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July 3, 2024 46 mins

The 25th Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corps, also known as the Iron Riders, was part of the segregated U.S. Army units that came to be known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

Research:

  • Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Brownsville Affair". Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 Aug. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Brownsville-Affair.
  • Missouri State Parks. “Iron Riders: the Story of the 25th Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corps.” https://mostateparks.com/ironriders
  • Kindy, David. “The Black Buffalo Soldiers Who Biked Across the American West.” Smithsonian. 6/14/2022. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-black-buffalo-soldiers-who-biked-across-the-american-west-180980246/
  • Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. “Many Lenses: Buffalo Soldiers Legend and Legacy.” https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/buffalo-soldiers
  • Missoula Community Access Television. “Buffalo Soldiers: The 25th Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corps.” 2/15/2023. https://archive.org/details/Buffalo_Soldiers_-_The_25th_Infantry_Regiment_Bicycle_Corps
  • Tate, Stephen T. “Human Powered Vehicles in Support of Light Infantry Operations.” Master of Military Art and Science Thesis. 1975. https://archive.org/details/DTIC_ADA211795/mode/1up
  • Bradsher, Greg. “Iron Riders – The 25th Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corps, Part I.” National Archives: Rediscovering Black History. 2/7/2022. https://rediscovering-black-history.blogs.archives.gov/2022/02/07/iron-riders-25th-infantry-regiment-part-i/
  • Bradsher, Greg. “Iron Riders – The 25th Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corps, Part 2.” National Archives: Rediscovering Black History. 2/17/2022. https://rediscovering-black-history.blogs.archives.gov/2022/02/17/iron-riders-25th-infantry-regiment-part-ii/
  • Bradsher, Greg. “Iron Riders – The 25th Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corps, Part 3.” National Archives: Rediscovering Black History. 2/22/2022. https://rediscovering-black-history.blogs.archives.gov/2022/02/22/iron-riders-25th-infantry-part-iii/
  • Bradsher, Greg. “Iron Riders – The 25th Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corps, Part 4.” National Archives: Rediscovering Black History. 3/1/2022. https://rediscovering-black-history.blogs.archives.gov/2022/03/01/iron-riders-25th-infantry-part-iv/
  • Fort Missoula Museum. “25th Infantry Bicycle Corps.” https://fortmissoulamuseum.org/exhibit/25th-infantry-bicycle-corps/
  • Montana History Portal. “Bicycles for the Army: The 25th Infantry in Montana.” https://www.mtmemory.org/nodes/view/90296
  • Langellier, John P. “Buffalo Soldiers in Big Sky Country, 1888–1898.” Montana The Magazine of Western History, Autumn 2017, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Autumn 2017). https://www.jstor.org/stable/26322890
  • Koelle, Alexandra V. “Pedaling on the Periphery: The African American Twenty-fifth Infantry Bicycle Corps and the Roads of American Expansion.” Western Historical Quarterly , Vol. 41, No. 3 (Autumn 2010). https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/westhistquar.41.3.0305
  • Hosler, Roderick A. “Hell on Two Wheels: The 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps.” On Point , Fall 2010, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Fall 2010). Via JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26361477
  • Weigle, John. “Native American decries ‘Buffalo Soldier’ Stamp.” Ventura County Star. 6/11/1994.

 

 

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class, a production
of iHeartRadio. Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Tracy V. Wilson,
but I'm Holly Fryed. Back in February, we got an
email from listener Callista, who sent along an idea for

(00:22):
an episode, along with some adorable cat pictures. Kitty cats
who have very big feet because of their extra toes.
I love them. Your babies have extra deck mind you,
they both have extra toes, and one has particularly big feet.
With all of her extra toes, they're facute, So thank
you for that, Callista. The topic was the twenty fifth

(00:45):
Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corps, also known as the Iron Riders.
This was part of the segregated US Army units that
came to be known as the Buffalo Soldiers, and the
Bicycle Corps got a lot of attention back in twenty
twenty two for their Quasquas Centennial. I, however, do not
remember ever hearing about them until getting this email, so again,

(01:07):
thank you, Callista. We have mentioned the Buffalo Soldiers in
a few episodes over the years, and we've lined one
of those episodes up for this week's Saturday Classic. We
have also gotten some requests for an episode dedicated just
to the Buffalo Soldiers, but these regiments existed for almost

(01:27):
a century. They were involved in a bunch of different
wars and a whole array of non combat duties during
that time, so like a general episode on the Buffalo
Soldiers just felt very broad. This episode, though, does give
us an opportunity to talk some more about the background
on the Buffalo Soldiers, including where that name comes from,

(01:50):
which we will be getting to. The Buffalo Soldiers were
established not long after the end of the US Civil War.
The United States Army had own enormously during the war,
reaching a peak of roughly a million troops. Congress formally
legalized the enlistment of black soldiers in eighteen sixty two.

