DEAN: ( 00:01 ) Aloha, I'm Ranger Dean Gallagher with Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Thanks for joining us on a special podcast as we celebrate Black History Month, February 2021. And it's a perfect time for us to tip our flat hats in honor of some amazing men that both literally and figuratively helped shape the National Park Service, including this park. Of course, I'm talking about the Buffalo soldiers. Uh, they were functioning as Park Rangers even before the park service had been established as an agency. I'll be joined today by a very special guest, Park Archeologist, Summer Roper Todd. Summer has worked as an Archeologist for Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park for 15 years and she's been instrumental in bringing many of Hawaii's untold stories to life. She was the technical representative on a recent project contracted by the park service with International Archeology to accomplish an archeological survey of the Buffalo soldiers trail, which is the precursor to modern day Mauna Loa Trail. The resulting paper is entitled, With 12-pound Hammers and Gunny Sacks: Buffalo Soldiers and the 1915 Trail to the Mauna Loa Summit. Aloha Summer! I am so glad you could join us today for the podcast.
SUMMER: ( 01:29 ) Thanks Dean for having me.
DEAN: ( 01:32 ) I'm so excited about today's podcast because when you hear the term Buffalo soldier, many of us just automatically hear the song by Bob Marley and the Wailers, but not as many people know the men that actually inspired the song. So just who were the Buffalo soldiers and how did they come about? SUMMER: ( 01:50 ) Yeah, it's so true, growing up I would hear that song and I loved that song and I did not know the true story behind these incredible men, the Buffalo soldiers, and learning more about this fascinating history and the contributions they've made to our nation is, is truly incredible. Um, so the Buffalo soldiers, they were African American soldiers who mainly served in the Western frontier after the civil war. So, during the civil war, black soldiers served, however, there weren't true regiments until 1866. And this is when Congress authorized all African American regiments and they broke them out into the 9th and 10th Calvary and the 24th and 25th Infantries. And initially it was made up about 5,000 men. And so overall in the army about 10% of the soldiers were of African American descent at this time, but they were concentrated in the Western frontier. So, about one in five soldiers in the West were of African American descent. Um, and during this time period, they were heavily discriminated against, there was a lot of racial prejudice and injustice from the army itself. And, you know, from the towns they served in, but you know, they persevered and they overcame these challenges that it presented to them and they had, they made just so many distinguished contributions to our nation, um, throughout the time period. And, um, the army remained segregated until 1948. And this is when President Harry Truman ordered desegregation of the armed forces and ended it by an executive order.
DEAN: ( 03:23 ) Yeah, it's amazing. As I was looking at part of this in the paper, so these were African American regiments but they had all white officers. So, at the time you could sort of see how the army actually had built in racism. But this is incredible because they excelled so much. What were some of the Buffalo soldier’s duties?
SUMMER: ( 03:41 ) So, their principle mission was to control the Indians of the plains and the Southwest, but they did so many other things. So, they built and repaired military posts, they built roads and telegraph lines, they fought fires, they protected settlers out West. Um, they escorted and protected stagecoaches and wagon trains and also the railroad crews along the Western front. Um, I just, it just brings up these images of a Western movie when I, when I think of some of their duties and it also included capturing cattle rustlers and illegal traders who sold guns and liquors to Indians. Um, and they also participated in fighting Wars such as the Indian Wars and the Spanish American war and the Philippine American war.
DEAN: ( 04:24 ) It's, it's just amazing. Yeah. I was the same way. I can almost picture them doing these jobs and because it was Calvary, they were expert horseman. And then of course there's an amazing connection to the National Park Service.
SUMMER: ( 04:35 ) Yeah. So, in addition to these duties, um, they had key roles in the development of the national park system at such places like Sequoia, General Grant, and Yosemite National Parks. Um, they would do things like patrol the backcountry, build trails, stop poaching, and basically do things that were later roles by the Park Rangers that once the parks were established. And so, Hawai’i Volcanoes is actually one of six NPS park units that have direct historical associations with the Buffalo soldiers.
DEAN: ( 05:06 ) I, that is just so cool. Um, yeah, they're kind of the ghost in the machine. That's why we all tip our flat hats to these men. And I'm sure many listeners are asking, “How did they get the name Buffalo soldiers?”
SUMMER: ( 05:17 ) So, the name was given to them by Native Americans and there's a couple of different, different theories. One of the stories is in 1871 in a campaign against the Comanches, this name was given because of their rugged and tireless marching like strong like the Buffalo. Another story says that they were named that from the black hair that the Calvary men had resembled the hair of the Buffalo. And then another story says, the name came about from the coats they wore because they were made out of Buffalo hide in the winter to keep them warm. But regardless of where the name came from, the name stuck, um, and it was a sign of respect, um, because the Native Americans held great reverence for the Buffalo by giving the men these names, it was respectable and they respected the men because they were like the Buffalo, even with wounds and arrows, they continued to fight and were ferocious and battle.
