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What's with the hat?

Published Sept. 15, 2016

Shared roots with U.S. Army visible today in National Park Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ranger uniforms

Referred to as a Campaign Hat, the famous “Ranger Hat” with its signature wide, stiff brim and high peak with a “Montana Crease” comprised of symmetrical pinches at the four corners is synonymous with the ranger service.

Smokey Bear, the animal logo-mascot for the U.S. Forest Service and fire prevention also wears a ranger’s hat.

Versions of the stiff-brimmed were authorized for uniforms as far back as 1911.

But, the Army’s presence at Yellowstone includes exploration and surveys from the 1850s to the 1880s and construction in the 1880s and 1890s. In 1886, Capt. Moses Harris and Company M, First Cavalry were detailed to Yellowstone National Park to patrol the area.

The ranger uniform, be it National Park Service, Forest Service or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, got its start with the First Cavalry’s arrival at Yellowstone in 1886. From 1886-1916, cavalry troops were assigned at several national parks.

When the national park service was formed, many military personnel who had served in the parks accepted discharges from the Army and were appointed as rangers in the Park Service. The men who formed the first civilian ranger service, brought with them the unofficial “ranger” uniform including the signature campaign hat.

Each service uniform has insignia making it distinguishable from one another. Hat bands and badges are different for each service.

National Park Service

The prescribed National Park Service leather hatband became part of the service’s regulation uniform in 1930.

The National Park Service hat band features leaves and the cone of the giant sequoia tree. The first known button used by a ranger in the Interior Department’s “park service” was worn in 1907 by a ranger in Sequoia National Park, the second National Park established by law. The National Park Service emblem featured the sequoia cone until the arrowhead logo was adopted in 1952. The arrowhead logo features a sequoia tree representing plant life and Sequoia National Park.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Natural Resources Management Service

USACE Natural Resources Management Mission - (EP 1130-2-550)

“The Army Corps of Engineers is the steward of the lands and waters at Corps water resources projects. Its Natural Resources Management Mission is to manage and conserve those natural resources, consisted with ecosystem management principles, while providing quality public outdoor recreation experience to serve the needs of present and future generations.

In all aspects of natural and cultural resources management, the Corps promoted awareness of environmental values and adheres to sound environmental stewardship, protection, compliance, and restoration practices.

The Cor​ps manages for long-term public access to, and use of the natural resources in cooperation with other Federal, State and local agencies as well as the private sector.

The Corps integrates the management of diverse natural resource components such as fish, wildlife, forests, wetlands, grasslands, soil, air, and water with the provision of public recreation opportunities. The Corps conserves natural resources and provides public recreation opportunities that contribute to the quality of American life.”

A report from the Chief of Engineers in 1909 describes Soldiers who served as Park Watchmen for the office of public buildings and grounds. Park Watchmen policed public parks and reservations including Dupont, Washington, Iowa, and Thomas circles, and Mount Vernon, Monument, Smithsonian, Stanton, Lincoln, and Garfield, and Potomac parks which were under the office of public buildings and grounds. The men worked in shifts until 2 a.m. on foot or on bicycles furnished by the U.S. Government enforcing park regulations, regulating public travel on park roads and providing information to visitors to the city.

Even before then, there are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects in the St. Paul District that date back to the late 1880s. The projects were constructed mainly to support maintaining the Mississippi River navigation channel. But, one can presume there were personnel who helped to manage boundary lines and hunting and fishing on the lakes.

According to USACE Park Ranger, Bill Jackson, the Nashville District had a number of rangers in the late 1950s and 1960s commonly called “Reservoir Rangers.

The Flood Control Act of 1970 laid the foundation for the “modern” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger Program, which establishes the authority to enforce Title 36, the Code of Federal Regulations that applies to Parks, Forests, and Public Property. Chapter 1 of Title 36 outlines the National Park Service’s role and Chapter 3 outlines the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ role.

With that authority, USACE began its Park Ranger and Visitor Assistance program. The first USACE Park Ranger granted citation authority and to write a citation for a Title 36 violation was Mr. Wallace Halcomb in 1971 at Lake Cumberland in Kentucky for an unauthorized boat house on the lake.

Just as the National Park Service uniform has its roots in the U.S. Army Calvary’s role at the first national parks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uniform represents that connection.

Halcomb and five other rangers were part of the pilot program at Lake Cumberland are also credited for the first badges for USACE Park Rangers. The badges were purchased in 1971 through the U.S. Marshalls Service in Lexington, Kentucky and a local jeweler engraved them to say Ranger above a star and within the star were the words, “Corps of Engineers”.

The second badge design incorporated the “Corps Castle” and removed the star. The word “Ranger” was removed from badges around 1987 and the modern badge has remained unchanged since.

The USACE campaign hat band features a leather band with a leafy scrollwork and no lettering or ornaments. However, the “Corps Castle” is displayed prominently at the front of the hat. While the history of the “Corps Castle” is well documented, the history of the leaf pattern on the hat band and leather belt seems more elusive.