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PlaceMakers: Ranger Fredrik “Rik” Penn talks Buffalo Soldiers and Presidio History

Monday, Jun 13, 2016 Category History

Born and raised on a farm in rural Virginia, Fredrik Penn is an Army veteran who began working for the U.S. Army in the Presidio as a civilian employee in 1989. After the Army departed the Presidio in 1994, Rik was hired as a National Park Service employee at Muir Woods where he mended fences and took care of trees. There he discovered he loved any opportunity to talk to visitors about history and ecology, so he began volunteering in the Presidio with the education group. After a year, he was hired by the National Park Service and is now an Education Coordinator for the Parks as Classroom Program in the Presidio. Fourteen years later, Ranger Rik still loves sharing park history.​

Tell us about your role?

When I was in high school and college, I initially thought I wanted to be a teacher. But then I entered the military and the years went by. When I began volunteering in the Presidio, I got to work with inner city kids from East Palo Alto and Oakland, and this really brought back the teaching interest in me. It was a great opportunity to work with youth and be someone these kids could look to and say, "Hey – he looks like me, and he's working in the park!" I want all kids to feel welcome here and that they have a place within our national parks.

Now, teaching is essentially what I do – I spend about half my time out and about in the park with groups, and the other half of the time, I'm in the office, arranging group visits and researching information for groups with specialized interests. I love what I do – I've given special walking tours about the Buffalo Soldiers, the San Francisco 1906 earthquake refugees and their time in the park, and the history of aviation in the Presidio. I've also given a tour of the famous people interred in the Presidio's San Francisco National Cemetery.

This is the 150th anniversary of the Buffalo Soldiers and the National Park Service's Centennial. Can you give us a little history of the Buffalo Soldiers, and their ties to the Presidio?

In 1866, Congress established four all-black regiments: the 9th and 10th Cavalry, and the 24th and 25th Infantry. These regiments were located all over the country and did everything from fighting campaigns against native tribes to pursuing bandits, improving our roads, scouting, and mapping frontier land. According to legend, the "buffalo soldiers" name actually came from Native Americans. The buffalo was revered for its bravery and Native Americans referred to these soldiers as "buffalo soldiers" as a sign of respect.

All four of these Buffalo Soldiers units passed through the Presidio on their way to the Philippine American war in 1899-1902. When they returned to the states, the Buffalo Soldiers were scattered among various forts around the country. In 1903-1904, about 200 African American soldiers were stationed in the Presidio and this was the first time African Americans were permanently garrisoned at the Presidio. 

The National Park Service itself was established in 1916, but before this, the Army was responsible for patrolling Yellowstone, Sequoia, and Yosemite – some of our first national parks. For three summers, starting in 1899, as part of their service, the Buffalo Soldiers patrolled the parks. They're often referred to as being among the original "Guardians of the National Parks."

What can visitors do to celebrate the Buffalo Soldiers and the National Park Service anniversaries?

On August 6, visitors can come to the Presidio Officers' Club for a presentation about the Buffalo Soldiers, followed by a musical performance by the Marcus Shelby Quartet. Also, every Thursday through Sunday, visitors can come to the Presidio Visitor Center to see a special Buffalo Soldiers exhibit.

For the Centennial, we kicked off celebrations on May 7 with the Junior Ranger Jamboree, but there are other activities planned throughout the year, including a series of fun summertime park activities for kids in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.


Celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Buffalo Soldiers

​Buffalo Soldiers 150th Anniversary: The California Story – A presentation with Teresa Baker, National Park Service Rik Penn, the Friends of Allensworth, historian Susan Anderson, and other special guests. Presidio Officers' Club, Saturday, August 6, 2016, 1 pm

Buffalo Soldiers 150th Anniversary: Marcus Shelby Quartet - A jazz performance honoring the Buffalo Soldiers. Presidio Officers' Club, Saturday, August 6th, 2016, 3 pm

Creative Family Fun: The Buffalo Soldiers Ride Again – Imaginative craft-making for kids based on the Presidio's natural and cultural heritage. In honor of the Buffalo Soldiers, crafts commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Buffalo Soldiers. Presidio Officers' Club, Saturday, August 6 and Sunday, August 7, 11 am - 4 pm.

Buffalo Soldier Photographic Exhibit – An ongoing exhibit at Fort Point National Historic Site in the Presidio. Open Thursday through Tuesday throughout the summer, 10 am – 5 pm.

The Buffalo Solider Exhibit – An exhibit at the Presidio Visitor Center, 36 Lincoln Boulevard. Open Thursday through Sunday, 10 am - 4 pm.

Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks Service

See upcoming events and activities on the National Park Service 100th Anniversary Page and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy NPS 100 Page. ​