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—how a generation prior to the creation of a National Park Service, the US Army ran Yosemite National Park in an unusual alliance with the fabled preservationist John Muir and his Sierra Club. Harvey Meyerson brings that largely forgotten episode in our nation’s history to life and uses it as a touchstone for a reconsideration of a century of civilian-military cooperation in environmental protection and infrastructure construction whose impact and relevance still resonate.
“A most timely reissue of a truly original and highly captivating work that showcases all-encompassing military history, one that can help us all think more deeply about the relationships between a nation’s armed forces and the natural environment.”
—Gregory A. Daddis, professor of history and director of the War and Society Program, Chapman University
“Harvey Meyerson updates an insightful study and includes a well-deserved tribute to Yosemite ranger Shelton Johnson and the Buffalo Soldiers whose inspiring park-protection efforts Shelton has single-handedly brought to life.”
—Jonathan B. Jarvis, eighteenth director of the National Park Service
“Praise for the first edition:
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
“Unravels the mystery of how the U.S. Army came to work with the Sierra Club to lay the foundations for Yosemite National Park and the National Park Service. Meyerson reveals that the culture of these institutions had much in common. A gripping, probing, and enjoyable story.”
—Michael McCloskey, Chairman, Sierra Club, 1985–1999
“Meyerson chronicles an encounter of special importance to the histories of the conservation movement, the national park system, the army itself, and the expanding society the Old Army served with such a highly self-conscious sense of mission.”
—Kevin Starr, State Librarian of California
“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
“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 HistorySee 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 how they 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.
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.