Dan Dahlquist of Galena is going to be a very popular man in Des Moines, Iowa, this coming Saturday. However, he might not be quite as popular as the replica Buffalo Soldier bicycle he’s bringing. That bicycle is the real star of the show!
So. . .what is it about this bicycle that makes Dan so popular?
Let’s start with the Buffalo Soldiers. Native Americans gave this all-Black calvary unit its name. The unit formed in September 1861 during the era where the Army segregated its soldiers and was part of the Army’s 10th calvary unit. This unit was initially called the Colored Cavalry or 25th Regiment.
Then comes the bicycle, specifically the “safety bicycle.” Invented in 1989, this bike featured a chain allowing for propulsion of the rear tire. This bicycle was safer than previous models and it brought about a bicycle craze in the country. There were, in fact, 150 bicycle manufacturers in the United States.
Dan says one in five Chicagoans rode bikes at that time.
The next question is, how are bicycles and the Buffalo Soldiers connected?
In the 1890s, officers began wondering if there was a place for the bicycle in the Army. Calvary units needed horses, but those horses required care; they needed to be fed; they could be spooked.
A bicycle didn’t need this type of tender loving care.
West Point graduate Lt. James Moss promoted the idea of the Army using bicycles as a means of transport. In 1896 A.G. Spalding & Co., provided wood-rimmed bicycles for eight volunteer Buffalo Soldiers.
In August 1896, the group started a four-day, 126-mile ride around the Missoula, Mont., area. Remember, this was a wild area with no paved roads.
Also remember. These bikes weren’t light. They were heavy. Soldiers carried at least 55 pounds of gear or more. Oh. . .there was just one gear. One had to be highly conditioned and strong.
A few days later, Moss followed this ride with another starting Aug. 15 from Ft. Missoula to Ft. Yellowstone and back, a trip of 800 miles ending Sept. 8.
These bikes had issues. The wood rims and tires led to multiple punctures. The bikes continually broke down.
The following year, Moss organized another ride, this time a 40-day, epic 1,900 mile ride from Ft. Missoula to St. Louis, Mo. Spalding provided different bikes. These had steel rims and easily repairable Morgan & Wright tires.
In short, the Buffalo Soldiers distinguished themselves as some of the finest soldiers in the Army. “These soldiers performed magnificently,” Dan notes. “They earned the respect of all.”
A crowd of 10,000 St. Louis residents welcomed the soldiers upon arrival. With the discrimination black soldiers experienced in the Army at that time, this must have been a mind warp experience to receive such adulation.
The Spanish-American War caused the cancellation of the following year’s ride to San Francisco. The Army needed the Buffalo Soldiers in Cuba. The Army then stopped the bicycle experiment.
This year marks the 125th anniversary of the 1897 ride by the Buffalo Soldiers. Although the route didn’t take the soldiers into Iowa, there are two commemorate bike rides, one in Des Moines and the other in Cedar Rapids.
The Des Moines chapter of Black Girls Do Bike is helping organize the Des Moines 125th anniversary Buffalo Soldier Legacy Ride this Saturday, June 11. There is no cost nor is registration needed.
Dayna Chandler, leader of the Des Moines chapter of Black Girls Do Bike is thrilled that Dave’s bike will be in Des Moines for the ride.
She says, “To have a replica of the bike present that day will provide context for the 1,900 miles the Buffalo Soldiers made to St. Louis, from Mt. Missoula, on a bike such as this. The historical artifacts with the replica bike Dave has so generously brought up, makes what the men accomplished more tangible.
“We are very grateful for the opportunity Dave has provided to see and feel a semblance of history up close and personal.”
Dave is just as excited. He’s spent a lot of time learning about the Buffalo Soldiers.
Participants in this ride will meet up at Ryno Velo Bike Shop in Ankeny at 9:30 a.m. This is where Dave and his bike can be found.
This bike is as close as you’re going to get to the 1897 Buffalo Soldier bike. Spalding recalled all those bikes from the 1897 expedition. None is in circulation.
On a side note, bikers will then make their way a block and a half to the High Trestle Trail and venture toward Madrid over the trail’s famous bridge over the Des Moines River. It is Dan’s brother, David, who is credited for this unique bridge’s art.
For information on this ride, send a note to Dayna Chandler, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ride in Cedar Rapids is on Tuesday, June 14. Riders are asked to meet at the Boyson Road Trailhead between 2-2:30 and make their way down the Cedar Valley Nature Trail to Ely and then into Solon.
For information on this ride, send a note to Larry Ritland at: email@example.com.
Dan has one other activity planned for this weekend in Des Moines. He’s going to meet with the Dream Team and share the Buffalo Soldier story with them.
The Dream Team is a group of dedicated young people who have faced challenges. They applied for and were chosen to ride on RAGBRAI. The young people receive a bike and appropriate clothing for training and the ride and are mentored by caring adults, including my friend Scott Matter. Team members who successfully complete the ride are able to keep their bikes and accessories.
It is my hope that these young people see and understand the efforts made by their elders to honor and respect the hard work and accomplishments of those who have come before them–especially those whose story is not generally known.
The biking community is generally a pretty tight community which connects people of many persuasions, cultures and political points of view.
It’s my hope that large crowds participate in these two rides to honor those who did something few of us would attempt today.
by P. Carter Newton, publisher,