- Buffalo Soldiers at Kīlauea, 1915–1917
In the early years of the twentieth century, Kīlauea Volcano on Hawai‘i Island became the focus of a small group of influential men. They had three distinct goals for the summit of Kīlauea: to create a center for the study of active volcanoes, to build a recreational camp for soldiers stationed in the Territory of Hawai‘i, and to develop a national park. Within a space of four years, all three goals were met. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory was established in 1912. Kilauea Military Camp and Hawaii National Park1 and were both established in 1916, although the Park was not formally opened until 1921.
During those formative years, several companies of African American soldiers from the Twenty-fifth Infantry Regiment came to Kīlauea, taking leave from their normal duties at Schofield Barracks on O‘ahu. Between 1915 and 1917, the soldiers’ time at the volcano provided unique opportunities for them to participate in the development of the summit, as trail-builders, tourists, and armed troops. [End Page 73]
The Twenty-fifth Infantry Regiment
The Twenty-fifth Infantry Regiment was one of four regular combat units2 of African American soldiers whose history stretched back to the Civil War. After the Civil War they were stationed in the American West and served in the Indian Wars. The Twenty-fifth Infantry was stationed for many years in Texas. Later they fought in the Spanish American War in Cuba, and were twice sent to quell the Philippine Insurrection.
The soldiers were black, but their officers were white. The term “Buffalo Soldiers” originated with the Plains Indians during the Indian Wars of the 1870s. The earliest written record of the term is ascribed to Frances M. A. Roe, wife of Lt. Fayette W. Roe who was stationed with her husband in the Indian Territory during 1872–73. She wrote, “The Indians call them ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ because their woolly heads are so much like the matted cushion that is between the horns of the buffalo.”3
The Twenty-fifth Infantry came to Hawai‘i from Washington State, where it had been stationed since its return from the Philippines in 1909. The entire regiment, about 850 enlisted men and officers, arrived at Honolulu Harbor on January 14, 1913, along with troops of the Fourth Cavalry and the Coast Artillery, a total of some 2300 soldiers. With their arrival, the number of soldiers stationed on O‘ahu totaled about 5500.4 That number increased significantly as World War I approached. The Twenty-fifth Infantry itself more than doubled to about 2300 enlisted men while stationed in Hawai‘i.
The men who joined the Twenty-fifth Infantry Regiment were largely from the Southern states, most coming from Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee. At a time when employment was hard to find for African American men, the soldiers tended to reenlist, making a career of the army. Census figures from 1910 reveal that the average age of enlisted men in the Twenty-fifth Infantry was twenty-nine and a half years.5 They were mature, seasoned soldiers.
The morning after their arrival in Honolulu, the men of Twenty-fifth Infantry Regiment disembarked and began a two-day, twenty-three mile march to Schofield Barracks, where they were stationed until 1918. During their five and a half years in Hawai‘i, the Twenty-fifth Infantry received a fair amount of newspaper coverage, as did all [End Page 74]
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of the military organizations in the islands. The newspaper articles provide a glimpse into how the soldiers were viewed by Hawai‘i’s multi-cultural society. Hawai‘i was more accepting of the African American soldiers than mainland communities had been. They did not entirely escape prejudice during their time in the islands, and they certainly remained segregated, but the soldiers did not encounter the racial hatred that had characterized their interactions with civilians in...