(02:10):
When President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation the following year,
he stated that quote such persons of suitable condition will
be received into the Armed Service of the United States
to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to
manned vessels of all sorts insaid service. The US military

(02:31):
started actively recruiting black servicemen, who typically served in segregated
units under the command of white commissioned officers. This included
the fifty fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. We ran our
episode on them as a Saturday Classic in February of
twenty nineteen. The Civil War ended in eighteen sixty five,

(02:52):
and on July twenty eighth of eighteen sixty six, Congress
passed an Act to Increase and Fix the Military piece
Establishishment of the United States. This outlined what the nation's
peacetime military would look like, including how many regiments there
would be and what kind. Sections three and four of
this act included the creation of cavalry and infantry regiments

(03:16):
that would be made up specifically of black men. Black
soldiers had served in the US military going back to
its very beginnings, including serving in the Revolutionary War and
the War of eighteen twelve, but this was the first
time black troops were designated as a permanent part of it. Initially,
there were to be two cavalry regiments and four infantry,

(03:39):
but another law passed in eighteen sixty nine consolidated the
infantry regiments to two. Ultimately, the Buffalo Soldiers included the
ninth and tenth Cavalry and the twenty fourth and twenty
fifth Infantry. As we've said the US military was racially segregated,
but beyond that, the military assumed correctly that a lot

(04:01):
of people, both soldiers and civilians, would respond to the
presence of black soldiers with hostility or violence, so initially,
these soldiers were stationed mainly in areas that the US
thought of as the frontier, in the West and the Southwest.
In the late nineteenth century, black soldiers made up about

(04:21):
ten percent of the US Army, but about twenty percent
of the soldiers in the western part of US territory.
This didn't entirely protect these soldiers from racism and violence,
though they still faced discrimination and abuse from white commanding
officers and from white enlisted men when their duties brought
them into contact with one another. Nearby White communities sometimes

(04:46):
saw these army units as an asset, both for protection
and for spending their money in town, but there were
incidents of racism and racist violence from civilians too. Several
Buffalo soldiers were lynched while serving in the army, at
least one of them after his white commanding officer handed
him over to a mob. When these regiments were first established,

(05:09):
many of the men who enlisted had previously been enslaved,
often from birth, so this could be their first opportunity
to be paid wages for their work in a job
that they actually chose for themselves. Also, after the Civil War,
in a culture that was really dominated by racist attitudes,
a lot of black workers were also forced into things

(05:32):
like sharecropping, agricultural labor, or manual labor, and being in
the army was seen as a more respected and prestigious job.
People understood that demonstrating that black men could be good
soldiers would also reflect well on black people as a whole,
so a lot of people saw this as a way

(05:53):
to prove their worth to a nation that just did
not see them as equal. The creation of the Buffalo
Soldiers and people's decisions to join and serve these were
threaded through with just a lot of meaning and importance. However,
this was also a case of the United States using
one oppressed group to oppress another. The Buffalo Soldiers often

(06:17):
served at forts that had been built to protect white
settlers from the indigenous peoples already living there. A long
series of wars between the United States and indigenous nations
has become known as the Indian Wars, and the Buffalo
Soldiers fought in more than one hundred and fifty engagements
across a number of these wars. By the end of
the nineteenth century. Buffalo soldiers were also instrumental in efforts

(06:41):
to drive indigenous peoples off their land. These army regiments
fought against or helped remove people from numerous nations across
the West and Southwest, including the Apache, the Navajo, the Ute,
and the Cree. Buffalo soldiers also served as reserve units
and guards during the eighteen nine massacre at Wounded Knee,

(07:02):
in which the US Army killed hundreds of Lakota. This
makes the moniker of Buffalo soldiers complicated. Multiple explanations have
been put forth about exactly where this name came from,
and most of them involve indigenous peoples comparing the soldiers
to the American bison, also known as the buffalo. In

(07:23):
some accounts, it's about the soldier's skin color and their
hair texture. In others, it's a reference to their ferocity,
with some sources citing a specific battle or a specific
defense as prompting this nickname. Some conclude that it was
actually about the soldiers wearing winter coats that were made
from buffalo hide, with the hair still on, although the

(07:45):
army didn't formally adopt these coats as part of the
soldier's winter gear, and a lot of the soldiers who
had them had just bought them on their own. A
lot of writing about the Buffalo Soldiers assumes that this
nickname was a sign of respect or admiration, sometimes including
references to indigenous nations and peoples who consider the buffalo

(08:07):
to be sacred. Although it doesn't seem like the Buffalo
Soldiers used it themselves in the early decades of their existence,
it's a name that they had claimed as a mark
of pride by their early twentieth century. It's at least
theoretically possible to admire the military prowess of an enemy
in warfare, and there were sometimes that the Buffalo Soldiers

(08:29):
acted to protect indigenous people, specifically indigenous nations that had
signed treaties with the United States and were at war
with nations that hadn't before the United States passed the
DAWs Act and other laws that broke up reservation land
and sold it off, including to non indigenous buyers. The

(08:50):
Buffalo Soldiers also helped defend Indian Territory or what's now Oklahoma,
from white squatters, but this idea that the name was
meant to honor the soldiers seems to trace back not
to Indigenous people but to the assumptions of white historians.
Indigenous people have spoken out against it, especially as the

