San Francisco – Ranger Rik Penn and historian John William Templeton led a tour of the Buffalo Soldier Historical Trail on Oct. 22 with Los Banos as the destination for the dedication of a mural by the Los Banos Chamber of Commerce marking where the 9th Cavalry and 24th Infantry camped on their way to duty protecting Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.
Buffalo Soldiers from the Presidio were on duty in California’s national parks before the creation of the National Park Service. In 1903 they served as the honor guard for President Theodore Roosevelt on the Presidio parade ground.
Rep. Jackie Speier has introduced legislation for the National Park Service to create the Buffalo Soldier trail, which would benefit from the research of rangers like Penn and Shelton Johnson at Yosemite.
The four permanent Black regiments were formed by Congress in 1866 following the success of 220,000 U.S. Colored Troops in decisive battles of the Civil War. Templeton, author of a new book on the 13th Amendment, “Road to Ratification,” writes that those troops distinguished themselves as the first troops to enter the Confederate capital of Richmond and then to force the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee before capturing Texas, the last state to fall. Because of their service on the Western front, the permanent four regiments were stationed on the Western Frontier.
San Francisco was the biggest urban garrison manned by the Buffalo Soldiers. In combination with Pullman porters after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, those soldiers would also help spread jazz music. The first jazz band in history, Purcell’s So Different Jazz Orchestra, from the iconic “black and tan” club Purcell’s on Pacific Avenue, would be drafted into the 25th Regiment as its marching band because they were so important to the morale of the Buffalo Soldiers at the Presidio.
The four permanent Black regiments were formed by Congress in 1866 following the success of 220,000 U.S. Colored Troops in decisive battles of the Civil War.
In the centennial year of the National Park Service, these pioneer environmentalists have an appeal to communities that have felt estranged from the natural beauty of the Golden State, under the mistaken influence of movies which depicted the Western frontier as developed solely by whites. Like the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington with its record attendance, Templeton and Penn foresee the Buffalo Soldier trail as a significant tourism draw for West Coast communities.
The Buffalo Soldier trail is part of a larger California African-American Freedom Trail, with 6,000 sites across the state. Students will have the opportunity to learn about those sites in 2017 on the educational network ReUNION: Education-Arts-Heritage, under the theme Breathing Freedom, to mark the first year after the adoption of the 13th Amendment.
San Francisco was the biggest urban garrison manned by the Buffalo Soldiers.
Penn and Templeton will join other National Park Service rangers on Jan. 16, 2017, at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park to launch a seven-week training course on teaching the African-American history of the West.
To learn more, contact John William Templeton, curator of the California African-American Freedom Trail, at email@example.com or write to him at 1691 Turk St., San Francisco, CA 94115.