The legacy of African American soldiers dates back to the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War, over 180,000 black men volunteered to fight for the Union Army. But it was not until after the Civil War in 1866 that African-American’s were guaranteed full citizenship, including the right to serve in the U.S. Army.
Originally formed in 1866, the “Buffalo Soldiers” moniker came to refer to the soldiers in four all-black Regular U.S. Army units: the 9th Cavalry Regiment, the 10th Cavalry Regiment, the 24th Infantry Regiment, and the 25th Infantry Regiment. They were given the name by Native Americans against whom the black soldiers fought during the so-called American Indian Wars. In a letter to her favorite popular magazine in 1873, a frontier army wife wrote that the soldiers’ curly black hair resembled “matted cushion that is between the horns of the buffalo.” As bison are revered in Native American cultures, this was considered a term of respect, acknowledging worthy opponents in battle. The soldiers seldom used the name amongst themselves, but they did accept it as complimentary. The symbol of the buffalo was eventually incorporated into the crest of the 10th Cavalry Regiment. Service for the Buffalo Soldiers took them from the American Coast and Southwest to duty in Cuba, the Philippines, Hawaii, and Mexico.
Buffalo Soldiers in the Presidio
Troops from all four Buffalo Soldier Regiments spent time at the Presidio. Following the Spanish American war, soldiers of the 24th Infantry and 9th Cavalry were garrisoned at the Presidio of San Francisco, and the men of the 10th Cavalry and the 25th Infantry, resided for short periods before going to and after returning from the Philippines, during the Philippine-American War. The 24th Infantry lived in the Montgomery Street Barracks from September 1915 to February 1916, the red-brick buildings that still stand today, now housing the Commissary, the Presidio Trust, the Walt Disney Family Museum, and forthcoming Lodge at the Presidio. During the last four months of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, they represented the Army to the public in drills and parades, even escorting the visiting Liberty Bell when it was sent on its return trip to Philadelphia. The 25th Infantry had a band at the Presidio in the summer of 1907. Their unofficial chief musician was long-serving black member John N. Norton at a time when regulations still mandated white bandmasters for these regiments. The principal musician at the time was Elbert B. Williams who while serving with the 10th Cavalry had been on detached service directing the band of the Tuskegee Institute. He would become the first officially appointed and approved black chief musician in the army the following year. They performed all the usual band activities, including playing for dances at the Officers’ Club.
Colonel Charles Young was a notable leader among his fellow soldiers and the first African American to achieve the rank of Colonel—he captained the 9th Cavalry and escorted President Theodore Roosevelt through the streets of San Francisco in May, 1903.
Buffalo Soldiers—Early Park Rangers
The Buffalo Soldiers weren’t always in combat. Six days after escorting President Roosevelt, then Captain Charles Young and his cavalry were deployed to Sequoia National Park, where he and his troops were tasked with managing the national park for the summer of 1903. Their first major assignment was the extension of the wagon road to Giant Forest. As Acting Superintendent, Young’s energetic leadership saw wagons treading the terrain and reaching the summit of Giant Forest by the end of summer. Young hails as the African-American National Park Superintendent, and the dignity and ambition he brought to brief tenure as National Park Ranger left a lasting imprint on the Sequoia National Park. The “wagon roads,” much improved in later times, are still in use today, having served millions of park visitors for more than eighty years. The 24th Infantry soldiers previously had park patrol duty at Yosemite and Sequoia in 1899. And after the National Park Service was established in 1916, it’s been said that the Buffalo Soldiers acted as the first Park Rangers. Even the iconic Smokey Bear hat is modeled on the headwear of troops at the time.
Buffalo Soldiers in the Presidio National Cemetery
Over 400 Buffalo Soldiers are buried in the Presidio’s National Cemetery, in the West Section of the cemetery which was being filled during and shortly after the Spanish American War. Among them is Medal of Honor recipient, William H. Thompkins. During the war, Thompkins and three Buffalo Soldier comrades voluntarily went ashore in the face of enemy fire to rescue trapped and wounded U.S. and Cuban soldiers at Tayabacoa, Cuba. The spirit of the Buffalo Soldiers continues to thrive in the Presidio’s dedication to maintaining an environment of inclusivity and equality, and our efforts to highlight the rich and varied history of this land.
Please email answers to the following questions to claim your smilie.
Regarding the Visitor Center... As you look through the southwest window there is a quote from a Buffalo Soldier.
1. Who is the Buffalo Soldier quoted?
2. What are the four types of clothing mentioned in his quote?
Regarding the closest building to the West...
3. What is the building number?
4. How many windows are on the second floor facing East?
Virtual Reward - 2017/2018
This Virtual Cache is part of a limited release of Virtuals created between August 24, 2017 and August 24, 2018. Only 4,000 cache owners were given the opportunity to hide a Virtual Cache. Learn more about Virtual Rewards on the Geocaching Blog.