(09:10):
Buffalo Soldiers started to get more widespread attention in the
late twentieth century. For example, in nineteen ninety four, the
US Postal Service announced that the Buffalo Soldiers were going
to be honored with the postage stamp, including messaging describing
the soldiers bravery and toughness as winning them the respect
of Native Americans. This led to intense criticism from a

(09:33):
number of Indigenous writers and activists. For example, Ojibwa activist
Vernon Bellcourt wrote an article in Indian Country Today in
which he said, quote the formation of military combat units
made up exclusively of free black African men, the Buffalo Soldiers,
for the purpose of destroying Indian lives is a euphemism

(09:55):
intended to maintain the status quo of racism and denied history.
Bellicourt described the Buffalo Soldiers as quote marauding, murderous cavalry
units and stated that the quote Buffalo nickname was only
about their hair and skin and was not a term
of endearment or respect. There were also some layers to

(10:17):
some of the Buffalo Soldiers service beyond the Indian Wars.
These soldiers were some of the first caretakers of the
first national parks in the United States, including fighting fires,
building roads, and trying to stop illegal grazing and poaching.
But the creation of those national parks involved forcing indigenous
people off of this land, often in defiance of treaties

(10:40):
that the US had with those peoples, and then kind
of rebranding it as a pristine and untouched wilderness. The
Buffalo Soldiers were also called on to maintain order during
labor disputes, meaning that they were protecting communities, businesses, and
strike breakers from the miners and railroad workers who were
fighting to try to improve their pay and working conditions.

(11:04):
So the Buffalo Soldiers represent an important part of black
history and the history of black service members within the
US military, But that history is way more complicated than
the really romanticized and almost mythologized treatment that they've gotten
in a lot of accounts. The Buffalo Soldiers were part
of the US military all the way until the Korean War.

(11:27):
The army began the process of dismantling these units after
President Harry Truman issued Executive Order ninety nine eighty one
ordering the desegregation of the military on July twenty sixth,
nineteen forty eight. The process of actually doing this took
a while, in part because of the army's reluctance to integrate,

(11:49):
so the last of the Buffalo Soldiers' Regiments wasn't deactivated
until October first, nineteen fifty one, with those remaining soldiers
being transferred into other units. While these units were in existence,
twenty seven members were awarded the Medal of Honor, which
is the US military's highest award for valor. Fourteen of

(12:11):
those medals were awarded for the soldier's conduct during the
Indian Wars. We are going to get into the bicycle
Corps after we pause for a sponsor break. We talked
about the development of the bicycle not too long ago

(12:34):
on the show in our episode on Kitti Knox in
the Bike Boom from January of twenty twenty three, so
we are not going to rehash all of that today.
The most important part is that the first practical, relatively
affordable bicycles, known as safety bicycles, were introduced in the
eighteen eighties. Some militaries had already been exploring whether they

(12:57):
could make use of bicycles before this point, like there
are reports of messengers using Penny Farthing bicycles with those
enormous front wheels to get around during the Franco Prussian
War of eighteen seventy, but the safety cycle sparked an
enormous interest in cycling for civilians and the military alike.

(13:18):
The first practical cars and motorcycles were also introduced in
the eighteen eighties, but the first gasoline powered trucks were
still about a decade away, so from a military perspective,
the big question was whether bicycles could be a suitable
replacement for horses, which were already in widespread use. Unlike bicycles,
horses need to eat, they can get sick or hurt

(13:41):
or killed. Horses also need to be trained, and after
they're trained, they still don't always get along with their
handlers or other horses, and even well trained horses can
panic or behave in unexpected ways, especially once you factor
in food and training and upkeep. Bicycles are typically a
lot less expensive than horses. Feel like anybody that owns

(14:03):
a horse is nodding their head right now going duh.
Depending on the terrain, they can also be a lot quieter. So,
for example, a unit on bicycles might be able to
sneak deeper into enemy territory than they could on foot,
with a better chance of getting back out without attracting
attention than they would be on horseback. Answering this question

(14:24):
also involved figuring out the answers to a lot of
other related questions. Being on a bike instead of a
horse meant the soldier was using his own power rather
than a horse doing a lot of the work. So
we're all of those trade offs that Holly just alluded to.
Were they worth it? Which soldiers would be best suited

(14:45):
to be in some kind of bicycle corps? What kind
of physique did they need to have and how would
they need to be trained? How much could a bicycle
reasonably carry and how far? What kind of equipment needed
to be carried to keep a bike working in good repair?
Could bicycles be used in combat? Like could soldiers fight

(15:06):
or accurately fire a gun while on a bike? Could
bicycles be used to transport entire units over long distances?
It was pretty clear, really quickly that bicycles peak could
be used for things like scouting and carrying messages, especially
in places that had good roads or pretty even terrain.

