As we observe Black History Month, we’re watching this hourlong PBS Montana documentary from 2000 that paints a picture of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, recounting their groundbreaking 1897 ride from Missoula, Montana, to St. Louis, Missouri. It was a 2,000-mile trip that served as a test run to see whether or not the bicycle could replace the horse as the primary means of transporting infantry soldiers in the field.
It also takes a broader look at the life of African American soldiers at the close of the 1800s, who were then considered second-class soldiers and were often outfitted with sub-par gear yet proved to be some of the Army’s best and most disciplined soldiers. Specifically, this documentary profiles First Sergeant Mingo Sanders, who was a leader among the Buffalo Soldiers.
Prior to their journey, only a small handful of the 20 Black riders in the Bicycle Corps were experienced cyclists, and according to the documentary, one soldier had only been riding for a week at the time they set off on their arduous journey, throughout which they encountered extraordinarily challenging terrain and braved exposure to all the elements. Using handlebar rolls and leather frame bags, the men carried around 55 pounds of gear each aboard their simple 1897 Spalding ‘Special’ Model 922 bicycles, which you can learn more about over at the Online Bicycle Museum.
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