When Soldiers Fought for Yosemite
Blessings on Uncle Sam's soldiers! They have done their job well, and every pine tree is waving its arms for joy.— John Muir
Muir's words and this book both celebrate a crucial but largely forgotten episode in our nation's history—the rescue of our national parks by soldiers with an environmental ethic generations ahead of its time. In Nature's Army, Harvey Meyerson chronicles this unexpected but fascinating tale and shows why its impact and relevance still resonate today.
“A wonderful book. It is meticulously researched and documented, and composed with a felicitous pen. For anyone interested in western, military, or environmental history, it is a must-read.”
—Western Historical Quarterly
“Meyerson has made a useful contribution to both environmental history and military history. He has also reminded us that, as the soldiers of the Fourth Cavalry knew more than one hundred years ago, preserving the environment is a fundamentally patriotic act.”
—Public HistorianSee all reviews...
“A superbly researched and well-written saga of the ‘Old Army’ and its highly successful and precedent setting custodianship of Yosemite National Park, considered ‘a cavalryman’s paradise.’”
—Journal of America's Military Past
“More than just a history of the Army’s administration of Yosemite from 1890 to 1914, Meyerson’s book is also a character study of the ‘Old Army.’”
—Journal of Military History
“Meyerson provides an interesting examination of nineteenth-century Army culture and its influence on park management when Yosemite and the national park idea were most vulnerable.”
—History: Reviews of New Books
“A lively account of a little known chapter in American history.”
“Compelling and well written, this is a superb contribution to both military history and the history of environmentalism and the West.”
—Russell F. Weigley, author of The American Way of War
“A lively, readable, and, for many, surprising story. These army officers not only rigorously carried out their task of protecting Yosemite but, in the process, demonstrated a clear understanding of and genuine sensitivity to the environment.”
—Edward M. Coffman, author of The Old Army: A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime
“A major contribution to our understanding of preservation efforts in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
—Donald J. Pisani, author of To Reclaim a Divided WestSee fewer reviews...
Despite the worldwide renown and popularity of Yosemite National Park, few people know that its first stewards were drawn from the so-called Old Army. From 1890 until the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916, these soldiers proved to be extremely competent and farsighted wilderness managers. Meyerson recaptures the forgotten history of these early environmentalists and shows how their work countered the army's Indian-fighting image and set significant standards for the future oversight of our national parks.
The army, Meyerson suggests, had actually been well prepared to assume this stewardship. During its first hundred years-and despite the interruptions of warfare-its soldiers had crisscrossed the American landscape, preparing maps, and writing detailed reports describing climate, weather, physical terrain, ecosystems, and the diverse flora and fauna populating the lands they explored and often protected during an era of wide open exploitation of natural resources. Such experience made the army better suited than any other federal agency to oversee the early national parks system.
So great was the army's ultimate environmental influence that the National Park Service embraced the army model as its own, right down to the uniforms still worn today. In fact, many of the first civilian rangers were drawn directly from the army, while some of the Sierra Club's most outspoken early members were cavalrymen serving in Yosemite.
Combining environmental, military, political, and cultural history, Meyerson's study is especially timely in light of Yosemite's enormous popularity (four million visitors annually) and recent controversies pitting conservation forces against dam builders and proponents of expanded public access.