Immediately after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, many African Americans found themselves newly freed from bondage. In 1866, congress created four military regiments made up of Black troops, the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry - they were known colloquially as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Between 1915 and 1917, six companies of the 25th Infantry were present in what is now Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. In that time, they assisted in investigations of a lava lake at Halemaʻumaʻu, were among the first soldiers to visit Kilauea Military Camp, and constructed the precursor to the modern day Mauna Loa Trail, which still exists today.
Buffalo Soldiers and the 1915 Mauna Loa Trail
Ranger Dean Gallagher talks to National Park Service Archeologist Summer Roper about the precursor to today's Mauna Loa Trail, first constructed in 1915 by the men of the 25th Infantry, known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
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
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
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
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
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.
The 25th Infantry, comprised of about 850 enlisted men and officers, arrived in Honolulu on January 14, 1913. The morning after their arrival they began a two-day, twenty-three-mile march to Schofield Barracks where they were stationed until 1917.
Newspaper articles describe how the soldiers were viewed by Hawai‘i’s multicultural society - although they did not encounter the racial hatred that they had from communities on the mainland, they did not entirely escape prejudice here. The black troops remained segregated from their white counterparts.
Positive cross-cultural relationships began as the troops marched in local parades and competed with civilian sports leagues in track and field and baseball. They were perhaps best known for their baseball prowess. Stories about their winning baseball team, the “Wreckers,” were published in the Honolulu newspapers. Several team members later joined the Negro League and one player, Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Their training at Schofield was spent marching and drilling and was both arduous and tedious. When the chance for an assignment on Hawai‘i Island presented itself, the company commanders jumped at it.
On Hawaiʻi Island
Some of what we know about the Buffalo Soldiers’ time in Hawaiʻi comes from the autobiography of one of these soldiers, George S. Schuyler of Syracuse, NY. He wrote, “We traveled by inter-island steamer to Hilo, then by wide-gauge railroad to the railhead at the foot of Mauna Loa mountain, the twin of Mauna Kea, and from thence we hiked up the 4,000 foot plateau to where the fiery crater of Halemaumau was inside the Kilauea volcano…. A half dozen of us dared the descent [into Halemaumau Crater] and stood a few feet from the boiling torrent oxidizing nickels in the cracks of the hardened lava. [Our guide], Alex, warned us when it was time to go because a section of the crater wall was about to crash. We climbed out, and sure enough the section fell with a resounding crash, causing immense thermal activity and pyrotechnic displays.”
Two names familiar in the history of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park are businessman Lorrin Thurston and geologist Thomas Jaggar. They had three goals:
To create a place to study live volcanoes (Hawaiian Volcano Observatory established in 1912)
To build a place for soldiers stationed in Hawaiʻi for rest and recreation (Kīlauea Miltary Camp established in 1916)
To develop a national park (Hawaii National Park established in 1916, formally opened in 1921)
Jaggar, new head of the observatory, described Mauna Loa, the large, rounded shield volcano that makes up more than half of Hawaiʻi Island as, “... a vast desert waste without water and rising to an immense height. Every expedition to the summit exhausts the energies of the men and animals employed and the animals are frequently crippled and have their legs cut through by the rough black lava. Consequently the ranchers will not rent good animals at any price and as there is no shelter on the summit, little water, no feed, violent winds and low temperatures, the men who can with difficulty be induced to go and act as guides or packers object to remaining overnight.”
He wanted an easier route than the traditional one through ʻĀinapō for geologists to access the 13,677-foot summit of Mauna Loa. Thurston was promoting the idea of a national park at Kīlauea and saw a trail to the Mauna Loa summit as an opportunity for expanded tourism. The idea for the Mauna Loa Trail was born.
Under the headline, “Soldiers Building Mountain Trail,” the Maui News reported, “Negro soldiers of the Twenty-fifth Infantry to the number of 150 are at work constructing a trail from near the Volcano House to the summit of Mauna Loa. It is estimated that three or four weeks will be devoted to this work. The soldiers are doing the work as a part of their vacation exercises.” (Emphasis added.)
“The soldiers are constructing a trail three feet wide across the a-a, crushing it down with twelve-pound hammers, filling in hollows, cutting down ridges and putting on a finish of fine a-a and earth, quarried along the line or packed in gunny sacks, carried on the men's backs—in some places being carried as far as a quarter of a mile.” – Hawaiian Gazette, November 12, 1915
They first built a base camp on a site near the summit of Kīlauea. Half the soldiers in groups of twenty to thirty worked on the trail while the other half were at base camp. At the end of each week they traded places.
Building the trail was incredibly hard work and conditions were primitive. Their only tools were 12-pound sledgehammers and gunny sacks. They worked in record-breaking rain, cold weather, very thin air and on difficult terrain over aʻā and pāhoehoe lava flows. They camped in canvas tents which did not offer much protection during the cold, rainy nights and they did not have mules or horses to help with carrying the heavy loads. The pāhoehoe flows were often thin and brittle and could break under the weight of men or animals making it necessary to break through this lava to a more solid surface. On the aʻā flows they broke up the clinkers into gravel-sized pieces, mixed this with soil and then packed this in gunnysacks carried on their backs to pave the trail.
They were not only trail builders: while at base camp they also helped the geologists with their experiments, including measuring the depth of molten lava with a long iron pipe. The Hawaiian Gazette quotes Schuyler who had been part of this measuring crew, “When that pipe came up, the lava on the end of it was thick like glue.”
The bad weather and adverse conditions also didn’t stop the soldiers from traveling down to Hilo for a game of baseball in October 1915, where they defeated the local team!
While on Hawaiʻi Island these soldiers built a 30-mile trail under gruelling conditions, won a baseball game, and suffered through record-breaking weather – surely a one-of-a-kind Hawaiian “vacation.” This early trail ultimately paved the way for the present Mauna Loa Trail. You can still hike sections of the original path built by these trailblazers (in many senses of the word) along the Northeast Rift Zone of Mauna Loa today. Over a century later their handiwork is still visible and guides park visitors through rugged, unforgiving terrain.
Linold Chappell was a private with Company E of the 25th Infantry Regiment. He joined the regiment at Schofield Barracks shortly after enlisting in the Army in 1913, one of 45 new recruits assigned to Company E.