DEAN: ( 06:09 ) Yeah, I understand that was their reputation that the Native Americans had given them. In fact, this was so honored that even the 10th Calvary adopted the Buffalo as part of their uniform, is that right?
SUMMER: ( 06:20 ) Yeah. So, they have the, um, Buffalo as part of their regimental crest.
DEAN: ( 06:24 ) That's incredible. So, um, I found Buffalo soldiers had often been supplied with secondhand horses, deteriorating equipment, and even inadequate ammunition for battles. So, it would be easy to kind of see them as a ragtag group of army misfits, but that isn't true at all. Can you tell us about that?
SUMMER: ( 06:42 ) Sure. Yeah. So, it was quite the opposite. These men were noted for their great courage and discipline. They were known for their fighting abilities and like you mentioned earlier, this exceptionable horsemanship just quite, you know, impressive. They had a higher retention rate because this is post civil war era in America when slavery was abolished and these men really did not have other opportunities available to them at the time. So, unlike their counter, the white soldier counterparts, they would stay enlisted in the army, which enabled them to obtain this high level of skill because they had the time to work on their skills as they serve longer. And then the army offered them steady employment, education, some degree of opportunity for advancement. And so, you know, this created this opportunity for them to really excel and offered them a career when they really had few options.
DEAN: ( 07:31 ) Yeah. And I understand that the army recognized this as well, right? They, they were award winners.
SUMMER: ( 07:37 ) Yeah. So, 18 Buffalo soldiers were awarded medals of honor and this is the Army's highest award for bravery.
DEAN: ( 07:44 ) Yeah, that's see, that's incredible. Let's just go ahead and shift out to Hawai’i because Hawai’i has an amazing connection with the Buffalo soldiers and specifically, I was hoping we could take a look at the 25th infantry regiment.
SUMMER: ( 07:57 ) Okay. So, the 25th infantry was originally stationed in Louisiana and they moved, um, throughout the West and places like Texas, the Dakota territory, Montana, Minnesota, Seattle, and other places. Um, this is starting in 1870, um, and it wasn't until 1913 that they made their way to Hawai’i. So, in January, a newly established installation in Hawai’i came about called Schofield barracks and the 25th infantry moved to Schofield barracks at the time. And that was made of 45 officers and about 800 enlisted men. And so eventually this would increase to around 2300 enlisted men and they just had regular duties while they were there; garrison duties, target practice, training marches, combined unit exercises, but they also would participate in local events at carnivals and parades and baseball tournaments and other sporting events. Then it wasn't until 1915 when company E of the 25th infantry made their way to Hawai’i Island. And this was to build the Buffalo soldiers trail, which is the precursor to the modern-day Mauna Loa trail that we see today. And so, this was even before it became a National Park.
DEAN: ( 09:07 ) I think that's amazing because what that means is some of the actual park infrastructure that's still in place today was built by the Buffalo soldiers.
SUMMER: ( 09:15 ) Exactly. Yeah. And this story is not really widely known that they put in some of the first infrastructure there. And so, this trail was first conceptualized by a Honolulu businessman named Lorrin Thurston and a famous scientist that was studying the volcanoes named Thomas Jaggar. And so, they really wanted to install this trail for multiple reasons. Jaggar had the scientific interest. So, he wanted to be able to have an easy access up to the Mauna Loa summit, so he could study when it erupted also they wanted to increase tourism. So, they thought the trail would be good boost for tourism. And they also were looking at it to make a cross-island road, um, to connect to the other side of the island.
DEAN: ( 09:56 ) I, and I understand their first idea was to use County prisoners.
SUMMER: ( 10:00 ) Yeah. So that was their first idea until two officers from the 25th infantry came over, they were visiting the Island and they said, Hey, wait a minute. Why don't we have the company E build the trail? And so that's when the seed was planted and then everything just kind of fell into place. One thing after the other and between October 18th and November 25th of 1915, the company E of the 25th infantry came to the Island and built a 30-mile-long trail that would connect Kilauea and Mauna Loa.
DEAN: ( 10:29 ) I got to say, looking at the map in this report, this trail is a major undertaking. These men would have been working at high elevations, rough terrain, swinging heavy hammers. Could you talk a little bit about what trail building entails?
SUMMER: ( 10:44 ) Yeah, Sure. Yeah. Like you said, this was rugged terrain. So, their task was to lay on a 30-mile trail in between the summit of Kilauea, which is at 4,000 feet in elevation stretching all the way up to the summit of Mauna Loa, which is over 13,000 feet. So, um, yeah, it's not an easy task and it fell into place so quickly. And so, in October of 1915 trail planning was underway and the men arrived. They came over on the steamships from Honolulu. They came into Hilo, made their way up to Volcano. And then on October 18th, the trail construction began. So, it was pretty amazing how fast they got this plan set up. They establish a base camp near the Volcano House and that was called Camp Philoon. And so, the men would stay in the camp. Half the men at a time would go to work on the trail and the other half would stay back. And because it's such a long trail, it’s 30 miles, they had some, um, spike camps set up. So, one at about 6,500 feet in elevation, another one set up at about 10,000 feet. And so, some men could stay out there and work the trail sections from those areas.