(15:26):
But figuring out the answers to some of these other
questions took a lot more experimenting and some trial and error.
Not everyone's proficiency on a bike is going to be
the same, right, so answering each one of those questions
also as to be calibrated to individual people and their
own performance. In the US, one of the people who

(15:46):
was interested in answering these questions was Lieutenant General Nelson A. Miles.
He had become interested in the possibilities of the bicycle
as a military tool after attending a bicycle race. Some
sources say this happened in Chicago, others that it was
a six day race at Madison Square Garden in New
York that happened in eighteen ninety one. His efforts, though

(16:09):
to experiment with this went through some stops and starts.
It seems like his superiors didn't think it was the
best use of time and resources. But in eighteen ninety
five he was promoted to commanding General of the US Army,
meaning that he got to decide when Miles was promoted
to this role. The twenty fifth Infantry Regiment was garrisoned

(16:31):
at Fort Missoula, Montana. There were officers in Montana who
were interested in the idea of military cycling as well.
This included Colonel Andrews Sheridan Burt and Second Lieutenant James Moss.
There's some fuzziness in the details about bicycles at Fort Missoula,
like who proposed a particular idea or which of these

(16:55):
two men, if either was involved in specific elements of it.
Do you know, though, that Bert was generally really supportive
of sports and athletics among the troops, and that Moss
was an avid wheelman. That was the term people used
at the time for cyclists and cycling enthusiasts. Moss was
definitely instrumental in the creation of the bicycle Corps and

(17:18):
their long distance rides. Though he had been stationed at
Fort Missoula as a commissioned officer in the twenty fifth
Infantry Regiment after graduating last in his class from the
US Military Academy at West Point in eighteen ninety four.
So that gives you a sense of how undesirable this
assignment was. From the Army's perspective. Moss had been born

(17:40):
in La Faye at Louisiana, on May twelfth, eighteen seventy two,
and an address that he gave in his hometown a
few months after this corp's pretty dramatic long distance ride
which we'll be talking about, gives a glimpse into his mindset. Quote,
being a Southern boy, I did not at first, I admit,

(18:00):
like the idea of serving with colored troops. But I
was a soldier and had received an order from a superior,
and there was but one thing for me to do obey.
After having been with the regiment for a while, I
found the men to be respectful, obedient, and good soldiers,
and I liked to have such men under my command.
So this quote really should not be interpreted to mean

(18:22):
that he eventually came to see these soldiers as his equal.
His ridings and reports about his time with the bicycle
Corps are just threaded through with a lot of stereotypes
and bias. By the time Miles was promoted to commanding
General of the US Army, bicycles were already in use
at Fort Missoula, mainly for recreation and just forgetting around

(18:45):
in eighteen ninety five, Bert reported that three officers and
seventy eight enlisted men could ride bicycles, and that year
Fourth of July festivities included a bicycle drill that Moss
may have arranged. By eighteen ninety the fort had an
established bicycle drill team, which delights me. This team's drills

(19:08):
included things like preparing to mount, mounting, dismounting, and crossing
over obstacles. They experimented to figure out the best ways
to cross water, eventually deciding it was easiest for two
men to carry the bicycles suspended from a pole between them.
They worked on different ways to load gear onto the
bike and distribute the weight, and to develop appropriate equipment

(19:32):
for going on bicycle missions, including things like metal storage
containers for their stuff that could also be used as cookpots.
Over time, they determined that carrying a rifle across their
backs while cycling was uncomfortable, but they needed their rifles,
so they worked out a way to clamp them to
the bicycle frame instead. By eighteen ninety seven, the drill

(19:55):
team had expanded into a bicycle core that included Sergeant
Dalbert P. Green, Corporal John G. Williams, musician, William W. Brown,
who was a bugler, and privates Frank L. Johnson, William Proctor,
William Haynes, Elwood Foreman, and John Findley. Findley had worked
for Imperial Bicycle Works in Chicago before joining the army,

(20:16):
so he already knew about how to repair and maintain bicycles,
and since he already knew how to ride, he helped
teach riding drills to the other soldiers. In August, Moss
led this core on its first long distance ride from
Fort Missoula to Lake McDonald, one hundred and twenty six
miles away. This was a learning experience. To put it mildly,

(20:39):
Moss later wrote, quote, had the Devil himself conspired against us,
we would have had little more to contend with. Packed
with all of their rations, clothing, tents, and other supplies,
the bicycles they were using weighed an average of seventy
six point two pounds or thirty four point five kilograms.

(20:59):
The weather was rainy, so the roads turned into a
really sticky mud, and they were sometimes impassable because of
fallen trees. At one point, two of the men fell
into a stream they were trying to cross. They also
encountered hills so steep that they had to walk their
bikes up one side and down the other because trying
to ride down the downhill slope was just too dangerous.

