

While much has been written about their service on the Western frontier, much has been forgotten about the service of the Buffalo Soldiers in America's national parks.

The Army served as the official administrator of the Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks from 1891 until 1913. To maintain supervision over the parks during the summer months, the 24th Infantry and the 9th Cavalry provided protection to both parks in 1899, 1903 and 1904.

The commanding officers became the acting military superintendents.  

Two troops of cavalry comprised of about 60 soldiers were assigned to each park. The soldiers were parks stewards -- bringing a sense of law and order by curbing poaching, fighting wildfires, ending the illegal grazing of livestock and stopping the theft of lumber.

One commander of note was Charles Young, the third African-American to graduate from West Point.

During his service in the Sequoia National Park in 1903, he and the 9th Cavalry not only provided security by confiscating arms, but they also oversaw the construction of roads, trails and other infrastructure.

Of note was the completion of the first usable road into Giant Forest and the first trail to the top of Mount Whitney.  This accomplishment is considered by some historians to be the first marked nature trail in the national park system.

"Heroes and Legends," 5 p.m., Friday, Nov. 10, free, AMVETS, Post 1, 5717 South Tyler, Tacoma, 253.272.4257,

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