Buffalo Soldiers: Black ancestors were the world’s first park rangers

When I was 10 or 11 years old, I camped in the Nebraska wilderness with my fellow campers and chaperones. The highlight of my experence was riding high atop my favorite horse along rugged and somewhat dangerous trails in the Black Hills National Park in South Dakota. I’ve since learned that my childhood suspicions were correct: The trails are so dangerous that it has long been fenced off to protect public use.

Like the fence around today’s Black Hills, the Buffalo Soldiers were the human hedge around our nation’s most precious national park lands.

Buffalo Soldiers protecting the nation’s most precious park lands. Courtesy, U.S. National Park Service.

I remember dreaming of becoming a park ranger. Perhaps my dreams were filtered from our African American ancestors who were among the nation’s and the world’s first park rangers in the early 1900s. Their origins as park rangers are traced to 1899, 1903 and 1904 in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.

Why were they called Buffalo Soliders?

Based on research, it is believed that Native Americans provided the nickname for African American soldiers based on the eyesight similarities of our ancestor soliders’ wooly hair and dark appearance to that of the buffaloes that roamed the parks. It is likely the soldiers were dubbed “Buffalo” beginning in 1866 with the 9th and 10th All-Black Calvary regiments.

Our family ancestors from Hope, Arkansas were members of the 9th Calvary of Buffalo Soliders based in New Orleans and formed in 1866. We are researching whether our lineage is traced to the 25th all-Black Infantry that also fought together against the Confederate Army.



Today’s Park Service looking for Black “Soldiers” to share African American history

Today’s Park Service is woefully underrepresented with African American park rangers and interpeters. In 2019 and earlier, the Park Service reports that 80 percent of its workforce are non-African American.

There’s a rich and storied history involving African Americans and magestic park lands in the United States. Col. Charles Young, the third Black graduate of West Point University was the first African American superintendent of a national park when he accepted the assignment at Sequoia National Park in the summer of 1903. Much of his work has gone unrecognized, yet Young is credited with the paved roads in the park, new bridges that are still in use today and the basic infrastructure of the trails.

The inscription by Col. Young reads: “Yours for Race and Country, Charles Young. 22 Feby., 1919.” Photo courtesy of Library of Congress


Under his leadership, he created an infrastructure of trails, paved roads, and bridges, some of which are still in use today. He also was friend of W.E.B. DuBois. The two met while teaching at Wilberforce University in Ohio, according to the researcher and writer Nineka M. Okona in her June 2020 article in Conde Nast Traveler.

She also interviewed a modern-day Park Ranger, Shelton Johnson, who was based on Yosemite. He has dedicated his work to preserving African American history and sharing it when he can. The post-COVID opening of the parks will allow Johnson and others to deliver the stories of the stewardship and pride that Black soliders had when they served as park rangers more than a century ago.

Seventeen National Parks bear African American History

From the Jameston to MLK National Parks, I am on a mission to visit and discover more about the rich history of African Americans.

Historic Jamestowne in Colonial National Historical Park – Photo credit: National Park Service / Paula Degen

Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park – Photo credit: Library of Congress

For the full listing of the 17 sites with beautiful, historic African American connections, see https://www.travel-experience-live.com/african-american-history-national-parks/#:~:text=%2017%20National%20Park%20Service%20Sites%20That%20Commemorate,Monument%2C%20Illinois.%20Also%20known%20as%20the…%20More%20

Happy Trails!

Family ancestry research is a spiritual journey

My Uncle U.S. Veteran James “Jamie” Wilks, right, and an unknown relative or friend in undated photograph

Saturday, May 15, 2021 I AM MY ANCESTORS        In life, there is no separation. There is no separation from the past, the present, and the future. We are the center of it all. We are the life of God that lived as our ancestors. They passed their life on to us. Who they are is encoded in our DNA, cells, soul, and physical features. We are who they are. We are one and the same. We too are here to impress our collective soul-full imprint upon the earth.        I am part of a never-ending story of the mighty miracle of this thing called Life. I am a miracle to behold. A miracle to extend to the world. I am a wisdom keeper and a revealer of what is sacred and precious about Life. Every aspect of my journey is significant. I celebrate it and let God multiply its blessings. Thank you, Power, in me, through me, as me, around me, through the Christ within. And so it is. I am reminded of your true faith, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure now in you also.2 Timothy 1:5 Daily Thoughts from the HillCopyright: Hillside International Truth Center, Inc.Bishop Dr. Jack L. Bomar – Executive BishopBishop Dr. Barbara L. King – Founder Minister/World Spiritual Leader Renew/Subscribe: http://www.HillsideInternational.org Address Change/Mailing Questions/Did not receive – Contact: jjones@hillsidechapel.org 

Update Email AddressThis message was sent to awkimbrough@gmail.com from daily_thoughts_from_the_hill@hillsideinternational.org

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How a 1929 Photo is Music to a Genealogist’s “Ear”

By Dr. Ann Wead Kimbrough


This picture strikes a perfect pitch for genealogists seeking accurate records about ancestors.