(21:23):
The bicycles overall held up well, but they still lost
a lot of time stopping to deal with minor issues
like punctured tires, loosened bolts, or chains that needed adjusting.
In spite of all that, Moss considered this trip, which
went from August sixth to the ninth, to be a success,
and he started planning another longer trip to begin on

(21:45):
August fifteenth, this one to Yellowstone National Park. This trip
was more than twice as long. It was three hundred
miles or about four hundred and eighty four kilometers, and
they planned to ride between forty and fifty miles or
about sixty four to eight eighty kilometers per day. They
faced a lot of the same challenges that they had
on the earlier trip, including steep, uphill and downhill grades

(22:08):
while crossing the Continental Divide. Their bikes were heavier than
on the previous trip, weighing seventy nine point seven pounds
or thirty six kilograms on average, thanks to being loaded
up with four days worth of food, So not only
did they have to walk the bikes up and down
the hills, they also had to grip the handbrake for
long stretches of the downhill slope so that the bikes

(22:30):
didn't just run away from them with all that extra weight.
And when they were able to ride for a lot
of the journey, they were often riding into a stiff headwind,
and that made the going even harder. They talked about
having to hold the handbrakes for so long that their
hands would start cramping, but if they let go, they
might lose their whole bike just rolling down the hill

(22:53):
and then crashing probably. They reached Fort Yellowstone on August
twenty third, and after they rested for about a day
day and a half, they embarked on one hundred and
thirty two mile tour of the park by bike. Their
pace on this tour didn't seem as grueling as the
journey to get there had been. For the most part,
they rode a little faster, but they also had more

(23:15):
time to rest and sight see. They also got a
lot of attention from civilian tourists in the park, who
mostly seemed curious about them. The Corps started their return
trip on September first and arrived back at Fort Missoula
on September eighth. According to MOS's official report, their last
day of travel back to Missoula was the worst of

(23:37):
the entire trip, requiring ten hours of riding to travel
forty miles facing both rain and snow and wet muddy roads,
but he again considered the trip a success. They had
proven that the bicycles could be used to transport troops
across the difficult Montana to rain. After returning to Missoula,

(23:57):
the Bicycle Corps took part in some joint exercises involving
the twenty fifth Infantry and the tenth Cavalry. The Bicycle
Corps mainly acted as couriers during this exercise, and that
turned out to be critically important when a wagon train
got stuck in the mud and the cyclists were able
to summon reinforcements to help get them out. Moss was

(24:19):
not done though. He wanted to prove the bicycles could
be used to transport troops across any terrain, so he
started planning another ride, an almost two thousand mile journey
from Fort Missoula, Montana, to Saint Louis, Missouri, and we'll
get into that after we pause for a sponsor break.

(24:46):
Second Lieutenant James Moss was sent to Washington, d c.
Over part of the winter of eighteen ninety six to
eighteen ninety seven. Nelson A. Miles, commanding General of the
US Army, had tentatively approved his play to take a
bicycle corps from Missoula, Montana, to Saint Louis, Missouri, but
he wanted Moss to find a way to do this

(25:07):
without the Army having to spend money buying bicycles. Moss
spent some of his time researching bicycles and cycling, and
he toured the facilities of several bicycle manufacturers. This included A. G.
Spaldingen Brothers later known just as Spalding, who ultimately loaned
the bicycles to the Army for this test ride. Moss

(25:31):
also worked with Spaulding to make some modifications which he
hoped would reduce the amount of time spent dealing with
minor maintenance and repair issues during the ride. The bicycles
that they'd used on the earlier trips had wooden rims,
which were prone to delaminating over time. These had steel rims,
instead guards protected the chain from dirt and debris. Spalding

(25:54):
reinforced portions of the bike's frames and added luggage carriers
and swapped the standard seats out for or what was
known as the Christie saddle. This was an aluminum seat
with recessed areas to hold cushioned pads that made riding
more comfortable, and unlike a lot of other bicycle seats
at the time, it didn't extend between the legs, which
could cause chafing. It was developed and patented by Henry A. Christi,

(26:19):
and these bicycles, which were nicknamed the Military Special, weighed
thirty two pounds or fourteen point five kilograms each. That
was before they were loaded with gear and equipment. I
tried to compare that to today's bicycles and gut numbers
all over the place about such bicycles way today, especially
ones that are meant for riding on roads as well

(26:41):
as like rougher terrain. Yeah. When he got back to Missoula,
Moss selected the men who would be part of this trip.
He chose twenty soldiers from the twenty fifth Infantry. Five
of them had been part of the earlier rides in
eighteen ninety six. The highest ranking of these was Ming Sanders,
who acted as non commissioned officer in charge. Sanders was

(27:05):
also the oldest of the soldiers at the age of
thirty nine. The youngest member of the Bicycle Corps for
this trip was twenty four. Also on the journey were Moss,
Army physician doctor James Kennedy, and newspaper reporter Edward Boose,
all of whom were white. Booze was an enthusiastic wheelman
and filed regular reports with the Daily Missoulian that were

(27:28):
picked up by papers all over the country. Almost everything
that we know about this journey comes from Moss's reports
and Booze's reporting. We have almost nothing by the enlisted men,
aside from a couple of articles paraphrasing statements made by
Private Richard Rout to a reporter. I think it's possible
that there does exist documentation somewhere from somebody's journals or

