HILO, Hawaii (KHON) – Visitors head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park every year. From the scenery to the rich history, there’s a lot to explore. However, none of that would be possible without the contributions of the Buffalo Soldiers.
“So the Buffalo Soldiers were segregated African American regiments in the U.S. Armed Forces,” said Summer Roper Todd, an archeologist at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. “This was started in 1866 by Congress. So the Black soldiers had served during the Civil War and, you know, prior to this, but this was the first time they had their own official, segregated regiments.”
The Buffalo Soldiers were stationed in Hawaii between 1913 and 1918.
“That is when they ended up coming over to Hawaii Island in 1915. So during that time was right before the national park was established. There was a volcanologist Thomas Jaggar and he just started the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. He was studying the eruptions of Kilauea and Mauna Loa and really wanted to trail up to study Mauna Loa summit, because they would erupt and he would have a hard time getting up there, because there was no direct path.”
With a path needed to study eruptions and a plan to boost tourism, the Buffalo Soldiers were assigned a challenging task.
“They said, ‘Hey, why doesn’t Company II have the 25th Infantry come over and build the trail?'”
About 150 men from Company E worked to build the trail, and it was no easy assignment.
“These men would go out and they had their tools and used their 12 pound hammers to break down the ʻaʻa and pahoehoe flows. They would pack the rocks in their sacks, sometimes hiking it up a quarter mile. They would flatten down the trail bed and line it and make trail markers. This was back breaking work.”
The Buffalo Soldiers also dealt with high elevations, cold temperatures and record rainfall, but they still got the job done.
“They started on October 18 and finished the trail by November 15. It’s pretty awesome. Then right after the trail was put in, people were using it and reporting about how great of a job they did. It’s just interesting that they put in some of the first infrastructure of what was to become the National Park.”
One of those Buffalo Soldiers was Linold Chappell. He was a private with Company E of the 25th Infantry Regiment who helped build the trail. His family says it’s just one of many accomplishments to remember and a legacy to carry on.
“It’s an absolute sense of pride, knowing that he was one of the few who had done that at that time,” said Lt. Col. Brian Chappell, the great grandchild of Linold Chappell. Then our family went on to continue that military service. His son, Roy, was a Tuskegee Airman. So it’s like, each generation of my family has stood on the shoulders of the previous generation to continue to move forward.”
In light of Black History Month, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has created a podcast to highlight the contributions of the Buffalo Soldiers.
“They made a lot of contributions to Hawaii and to our nation. It’s just amazing what they were able to accomplish, especially during that time period of racism and prejudice,” said Roper Todd.