Buffalo Soldiers on bicycles



“As we rode from mountain to mountain, from valley to valley, from river to river, passing by the wayside relics of bygone days, we could but feel a pang of regret at the advance of civilization — the old stagecoaches have crumbled into ruins, the mountain teamsters and the buffaloes have disappeared, the Indians are passing away — the ‘wild and woolly West’ is no more!”
– Lt. James A. Moss, “The Army A-Wheel,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 7, 1897

A bicycle journey that has long fascinated me was done in 1897 on primitive bikes and even more primitive roads: 1,900 miles from Missoula, Mont., to St. Louis in 41 days.

The 25th on the road

The 25th on the road

The epic ride was undertaken by members the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, a black regiment of “Buffalo Soldiers,” led by white Lt. James A. Moss, a Louisianan newly graduated from West Point. The caravan included 20 soldiers, an Army surgeon and a reporter for the Daily Missoulian.
Gen. Nelson A. Miles, secretary of war, authorized the trip as an experiment “to test the practicability and the durability of the bicycle as a means of transportation for troops.”
America was in the midst of a bicycle craze in the 1890s, but the advent of the motor car put an end to the notion that bicycles might replace horses as personal conveyances.

The 25th at Yellowstone, 1896

The 25th at Yellowstone, 1896

I knew of only two books about the journey: Iron Riders: Story of the 1890s Fort Missoula Buffalo Soldier Bicycle Corps by George Niels Sorensen and Fort Missoula’s military cyclists: The story of the 25th U.S. Infantry Bicycle Corps by Linda C. Bailey.
But now, thanks to “Bike Bits,” a twice-monthly e-mail posting by the Adventure Cycling Association, I know of a Web site/blog about the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps put together by Mike Higgins, a history teacher in Wyoming.
Military cycling by MossHiggins’ rich site includes a day-by-day description of the ride from Lt. Moss, maps, photographs and bios of the riders, reports from ride participants other than Moss and contemporary newspaper accounts.
Moss wrote of the last day of the trip, July 24, 1897: “About 4:30 we got our first view of St. Louis, and an hour later, entered the city — and thus it came to pass that the Twenty-fifth United States Infantry Bicycle Corps made the greatest march known of in military history.”
Higgins is retracing the soldiers’ route himself this summer by bicycle and is on the lookout for additional information about the 25th.


1 Comment

Filed under Americana, Journeys

One response to “Buffalo Soldiers on bicycles

  1. Ben P.

    Thanks for the interesting post. I had never heard of this historic bike ride. I checked out Higgins’ blog too.

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