(27:55):
letter home or whatever, but like that's what we know
of right now. The Bicycle Cores route would span about
nineteen hundred miles or three thousand and fifty eight kilometers
southeast through Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Missouri. It
included a wide range of terrain and road conditions. That's

(28:19):
why he picked this route. He wanted to test these
bikes on as many surfaces as possible. At the same time,
they were running mostly parallel to railroad lines. To make
it easier for them to resupply, Moss worked with quartermasters
at other forts and military installations to arrange food drops
about every one hundred miles. Although the men had carried

(28:40):
four days worth of food for their round trip to Yellowstone,
this time they would only be carrying two days of
food at a time, meaning if they did not go
fifty miles a day so they could travel the one
hundred miles to the next resupply, they would run out
of food. Cooking gear was carried in ten cases attached

(29:01):
to the fronts of some of the bicycles. Rations included flour, salt, sugar,
and coffee, which were packed in rubber cloth bags. There
was also bacon that was wrapped in cloth, and canned
goods carried in the soldier's knapsacks. These knapsacks also carried
one each of winter and summer undershirts and winter and
summer underwear, two pairs of summer socks, a pair of

(29:24):
winter socks, a towel, two handkerchiefs, a toothbrush, toothpowder, a
cake of soap, a blanket, and toilet paper. Every other
soldier also carried a comb and a brush. In addition
to this, each soldier carried a rifle and fifty rounds
of ammunition, as well as half of a shelter tent

(29:45):
and poles for that tent, as well as mosquito netting
and a cloth to wipe down the bicycle and a knife,
a fork, and a spoon, and a meat can. I
was like, what's a meat can? The army went through
a series of meat can designs over the late nineteenth century,
but this started out as a metal container meant to
hold uncooked meat rations so that other stuff didn't get greasy.

(30:08):
It evolved into something like a frying pan with a
fold out handle that was sometimes issued with a plate
that nestled into it, with the handle holding it all
together like if you've ever seen a mess kit. The
parts of the mess kit that hold that all together.
Packed with all of their gear, these bicycles weighed about
sixty pounds or twenty seven kilograms. The bicycle corpse set

(30:31):
off on this ride on June fourteenth, eighteen ninety seven,
at five point thirty in the morning. The plan was
that they would get up before dawn each day, ride
until lunch, and then stop and spend the hottest part
of the day resting. Then they would continue riding until
dark and stop and make camp. Pretty much immediately they
ran into heavy thunderstorms that turned the roads, which these

(30:55):
were really more like wagon trails, turn them into mud. Specifically,
a very thick mud was very sticky, made primarily of
Bentonite clay, which was known as gumbo. Eventually, they had
seen so much rain and so much mud that was
causing them so many problems that they decided to ride
on the railroad tracks instead. This meant a lot of

(31:17):
jolting along the cross ties. The difficulties just continued from there.
It was often hot, very hot, at one point in
excess of one hundred and ten degrees fahrenheit or forty
three degrees celsius. But even though it was summer, they
also encountered snow at higher elevations. In late June, they

(31:37):
ran low on rations and they were subsisting on water
and burned toast, and Booze wrote quote we were wet, cold,
and hungry, and a more jaded set of men never existed.
Although they had to deal with a lot of punctured
tires and a range of minor problems throughout the ride,
they only had one major mechanical failure. After leaving Gellette Wyoming.

(32:02):
The front axle broke on one of the bikes, and
it wasn't like they had a spare bike with them.
They didn't have an axle to replace it with, so
the rider private Foreman had to walk, and then the
rest of the corps had to slow down to match
his pace while Moss and two other men rode ahead
to their next plan stop at Moorcroft. The plan was

(32:26):
for these men who went ahead to have dinner prepared
for everybody else by the time the rest of the
men caught up, but night fell. The terrain turned out
to be really rough, and that meant that everyone wound
up having to walk their bikes, including the ones who
had tried to ride ahead. This was a particularly bad

(32:46):
time for them to run into this kind of issue
because they were also running low on water. With all
this happening, they didn't get to Moorcroft until the morning,
and then they had to rest until about two in
the afternoon before they were able to set off again.
The stretch from Gillette to Moorcroft was not the only
time the Core had trouble getting enough water. In much

(33:09):
of South Dakota and Nebraska, the temperatures were extreme and
the water was alkaline, something that can happen in desert
environments as the water absorbs a lot of salts and
minerals from the ground. To add yet another layer to
how difficult this was, Alkaline water was a real problem
in the Nebraska sand Hills, where the sandy soil was
so loose that riding was impossible and walking was extremely difficult.

