Black Soldiers Cycled 1,900 Miles Across the U.S. So He Did, Too.

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A singular travel from Montana to St. Louis by 20 Black infantrymen successful 1897 seemed doomed to obscurity until Erick Cedeño, a bicyclist, retraced their journey.

A antheral   with long, metallic  dreadlocks and a helmet rides a bicycle outdoors successful  a green, grassy environment.
“I privation everyone to know,” Erick Cedeño said of the 20 Black soldiers’ bicycling feat successful 1897. He drew caller attraction to their communicative by re-enacting the expedition past year.Credit...Josh Caffrey

March 3, 2023, 5:00 a.m. ET

In the summertime of 1897, 20 Black U.S. Army infantrymen cycled 1,900 miles connected fixed-gear, state-of-the-art bikes from Fort Missoula, Mont., to St. Louis. The Army ordered the grueling expedition to spot whether soldiers could signifier a bicycle corps. Newspapers chronicled their advancement arsenic they pedaled 50 miles a time successful mud and sand, done Montana’s snowy mountains and crossed Nebraska’s burning plains. The 41-day undertaking was a spot of mislaid subject past until Erick Cedeño, a long-distance cyclist and a exemplary based successful Santa Monica, Calif., reenacted it successful June of past year, connected the expedition’s 125th anniversary.

“I’ve ever been fascinated with history,” said Mr. Cedeño, 49, who has spent years gathering photos and documents related to the infantrymen and their journey. It was connected a cycling travel from Miami to New York, astir 10 years ago, erstwhile helium decided helium wanted to larn much astir the past of long-distance cycling. His curiosity led him to the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps.

“It was the archetypal clip that I saw a Black antheral from that clip traveling by bike,” helium said, referring to the humanities photos of the soldiers connected their bicycles.


The 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps poses astatine Yellowstone National Park during a shorter expedition successful 1896.Credit...F. Jay Haynes. Courtesy of the Montana Historical Society.

The soldiers were portion of the 25th Infantry Regiment, 1 of the African American units whose members were besides known arsenic Buffalo Soldiers. The 20 selected men, who were joined by a doc and a writer connected the expedition, were led by Lieutenant James Moss, who was fascinated by bikes, and projected creating a bicycle corps. Lt. Moss, who was white, had graduated past successful his people astatine West Point (the United States Military Academy), conscionable 3 years earlier the expedition.

“Most of the radical did not privation to enactment westbound of the Mississippi,” Mr. Cedeño said. “So westbound of the Mississippi was near to the past successful the class. And astir of the time, westbound of the Mississippi meant that you had to enactment with African American troops.”

It was these troops who achieved a singular feat successful some Black and cycling past — 1 that Mr. Cedeño has drawn caller attraction to by pursuing successful their bicycle tracks and telling their stories. I spoke to him astir it successful February, aft helium gave a speech astir the travel astatine the Explorers’ Club, a members-only nine successful New York City.

The speech has been edited for magnitude and clarity.

I started my expedition astatine 5:30 a.m. connected June 14, 2022, precisely the hr and day the soldiers acceptable off. It was 42 degrees erstwhile I was riding successful Montana, and arsenic idiosyncratic who lives successful Southern California, that’s beauteous cold. It was windy but determination was nary snow, which they dealt with. On the little plains into Nebraska, it became truly hot, astir 105, 106 degrees astir each day. Luckily for me, I was not connected an service expedition, truthful I was capable to instrumentality my garment off. Every 10 miles, I would spell into a convenience store and inquire if I could spell into the brew cooler. I would devour my snacks wrong the brew cooler. People were truthful great. Once I told radical what I was doing, they were like, ‘yeah, please, immoderate you want!’ The soldiers didn’t person that accidental to spell into a brew cooler. They besides rode successful azygous and carried dense rifles connected their backs. These guys were astir superheroes, you know, similar superpowered.

They had the latest motorcycle astatine the time, an 1897 Special Spalding that outgo astir $75, which astatine that clip was a batch of wealth for a bike. The Spalding institution donated the bikes successful the anticipation that the Army would bargain much if it worked out. So, azygous speed. In 1886, the bikes had woody wheels and nary concatenation guards. In 1897, they saw that ‘if we’re going done snowfall and rain, we’re going to person to alteration the woody wheels to alloy wheels and adhd the concatenation guard.’ Which they did.

There was a h2o contented that started erstwhile they crossed Wyoming to South Dakota. They drank immoderate contaminated h2o and a fewer of them got ill. Regardless of what was going on, they had to support moving. There were times erstwhile they rode astir 50 miles without water. They had bacon, flour, coffee, near astatine drop-offs adjacent the railroad each 100 miles. Along the way, they would bargain nutrient and eggs from farmers.


A colorized photograph of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps successful Livingston, Mont., successful 1897.Credit...Edward Boos. Courtesy of The Historical Museum astatine Fort Missoula.


Mr. Cedeño successful Livingston successful 2022.Credit...Rob Park

I don’t cognize if it was better. I mean, they inactive dealt with immoderate racism there, but they were portion of the community, and they did truthful overmuch for the communities that radical realized they had to springiness them respect. The 25th Infantry Regiment was stationed retired determination doing Army things, similar helping reconstruct bid during mining strikes.

They encountered expanding racism arsenic they got farther eastbound and south, particularly successful Missouri. But past erstwhile they got to St. Louis, implicit 10,000 radical showed up to observe them. Some 300 cyclists rode the past fewer miles with them. That made maine happy.

The Army ne'er created a corps, though I perceive they tried them successful Poland and India. In 1898, immoderate of the Buffalo Soldiers were sent to combat the Spanish War successful Cuba. Some returned to Missoula, Mont. Some were sent to Brownsville, Texas. In 1906, determination was an incident determination for which the Black soldiers were wrongly blamed. They were cleared by section instrumentality enforcement, but Teddy Roosevelt dishonorably discharged them anyway. First Sergeant Mingo Sanders, the oldest rider successful the expedition, was adjacent status and pension. I person seen a missive to the president pleading that helium not beryllium discharged. But helium was. That wounded maine a lot.

This is lone 41 years aft slavery, wherever immoderate of their dads, their moms, were enslaved. And for the archetypal time, they had a job. They felt similar portion of society. They felt like, we’re equal. They’re warring for this country. They conscionable came from war. We person the names of 20 riders. These men are somebody’s grandparents, somebody’s great-grandparents. They don’t cognize however badass they were. I privation everyone to know.

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