Remembering the Buffalo Soldiers

McLemore relives historic trek to protect Yosemite National Park

In 1903, units from the 9th United States Cavalry, one of the four all-black regiments that came to be known as the Buffalo Soldiers, made a 280-mile trek from the Presidio of San Francisco to Yosemite National Park over a period of 13 days. Ten years before the creation of the U.S. National Park Service, these soldiers were tasked with protecting the park against poaching and grazing and clearing trails still used today.

This June, in honor of the second-annual African American National Parks weekend, a group that included two from CSU, Chico paid homage to these soldiers by retracing their historic journey. The event was led by Outdoor Afro, a social networking community that focuses on connecting African Americans with the outdoors.

Student Life and Leadership program coordinator Malcolm McLemore attended a retracing of the historic Buffalo Soldiers journey from the Presidio to Yosemite.

Student Life and Leadership program coordinator Malcolm McLemore attended a retracing of the historic Buffalo Soldiers journey from the Presidio to Yosemite.

The group of about 70 participating in the June 7 event met at the Presidio where they had a public send-off ceremony and boarded the two buses that, flanked by several Buffalo Soldier motorcycle clubs, would follow the historic route as closely as possible. The group stopped along the way in the city of Los Banos, where the city was commemorated as an official stop on the Buffalo Soldiers route and city officials declared a Buffalo Soldiers Day.

“It’s kind of something that, especially in California I think, a lot of our African Americans know about,” said Student Life and Leadership program coordinator Malcolm McLemore, who participated in the retracing. “But it’s almost mythical versus actual history, so that’s a lot about what this event was about, really tying it into California’s past.”

From Los Banos, they continued on their eight-hour journey, arriving in Yosemite that Saturday evening just in time to make camp and enjoy a night around the campfire. The next day, the group explored the park, including sights that many of the participants had never seen such as Yosemite Falls and the Hutchings House.

Their time in the park culminated at the Yosemite Cemetery, where park ranger Shelton Johnson gave an interpretive performance in which he portrayed a fictional Buffalo Soldier sergeant who shared tales of what it meant to be a man of color in the Army at that time.

This photo and below, Yosemite Park Ranger Shelton Johnson retells the history of the 9th U.S. Cavalry. Photos courtesy of Teresa Baker, African American National Parks Day

This photo and below, Yosemite Park Ranger Shelton Johnson retells the history of the 9th U.S. Cavalry. Photos courtesy of Teresa Baker, African American National Parks Day

“As a black man myself,” McLemore said, “being able to connect to the story of what it meant to be a man during the early 1900s and what you had to go through before you could even feel you were a man based on today’s standards of what it means to be a man, and looking at the fact that we’re in an age of redefining and realigning what masculinity is and what manhood is, let alone what it means to be African American today, it was interesting to connect and be able to have those discussions.”

Emilyn Sheffield, professor of recreation, hospitality, and parks management at CSU, Chico, had friends and colleagues involved in the event and is exploring ways her department can further incorporate some of these “big cultural heritage stories” into its field school, which encourages students to volunteer their time and talent to public parks and trails, she said.

“It’s one of our great fortunes that we live within commuting distance of some of these remarkable stories,” Sheffield said. “It’s not like we’re way away and can’t get there. We can actually go to Yosemite and to the Presidio. We can go to the Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and in fact we do, every year—several times a year.”

Buffalo Soldiers imageSheffield invited McLemore, who graduated from the recreation program in 2008, to accompany her to the retracing event to see how these types of stories could fit into his programs as well. As a student, McLemore was on one of the first field school trips to the Presidio in 2006, and last year, he took a group of male students there to speak with park ranger Johnson, who specializes in knowledge and re-enactment of the Buffalo Soldiers.

“It’s one thing to talk about it in class, but it’s another thing to actually live it and go there and see it,” McLemore said.

He added, “I think that the biggest takeaway from being a part of this is that history has a lot of lessons for us—we just need to go out and grab them,” he said. “And my hope is to be able to connect more and more students to those types of stories.”

Kacey Gardner, Public Affairs and Publications

Achievements

Achievements

Retired faculty and staff were honored at a brunch Aug. 14. Read more.

Kendall Hall

No. 6 on #MyTopCollege

The University participated in Forbes’ #MyTopCollege social media challenge. See the results.

Student at the WREC

WREC: ‘You Can Play’

All are welcome at the Wildcat Recreation Center! Watch now.