Buffalo Soldiers on Bicycles

"Bicyclists' group on Minerva Terrace.  [Lt. James A. Moss's company of 25th Infantry, U. S. Army Bicycle Corps, from Fort Missoula, Montana.]  YNP."  October 7, 1896.
“Bicyclists’ group on Minerva Terrace. [Lt. James A. Moss’s company of 25th Infantry, U. S. Army Bicycle Corps, from Fort Missoula, Montana.] YNP.”    October 7, 1896.
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Buffalo Soldiers ready to ride cross country on their bikes.

While looking for information about Clarence Cleage for this year’s April A-Z Challenge I came across several stunning photographs of Buffalo Soldiers on bicycles.  Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed on September 21, 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas after the end of the Civil War. It is said that various Native American groups noticed the resemblance between the hair of the soldiers and that of the curly, kinky hair of the buffalo and gave them the name of Buffalo Soldiers.

In 1896 the army was considering replacing horses with bicycles as a mode of transportation. They picked the Buffalo Soldiers to try it out. In 1897 the Great Bicycle Ride of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps took place. It went from Fort Missoula to St. Louis, took forty-one days and covered more than 1,900 miles.  For more about the Bicycle ride, visit Riding Through History.

To tie this post in with my A-Z Challenge this year, which is writing about Cleages who started on the Cleage plantations in Athens, Tennessee. Some are related to me, most are not.   Clarence Cleage is a bit of a departure because he was not born until 1893 in Chattanouga, Tennessee, well after the end of slavery. I cannot find him in the 1900 census, and the online death record does not include the names of his parents, so I am unable to connect him to any specific Athens Cleage family.  I know there is a tie in and I will find it eventually.  Clarence is the only Cleage who enlisted in the Buffalo Soldiers.

Buffalo Soldiers driving wagons through town.
Buffalo Soldiers driving wagons leaving Fort Ethan Allen for Pine Camp in New York – 1913 Clarence would have been traveling with them.  Photo from Buffalo Soldiers – Fort Ethan Allen

In Columbus, Ohio in 1909 Clarence Cleage enlisted in the US tenth Calvary, widely known as the Buffalo Soldiers.  In the 1910 Census he was at Fort Ethan Allen, in Vermont. The Buffalo Soldiers were based there from 1909 until 1913, when they were relocated to Fort Huachuca in Arizona.  I can imagine his feelings about the cold and snow he found in Vermont.

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The Hamilton National Bank Building. Click to enlarge. (The Chattanoougan)

His military service ended October 1, 1919 and he returned to Chattanooga where he married Anne Mae and worked as an elevator operator at the Hamilton National Bank Building.  He worked there for several years until moving to Chicago, Illinois where we find him in 1930.

In the 1930 Census Clarence and Anne rented their house.  They had a 13 year old son, Scott and several lodgers shared the home.  Clarence works as an auto mechanic for an automobile sales company.  Anna has no outside job and Scott attends school.  Clarence says that he fought in World War 1.  They own a radio.

In the 1940 Census Clarence was still repairing cars.  His highest grade completed was the 6th.  Anne had completed the 3rd year of High School.  Three lodgers shared the house.  Their son Scott married the previous year and lived elsewhere with his wife.  In 1941 Clarence filed his WW2 Draft Registration Card. He was no longer repairing cars, but worked at the post office.  They also provided a description, he was 48 years old, stood 5 ft 11 in and weighted 205 pounds. He had a light brown complexion, black hair and brown eyes.  They continued to live at 6222 South Indiana Ave.  And the row house is still standing.

6222 Indiana Ave.  From Google.
6222 Indiana Ave. From Google.

Clarence Cleage died in 1970 in Chicago, Illinois. His wife, Anne, died in 1976.

More about the   10th Cavalry Regiment – Wikipedia,   25th Bicycle CorpsRiding Through History (This one has a great photograph of Buffalo Soldiers in 1900 posing by some rocks.)

Click for more Sepia Saturday bikers.
Click for more Sepia Saturday bikers.

37 thoughts on “Buffalo Soldiers on Bicycles”

  1. This is an incredibly interesting post. I’m still working my way through all the links. What a story.

  2. Of course I’ve heard about the Buffalo Soldiers from Bob Marley’s song, but the first photograph of the cyclists arrayed on the silica terraces is stunning. How interesting to hear of your Clarence Cleage’s service with that unit. Those houses in Indiana Avenue look very well looked after.

    How frustrating not being able to make any progress with Clarence’s ancestry.