(33:33):
They'd ridden on the railroad tracks to try to bypass
terrain that was just too bad to ride on before,
but in this area the way the cross ties were
laid jolted the bikes to a halt. Having the railroad
nearby was still an asset, though, because it turned out
the water tanks used for the engines held water that
was more drinkable. Some of the soldiers became ill during

(33:56):
this part of the ride, and Moss got so sick
that doctor Kennedy told him he could not continue. Moss
had to backtrack and then take the train ahead of
the rest of the Core so that they could catch
up with him while he recovered. A report Moss made
on the trip said of this region, quote, this part
of the trip was a real nightmare. It was impossible

(34:18):
to make any headway by following the wagon road in
loose sand ankle deep, and the Core thereafter followed the
railroad track for one hundred and seventy miles before they
got out of the sand, so they were walking alongside
the railroad track to be clear, to continue the quote,
by almost superhuman efforts. This distance was covered in four

(34:39):
and a half days, averaging thirty seven point seven miles
per day. The Alkali water was abominable and the heat terrific.
A lot of other people the cor encountered during this
ride seemed more interested in what they were doing than
anything else, and some of them either sold or gave
them things like eggs, pies, red or other food, which

(35:01):
helped them keep writing and keep their spirits up. But
the court did experience hostility and racism, which generally increase
the further south that they traveled. At one point, when
they asked a farmer if they could camp on his land.
He asked if they were Union soldiers, and when Moss
said he supposed they were, the farmer said no. This was,

(35:22):
of course, more than three decades after the end of
the Civil War. A report in the Kansas City, Missouri
Journal alluded to this kind of treatment as well, quote
the roads across Missouri were bad and hilly, and with
the exception of a few gravel roads were the worst
on the entire trip. Went away from the railroad, the
people were inhospitable. In one instance, water sufficient for cooking

(35:47):
being refused, and no reliable information regarding the roads could
be gained. The heat for the last three days of
the trip was severe and hard on the men. On
July twenty fourth, eighteen ninety, when the twenty fifth Infantry
Bicycle Corps finally arrived at their destination of Saint Louis,
they were welcomed by about one thousand cyclists who met

(36:09):
them and escorted them to Forest Park, where they were
able to rest and talk to their well wishers and
cycling enthusiasts, although for the first time their camp was
racially segregated, with Moss, Kennedy, and Boose separated from the
enlisted riders. Yeah the newspapers had really covered their ride heavily,
so people were waiting for them to arrive and eager

(36:31):
to kind of celebrate the success of the journey, and
Moss considered the ride to be a success. They had
averaged fifty two miles or about eighty four kilometers per
day at a pace of a little more than six
miles an hour or nine point six kilometers per hour.
They only had that one major breakdown, and there was

(36:51):
only one man who had not made it to the end.
This was private Eugene Jones, who became too ill to
continue and was sent all the way back to Missoula
by train. Although Moss thought that Jones was malingering and
had been hoping to be sent ahead to Saint Louis
to wait for everybody else there. It is not really

(37:12):
clear whether like what this person, whether this person was
really sick, whether Moss was just being judgmental about him,
don't really know. Moss later summed it up this way,
quote the bicycle has a number of advantages over the horses.
It does not require as much care, it needs no forage,

(37:33):
It moves much faster over fair roads. It is not
as conspicuous and can be hidden from view more easily.
It is noiseless and raises but little dust, and it
is impossible to determine direction from its track. Furthermore, the
fighting strength of a bicycle corps is not diminished by horseholders.
Under favorable conditions, the bicycle is invaluable for courier work,

(37:55):
scouting duty, road patrolling, rapid reconnaissances, et cetera. A bicycle
corps as an adjunct to infantry or cavalry could render
excellent service where speed rather than number is required, such
as taking possession of passes, bridges and strong places ahead
of the command and holding them until reinforcements could be
gotten from the main body. On the other hand, in rain, weather,

(38:19):
over bad roads, etc. The horse is superior. The very
thought of the bicycle doing away with the cavalry altogether
is ludicrous. Each has particular functions. The one isn't superior
to the other. The question therefore, which confronts us is
should not a modern, up to date army have both,
that it might avail itself to the advantages of the

(38:41):
one or the other as the proper conditions present themselves.
From here, Moss really wanted to keep riding onto Minneapolis
to demonstrate what the bikes and their riders could do
on better roads than what they had had most of
their time coming down from Missoula. The Army did not
grant permisis for him to do that, though, and the

(39:02):
corps went back to Missoula by train. The bicycles went
back to A. G. Spaldingen Brothers, and when the Corps
got back to Missoula, they learned that the discovery of
gold in Alaska had totally overshadowed their ride. In the newspapers.
In early February of eighteen ninety eight, Moss proposed the
Bicycle Corps take another journey, this time to San Francisco, California.

(39:26):
Colonel Bert theorized that this could also work toward improving
race relations, writing quote, it is well known there is
a prejudice against the colored man. It is a wise
policy to educate the people to become familiar with the
colored man as a soldier. The expedition proposed by Lieutenant
Moss would be a fine educator. The one he made
last year to Saint Louis had a very happy effect.

(39:49):
The men, by their behavior, won the respect of everybody.
But on February fifteenth eighteen ninety eight, the USS Maine
exploded in Havana, Harper and the Spanish American War began
not long after, and that meant testing out the feasibility
of bicycles for army use was no longer a big priority.