It’s my maternal side’s great-granduncle Ernest Wilks (name spelled incorrectly above) who is posing with his saxophone in this 1929 picture of the Pike’s Roamers Band. I happened upon this picture in the 7-volume “Blacks in the Ozarks.”

Here’s how Uncle Ernest’s photo broke through a long-term brick wall regarding his life outside of an outstanding military career:

  1. The photo provides a date — sometime in 1929 — as indicated by the writing on the bottom right, near the drum skin. It also appears that the photography studio is listed nearby.
  2. The name of the band is written on the picture along with the location of the photo — Springfield, Missouri. That is where Great-uncle Ernest was born in March 1909.
  3. The recorder of the photograph is also a first cousin, twice removed, Alberta Renfro Duncan. She has an interesting notation that indicates the band in the picture is an outgrowth of another band by another name.
  4. I started researching Uncle Ernest’s musical talents and learned that he is among the jazz trombonists chronicled in historical documents. In fact, one of my Florida water aerobics’ classmates recognized the name and he told me a lot about the bands that Uncle Ernest played in and his great musical abilities.

Uncle Ernest in Hawaii in an unknown year

I started researching my great-grandmother, Edna Wilks Robinson’s brothers after her death in 1989. I relied on what I recalled about each uncle and also consulted my mother, Angie Owen Wead. However, Mom only knew that Uncle Ernest was quite content with living in Hawaii. She knew that he retired there after a great military. That was it.

Sometimes when relatives end their knowledge of an ancestor, it may appear to be a brick wall. Yet, with Uncle Ernest’s military record and musical interests, the opportunities increased for me to learn more about him. My first Cousin Mark Owen, also my partner in our genealogical services business, located great photos of Uncle Ernest from the files of other ancestors.

That’s what made it even more rewarding to locate Uncle Ernest in his hometown playing in a band. I also found him in Honolulu playing in a band. From all indications, this permanent bachelor lived his best life.


https://www.newspapers.com/clippings/download/?id=67846304


Dr. Ann Lineve Wead Kimbrough is a certified genealogist interested in reconstructing her family’s histories. Beginning in February 2021, she will begin offering workshops and other Black Genealogy Services along with her partner and cousin, Mark Owen.

How a 1929 Photo is Music to a Genealogist’s “Ear”

By Dr. Ann Wead Kimbrough


This picture strikes a perfect pitch for genealogists seeking accurate records about ancestors.

It’s my maternal side’s great-granduncle Ernest Wilks (name spelled incorrectly above) who is posing with his saxophone in this 1929 picture of the Pike’s Roamers Band. I happened upon this picture in the 7-volume “Blacks in the Ozarks.”

Here’s how Uncle Ernest’s photo broke through a long-term brick wall regarding his life outside of an outstanding military career:

  1. The photo provides a date — sometime in 1929 — as indicated by the writing on the bottom right, near the drum skin. It also appears that the photography studio is listed nearby.
  2. The name of the band is written on the picture along with the location of the photo — Springfield, Missouri. That is where Great-uncle Ernest was born in March 1909.
  3. The recorder of the photograph is also a first cousin, twice removed, Alberta Renfro Duncan. She has an interesting notation that indicates the band in the picture is an outgrowth of another band by another name.
  4. I started researching Uncle Ernest’s musical talents and learned that he is among the jazz trombonists chronicled in historical documents. In fact, one of my Florida water aerobics’ classmates recognized the name and he told me a lot about the bands that Uncle Ernest played in and his great musical abilities.

Uncle Ernest in Hawaii in an unknown year

I started researching my great-grandmother, Edna Wilks Robinson’s brothers after her death in 1989. I relied on what I recalled about each uncle and also consulted my mother, Angie Owen Wead. However, Mom only knew that Uncle Ernest was quite content with living in Hawaii. She knew that he retired there after a great military. That was it.

Sometimes when relatives end their knowledge of an ancestor, it may appear to be a brick wall. Yet, with Uncle Ernest’s military record and musical interests, the opportunities increased for me to learn more about him. My first Cousin Mark Owen, also my partner in our genealogical services business, located great photos of Uncle Ernest from the files of other ancestors.

That’s what made it even more rewarding to locate Uncle Ernest in his hometown playing in a band. I also found him in Honolulu playing in a band. From all indications, this permanent bachelor lived his best life.


https://www.newspapers.com/clippings/download/?id=67846304


Dr. Ann Lineve Wead Kimbrough is a certified genealogist interested in reconstructing her family’s histories. Beginning in February 2021, she will begin offering workshops and other Black Genealogy Services along with her partner and cousin, Mark Owen.