Long before park rangers were created, the military was assigned to protect the nation’s young national parks. Among the patrols assigned to Yosemite in the early part of the 20th century were the 24th Infantry and 9th Cavalry, African American troops known as the Buffalo Soldiers. These soldiers patrolled on horseback protecting the park from poachers, timber harvesters, and sheepherders.
Yosemite Conservancy funded programs which honor the contribution of these soldiers to Yosemite history. In order to raise the profile of these important protectors the Conservancy funded a three year program lead by Ranger Shelton Johnson, to train and field a living history cadre to reenact the story of the Buffalo Soldiers. The “troopers” were seasonal rangers recruited from a historically black college, who learned skills in horsemanship, public service/education, and first aid. They toured Yosemite on horseback and interacted with visitors.
From his experience leading this program, Ranger Johnson went on to develop an ongoing interpretive program in Yosemite as well as lend an important perspective to the Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
The Buffalo Soldier programs help illustrate the often overlooked role of African Americans in Yosemite’s history. They also help young people and adults from culturally diverse communities-many with no previous experience in National Park- begin to know Yosemite.
Film Series Promotes Diversity
Yosemite Ranger Shelton Johnson was featured prominently in Ken Burn’s PBS documentary The National Parks: Americas Best Idea. In conjunction with the film's release, Yosemite Conservancy funded additional forms of media to highlight the historical contributions of Mexican, Asian, Native, and African Americans to America’s National Parks. Additional support was provided to Ranger Johnson in order to make a variety of media appearances to highlight the importance of diversity in the national park system and instill a sense of ownership of public lands in minority communities.
Buffalo Soldiers Come to Life
Visitors to Yosemite can learn the story of the Buffalo Soldiers by watching Ranger Shelton Johnson at Yosemite Theater sponsored by Yosemite Conservancy. Johnson recounts the real life story of Elizy Bowman, a soldier from the 9th cavalry. To learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers important contribution to Yosemite purchase Shelton Johnson’s book, Gloryland, available at our Yosemite Conservancy store by clicking here. Also consider supporting other important programs like this by becoming a Friend of Yosemite today.