    1. Yes, I think it very likely that it’s either a mis-spelling (or perhaps just different spelling) of the name, or even a mistake in the indexing. In many years of dealing with census records, I have encountered so many such “errors,” and even made a few of my own mistakes when transcribing and indexing, that whenever I hear people say that so-and-so “must have been out of the country” for a particular census, or “was left off the schedules,” or something similar, I am always somewhat doubtful. In most cases, they are there somewhere, they just need to be found.

  3. A great post! That first photograph is a real standout. And the story to follow was very interesting – including going on to read about the Buffalo Soldiers riding through history. I’ve heard the term “Buffalo Soldiers” before, but didn’t know how the name came about.

  4. I loved it. You know I have a love for the Military and surely didn’t know about those bicycles! I love the Buffalo Soldier story especially Cathey Williams. She was the 1st Woman. The row house find was exciting to actually see where they lived. Great Post Kris! xoxo’s! Here’s to finding more on Clarence!

    1. Thank True! Maybe it was him ringing the doorbell the other night 😀 I love finding houses intact too. It’s pretty rare that it’s not gone, gone, gone.

  5. like Brett, I only knew of Buffalo Soldiers from Bob Marley’s song. Thanks for enlightening us so well, with all that historical detail and some stunning photographs, particularly the first one.

    1. That one and one of those you have to click through to see of the group gathered in the rocks, are my favorite. I wonder what other photographs that photographer took.

  6. A fascinating story with great photographs especially.y that first one where, where the. soldiers seem so artistically posed. Such an opportune find for this week ‘s prompt too.

    1. I couldn’t let that photo go unshared. And the information was so interesting. Who would suspect that the Buffalo Soldiers were once stationed in Vermont?!

  7. Wow, what a story! That first photograph is incredible. 1,900 miles on one of those old bikes must have been dreadful. You’ll find Clarence, I’m sure…just takes lots of time and even more patience!

    1. I have every hope that with records that weren’t there the day before when I looked and my obsessive searching, I will one day know who his parents were.

  8. Oh my! What a fun A To Z! This is a great lens with which to view an important slice of US history- the slave years and what happened after, as seen through the movements of people from a single plantation. Great!

  9. The soldiers must have felt grand, being able to move around on bikes. The British used them too, especially for communications in battle.

    1. I don’t know about how grand they felt, riding through the Rocky Mountains must have been torture. I think I would have preferred my horse back!

  10. What a fantastic photograph of the Buffalo Soldiers. It is great that the row houses ares still standing. I often go on google maps to try and locate the addresses where my ancestors lived. Unfortunately most of the original homes have been torn down and replaced with modern structures. Just want you to know that you really are an inspiration to me.

    1. Usually when I go looking, I find either a parking lot, a freeway or vacant land. It’s a real pleasure to find a house in good condition.

  11. A fascinating family relation to research. I’ve come across the story of the 10th Cavalry and the Bicycle Corps before when trying to identify some military band musicians. The 10th Cavalry’s service along the Mexican Border makes for an exciting history that was overshadowed by the events in Europe.

  12. Your s is a perfect example of how to write up a family history narrative – I’m going to study it carefully – its not just personal and taken from research and records but is fascinating to all of us who are not related, don’t even live in the same country. Well done you:)

  13. I learned about the Buffalo Soldiers a few years ago when my husband was touring with a show about them. Fascinating history. Thanks for sharing. Good luck with the rest of the Challenge!

    Hi from Nagzilla bloghopping A to Z

  14. Kristin, this is an interesting account of Clarence’s career as a Buffalo Soldier and following. How great that the challenge tied in with it. I didn’t know about the bicycle mode of transportation. I’ll bet a lot of others don’t know either.

    Reading about his career changes was interesting too. It shows he was a highly-motivated individual who knew greater opportunities existed and didn’t allow himself to get comfortable in any one position.

    The bicycle pictures are awesome selections for this post. But the house on Indiana Avenue is a familiar sight. I’m not surprised that it’s still standing. In high school, my boyfriend took me to meet his mom. And this photo reminds me of the house where she lived. They are well-made structures that were built to withstand those “Windy City” springs and winters.

    I’ll have to go back and read more about Clarence. He reminds me of my parents’ relatives and friends.

    1. Let me know if it turns out they knew each other. It does look like a well build house, but that doesn’t stop them from being torn down for the “progress” of the city, sad to say. But so happy it’s standing and he did seem to be able to move with the times.

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