Today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) announced that the Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act (H.R. 520) has passed the House by voice vote. The bill commemorates the all-African-American regiments of the U.S. Army who protected our National Parks, including Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, at the turn of the 20th Century.
"The Buffalo Soldiers were true pioneers who braved the Western frontier as well as the scourge of racism as they fought for and served our country. The legacy these regiments left us--in California, and throughout the United States--is an important and often overlooked chapter in our post-Civil War history. Their contributions deserve the fullest recognition and need to be incorporated into the educational programming at our National Parks."
The Buffalo Soldiers were garrisoned at the San Francisco Presidio during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries under the command of Colonel Charles Young, an accomplished graduate of West Point who was the highest ranking African-American military officer of his time. Among the duties assigned to the Buffalo Soldiers after their tours of duty was protecting Yosemite and Sequoia prior to the establishment of the National Park System.
To get to the parks, the soldiers left the Presidio in spring and headed south along El Camino Real through San Mateo County. It was a thirteen day trip covering 280 miles from San Francisco to Yosemite. The trek to Sequoia spanned 320 miles and took 16 days. The Native Americans they encountered nicknamed them "buffalo" soldiers in reaction to their dark skin and curly hair. The moniker was bestowed as a badge of honor to the troops, connoting bravery and a fierce fighting spirit.
The Buffalo Soldiers' story has more recently been memorialized in Ken Burns' documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea. Today, in addition to efforts by the National Park Service to document their work, numerous veterans associations and local groups around the country continue to pay tribute to the Buffalo Soldiers and their role in American history.
The Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act calls for a study to:
Evaluate the feasibility of establishing a national historic trail commemorating the route the Buffalo Soldiers traveled between their post at San Francisco's Presidio and Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks.
Identify properties to be considered for the National Register of Historic Places or National Historic Landmarks.
Develop educational initiatives and a public awareness campaign about the contributions of the Buffalo Soldiers.
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.