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Texas State Parks celebrate Black history

Buffalo soldiers, who were Black men serving in specially created cavalry and infantry regiments in 1866, helped lead the western expansion of the United States. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is celebrating African Americans’ contributions to the country, parks, and the outdoors during a monthlong virtual series. Photo courtesy of TPWD

The contributions of Black Americans, including the Buffalo soldiers, to the western expansion of the United States and to Texas State Parks is unknown to many, so the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is bringing those stories to the forefront.

The department is celebrating Black History Month with its Buffalo Soldier Heritage Outreach Program and a series of virtual programs through February.

“Black history is really everyone’s history, and our park rangers want to support Black History Month by bringing more diverse stories to the forefront of Texas State Parks for our visitors,” said Jessica Lagalo, Outdoor Education and Outreach manager for Texas State Parks. “The awareness that African Americans were some of the first park rangers, the first forest firefighters, the first mountain bikers is so incredibly relevant to the history and stewardship of Texas State Parks. Without the efforts of the Black Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Companies, much of the infrastructure of Texas State Parks would not be here today.”

The parks department created a series of virtual programs to recognize Black history, including the Buffalo soldiers, the first Black through hiker of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails, and 18 African American Medal of Honor recipients.

Buffalo soldiers were Black men who served in the U.S. Army starting in 1866 when Congress created two cavalry and four infantry regiments for African Americans. The Army melded the four infantry regiments into two. The Buffalo soldiers, a name given to them by Native Americans, helped lead the push for western expansion. They set up a line of western frontier forts, strung telegraph lines, and built roads. The Ninth Cavalry arrived in Texas in 1867 to build a line of forts.

Members of these units also served as some of the first park rangers, and the Iron Riders were a group of Buffalo soldiers who rode bicycles thousands of miles across the western frontier in the late 1800s.

Online programming will be held on the TPWD’s Buffalo Soldier Heritage Outreach Program Facebook page.

The virtual series includes:

  • Feb. 12 at 6 p.m.: “The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Texas State Parks,” a look at how the CCC companies, including those made up of Black men, helped build the Texas state parks.
  • Feb. 13 at 1 p.m.: “Leading the Charge,” the perspective of the white officers assigned to commanding Buffalo soldiers. TPWD staff also spotlight the first two Black graduates of West Point Military Academy.
  • Feb. 17 at 6 p.m.: “Stewards of Yosemite: The First Black Park Rangers,” highlighting the Buffalo soldiers who served as some of the first park rangers at Yosemite National Park. Staff also will discuss Charles Young, the first Black superintendent of a national park.
  • Feb. 18 at 6 p.m.: “A Modern Trailblazer: Thru-Hiker Robert Taylor and Backpacking 101.” Join TWPD staff as they share the story of Robert Taylor, the first Black American to through hike both the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails. Rangers will also offer backpacking tips.
  • Feb. 19 at 6 p.m.: “The Legacy of the CCC in Texas State Parks, Part II.” The second part of the in-depth look at how Civilian Conservation Corps groups helped shape the state parks.
  • Feb. 20 at 1 p.m.: “Medal of Honor.” TPWD staff and Private Mack honor the 18 African Americans who earned the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest honor, from 1866 to 1892.
  • Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.: “The Legend of Juneteenth,” the story of Juneteenth, the time when word finally reached enslaved people in Texas that the Emancipation Proclamation had freed them.
  • Feb. 26 at 6 p.m.: “A State Park is Born: A Tour of the CCC at Huntsville State Park,” a tour highlighting many of the structures at the park built by the CCC. Staff also highlights the accomplishments of CCC Company 1823.
  • Feb. 27 at 1 p.m.: “Courage Has No Color: Black Firefighters and the Big Burn,” a program highlighting how Buffalo soldiers helped battle the Big Burn, a 1919 wildfire that burned more than 3 million acres across Montana, Idaho, and Washington.
  • Feb. 27 at 6 p.m.: “Black History Trivia Challenge.” The monthlong series wraps up with a fun, interactive trivia contest to let people put their knowledge to the test.

More information on the Buffalo soldiers can be found on the TPWD Buffalo Soldier Heritage Outreach Program webpage.

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