CONTRIBUTED BY SHERRY JILES
With the month of February being Black History Month, the VFW Post 5732 and auxiliary members wanted to share the following information on the famed Buffalo Soldiers. Other than officers, all members of these units were Blacks, know as the “Buffalo Soldier” and were stationed at Fort Missoula, Montana.
History states that more than 150 years ago, 200,000 Black soldiers in the Union went on to serve in the regular army following the Civil War. Originally there were six units of Buffalo Soldiers but by 1869 only four units remained.
Buffalo Soldiers, so named by the native Americans, have served on the Great Plains, Cuba, the Philippines, along the Mexican border, both World Wars and beyond. They were known for the hard work, dedication and talented bands. They remained segregated and led by white officers. Many times, they faced racial injustices. They could build towns, dig water holes but still had to sleep outside.
On Aug. 6, 1896, bicyclists left Montana as the start of the “Bicycle Experiment”. Lt. James Moss believed that bicycles could be potential military transportation. When his idea was approved by his commanding officers, he negotiated for the A.G. Spalding Company to donate bicycles he had designed. The first trip was 126 miles round trip. Riders carried coffee, sugar, bacon, flour, canned beans and bicycle parts. Each rider also carried his shelter, bed roll, cooking and eating gear, rifle, ammunition, clothes and personal hygiene items. The packs weighed from 68 to 83 pounds. This first trip lasted four days.
The second ride began Aug. 15, 1896, with nine riders. This round-trip to Yellowstone National Park was 700 miles and lasted 10 days.
A trip that began on June 14, 1897, was considered “The Great Bicycle Experiment.” Twenty-three Buffalo Soldiers traveled more than 1,900 miles over 41 days from Fort Missoula, Montana, to St. Louis, Missouri. With each journey’s lesson, the troops traveled with more essential items — more bicycle parts, essential medical supplies, additional types of food, cameras and rolls of film to document the trip.
The troops rode trains back to Fort Missoula. By the time the experiment ended, gasoline powered vehicles had become popular. Bicycles were used to a small extent in World War I and this experiment slipped into history.
According to www.history.com, Mark Matthews, the nation’s oldest living buffalo soldier, died in 2005 at age 111 in Washington, D.C.
A museum, the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, dedicated to the history of this group’s military service can be found in Houston, Texas.
Buffalo Soldiers Day will be recognized on July 28, 2022.
For more information on the Buffalo Soldiers, contact a veterans service organization in the area.