DEAN: ( 11:50 ) Yeah, it must not have been easy because I've been up there and those lava flows, everywhere you step as another ankle twister. We have the benefit of course, of the trail today, but this was rough terrain.
SUMMER: ( 12:01 ) It was, it is, it's very rough. So, they would carry these 12-pound hammers and they would break down the a'a lava flows, pounded down and crush it down. And then they'd also have to, um, break down the pahoehoe lava blisters, which was even harder with these heavy hammers. They would pack the rocks in these gunny sacks on their backs, sometimes having to hike them like a quarter mile to make trail markers and to line the trail to, yeah, it was, it was backbreaking work. Um, there were, you know, in high elevation, cold temperatures, and actually during the time they were there, there was record rainfall. So, they were like in the freezing cold rain and the trial committee really tried to provide for their comfort, but just the conditions it's just primitive and yeah, they didn't have the help of horses or mules and it was definitely a hard job.
DEAN: ( 12:49 ) I think it's just amazing that we can still see the remnants of that trail and it's such a great archeological site, but I understand it wasn't all work. The men of the 25th regiment also knew how to take a little R&R, including baseball of all things. I came across a fabulous picture of the 25th infantry regiment playing baseball. Uh, what about that?
SUMMER: ( 13:10 ) Yeah. So, these guys, they just excelled in sports. I'm in track and field. And in baseball, like you mentioned, um, they competed in games with other regiments and they had a team. Their team was called The Wreckers. Um, if you do a search in the Honolulu newspapers at the time, there's tons of articles about their team. Um, they had the admiration and respect of the City of Honolulu and thousands of people would come out to watch their games. Several team members even later joined the Negro League and there was one member Wilber Rogan, and he was actually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, so these guys were good. So, they also participated in parades and they had a band that participated in carnivals and two of the members were even billed as champion ‘Buck and Wing’ tap dancers. And if you don't know what that is, I suggest a quick Google search, it's interesting. It's the precursor to tap dancing as we know it today, which was brought over by African slaves. Super interesting.
DEAN: ( 14:04 ) It is, it's fascinating. Um, so this is a very diverse group of men because they came from many different locations and I know there's a lot of different stories, individual stories. But this year, the 2021 theme for Black History Month is The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. And I can't think of a better way to celebrate this theme than to look at the life of just one of the soldiers. As I was reading the paper, I was amazed at the story of Linold Chappell. Um, what can you tell us about this remarkable man?
SUMMER: ( 14:35 ) So, doing the research, it was quite difficult to track down specific soldiers who worked on the Mauna Loa trail. It was easy to find information about the officers, but the actual soldiers was a little bit more challenging, but a few were identified including Linold Chappell, um, is also interesting because his great grandson was found and he was able to participate in an interview and gave us some information about their, their really um, rich family, military history. So, Linold Chappell himself, he served as a private with the 25th infantry regiment. He was born on November 18th, 1889, in a small community in Southeastern Kentucky. So, he enlisted in the army in 1913 and he joined the regiment at Schofield barracks shortly after. So, it was his stint at Scholfield when he came over to Hawai’i Island and worked, um, to help construct the Mauna Loa trail.
DEAN: ( 15:27 ) Yeah. And I understand he was actually discharged from the army, but then he re-enlists the following day.
SUMMER: ( 15:34 ) Yeah. So, he was discharged in 1919 and reenlisted the following day, like you said, and this is kind of what I was speaking to earlier, how they had a high retention rate. And, um, he ended up joining the 24th infantry regiment at Southern New Mexico. And then in 1920, he retired from the service as a Mess Sergeant in the machine gun company, 24th infantry regiment. So, it turns out after speaking, you know, researching with um, the great grandson, Brian Chappell, he was not only one of the family members to serve in the U S Army. Linold Chappell’s grandfathers were enslaved and later fought in the civil war as members of the 12th and 124th US Colored Troops and his sons, Ray and Billy were Tuskegee Airman in World War II. And they're featured in a book called Freedom Flyers about Tuskegee Airmen by J. Todd Moye.
DEAN: ( 16:26 ) And then, and then Brian himself, right?
SUMMER: ( 16:28 ) Brian himself also served active duty for 26 years in the Air Force. So, what a rich military history his family has and just a big thank you to the many generations of the Chappells that have bravely served our country.
DEAN: ( 16:40 ) I Just… That is such a beautiful way to end our program, uh, to see how that's been woven into the fabric of American history and culture. Thank you so much for being with us today Summer. I want to thank our guests today, park archeologist, Summer Roper Todd, for discussing with us a recently completed study, With 12-pound Hammers and Gunny Sacks: Buffalo Soldiers and the 1915 Trail to Mauna Loa Summit. Uh, that's been the information where we gathered for the podcast. If you want to learn more about the Buffalo soldiers in Hawai’i, we have uploaded some great pictures to the park’s website. You can even see one of Linold Chappell and his fellow soldiers. Thank you for joining us today. Outro Music