(40:11):
The twenty fifth Infantry was sent to training camps in
Georgia and Florida, and then on to Cuba, where, among
other things, they worked to maintain order during a yellow
fever epidemic. The twenty fifth Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corps was
disbanded after they returned to Fort Missoula after the Spanish
American War. Before long, the US Army largely moved on

(40:32):
to gas powered vehicles like motorcycles and cars, rather than
bicycles or horses, although with bicycles still being used in
some cases by messengers, couriers, and the like. Other nations
continued to use bicycle infantries for decades after this, though
especially in the face of shortages in horses or fuel.

(40:52):
As just a few examples, Canadian cycling units performed reconnaissance
and stealth missions during the One Hundred Day Offensive in
World War One, Both the British and the Boers used
bicycle infantry troops during the Anglo Boer Wars in South Africa,
and the French developed a folding bicycle that soldiers could
carry on their backs during World War II. Also, as

(41:15):
we noted at the top of the show, the last
of the Buffalo Soldiers' regiments wasn't dismantled until nineteen fifty one.
So there is a lot of history of these regiments
beyond this one story. But we did want to mention
one incident that was directly connected to some of the
men who were part of this ride, and that was
the Brownsville affair. In nineteen oh six, one person was

(41:37):
killed and another was wounded during gunfire in Brownsville, Texas.
White residents of Brownsville blamed the twenty fifth Infantry Regiment,
who were stationed at nearby Fort brown even though their
commanding officers said that all of the soldiers had been
in their barracks at the time. By order of President

(41:57):
Theodore Roosevelt, one hundred and sixty seven members of the
twenty fifth Infantry were discharged without honor in the wake
of this. Roosevelt described them as maintaining a conspiracy of silence.
Two of the men discharged were Sergeant MINGO. Sanders and
Private John H. Cook, both of whom had been part
of the Bicycle Corps. Sanders was just a little more

(42:19):
than a year away from retirement and being dishonorably discharged
meant that he lost all of his benefits. But this
was an enormous miscarriage of justice. In nineteen seventy, John D.
Weaver published The Brownsville Raid, and the publication of this
book led the Army to conduct a new investigation into
the incident, and that investigation cleared the soldiers of any involvement. Afterward,

(42:46):
they were awarded honorable discharges, although by that point only
one of them was still alive, so most of these
discharges almost all of them were made posthumously. Some did
have surviving widow or descendants who received some compensation from
the government after this, so that felt like a little

(43:08):
of a downer place to in the episode, but it
also felt incomplete not to reference it in any way.
Do you have less downer listener mail? Yes, this is
from Caitlin. Caitlyn wrote, Hi, Tracy and Holly. On a
short trip last week. I was catching up on episodes
and the timing of the week of Popcorn and then

(43:29):
salt made me laugh. Popcorn is one of my peak snacks,
especially when traveling. I can graze through a bag of
pre popped kettle corn like nobody's business. And because of
one of my several syndromes, I have what I casually
refer to as not enough blood disease or hypovealmia minus mild.
But if I get it all dehydrated, I get blood

(43:50):
pressure drops and dizzy spells. So I'm constantly drinking water,
which means I'm also constantly craving salt. One of my
doctors told me about salt supplement pills, and the iodization
episode made me go, look, the supplements are free of
extra iodine. I get plenty through my diet. But it
was an interesting moment of wait, huh uh now the cats.
I've written in with pictures and stories of my torty

(44:12):
baby Sharktipis several times, but at the end of March
he became a big sister. I went to a cat
cafe with a friend just to say hi and left
with the contact of the rescue sponsoring one of the
Orange Boys. He is named after an episode from previous
hosts Sarah and Doblina on sixteenth century Russian history. His
full government name is false Dmitri the Fourth the Final Threats,

(44:36):
although he's more often Dmitri or Demi. He's the sweetest
and most affectionate guy and the total personality inverse of
my full of attitude sharktpis. He loves being held, having
his belly rub and playing fetch with his toy mice.
He's very small cat too. We think he's about two
and a half because of his size when he was
rescued two years ago. But he's skinny and lanky with

(44:56):
the longest gangly legs. I hope you enjoy the attached pictures.
Very excited to see y'all in Indie and hear another
great live show at the History Center Caate Lynn. And
so then we've got pictures of old goodness. The cutest
orange kitty cat. I like a long, spindly cat. One
of ours is like that, and I call him a

(45:17):
snake with legs. I love it. So many good pictures.
I know, not personally, but I know of some people
who have talked about using salt supplements because they have
pots and that has in their particular case sort of
helped with some of the symptoms of that would not
have occurred to me either to look at whether there

(45:40):
was iodine in them. But it makes sense that you
would not necessarily want a bunch of additional iodine in
supplement to get an additional salt into your body. So
thank you so much for this email and these pictures.
If you'd like to send us a note, we're at
History Podcast at iHeartRadio dot com, and we're on social

(46:04):
media at miss in History. That's where you'll find our
Facebook and whatnot, and you can subscribe to our show
on the iHeartRadio app and wherever else you'd like to
get your podcasts. Stuff you Missed in History Class is
a production of iHeartRadio. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit

(46:25):
the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to
your favorite shows.

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