Yosemite's historic 'Buffalo Soldiers' up for national recognition

WASHINGTON -- In the late 19th century and early 20th century, black troopers called the "Buffalo Soldiers" patrolled Yosemite and Sequoia national parks in California. But many visitors to the national parks are unaware of the role played by these troops.

A House-approved bill seeks to change that, requiring a study on ways to highlight the Buffalo Soldiers’ contributions to the parks.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), who sponsored the measure, said it would call attention to an often-overlooked chapter in the nation’s history and enhance the parks experience for millions of visitors.

"These cavalry troops rode hundreds of miles from their post at the Presidio of San Francisco to Sequoia and Yosemite national parks in order to patrol and protect them," Peggy O’Dell, deputy director of operations for the National Park Service, said at a Senate hearing earlier this year on a similar bill awaiting action in the Senate. "The journey across the state took 16 days of serious horseback riding averaging over 20 miles a day.
"Once in the parks, they were assigned to patrol the backcountry, build roads and trails, put a halt to poaching, suppress fires, stop trespass grazing by large herds of unregulated cattle and sheep, and otherwise establish roles later assumed by national park rangers," she added.

The study will examine the feasibility of establishing a national historic trail commemorating the route traveled by the Buffalo Soldiers from their post in the Presidio to the parks they patrolled. Projected to cost $400,000, the study also would identify properties that could be listed in the National Register of Historic Places or designated as National Historic Landmarks.

President Obama earlier this year established the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Wilberforce, Ohio. Young commanded a regiment of Buffalo Soldiers dispatched to Sequoia and General Grant (now Kings Canyon) national parks. Young was the first African American to manage a national park.

The Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act was approved Monday by the House on a voice vote. The pending Senate measure is sponsored by California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. 

Ron Sundergill, senior pacific regional director of the National Parks Conservation Assn., said in a written statement that the measure would "more fully reflect our diverse, shared heritage" and call attention to Buffalo Soldiers’ contributions that continue to benefit park visitors.


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