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Sheridan celebrates a little known African American Army regiment

Iron Riders Buffalo Soldier Bikes the 25th Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corp Bike
Sheridan County Land Trust
Members of the 25th Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corp.

The Sheridan Community Land Trust celebrated Juneteenth by inviting Buffalo Soldier reenactors, showing a short historical movie and creating a new, virtual tour that stretches 40 miles in length.

According to Kevin M. Knapp, the history program manager for the Sheridan County Land Trust, the primary focus of the event was telling the story of and honoring Iron Riders, better known as the 25th Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corp. They were an all-Black regiment that operated in the late 1890s and that helped make bikes look the way modern bikes do today.

Bikes were popular in Europe at the time and were seen by some military officials as an upgrade from the horse. As a result, the Iron Riders, commanded by Lieutenant James Moss, led the 1,900-mile trip on industrial era bicycles, a challenging task without some modern features like bigger tires, gears and a metal frame.

“At the time, they start[ed] out in early 1896 with basically wagon wheels, like a wood glued to your frame that peels off as it gets wet. Just terrible. To where when they're leaving in 1897, they're actually testing the first, what we know of, as like a rubber tire on a steel frame,” said Knapp.

Starting in Fort Missoula in Montana and ending in St. Louis, Missouri, the Iron Riders would cross different terrains, environments and weather conditions, testing out various bike designs. All the riding was done by Buffalo Soldiers, regiments of exclusively African American soldiers used at the turn of the 19th century on the frontier.

Lieutenant Moss was strict with the soldiers. often telling his men that if they wanted to eat, they had to make it to the next food drop. Those were spread apart every 10 or 20 miles on their mapped out path. Moss, despite being stationed in a post-Civil War South, enjoyed working with the Buffalo Soldiers. Eventually, during the Mexican-American War, Moss would prefer to work with Buffalo Soldiers.

However, these were still Black people crossing the country after a bloody Civil War for their freedom. Lieutenant Moss, an accompanying journalist and the corp’s physician were white. Knapp said that Buffalo Soldiers biked every mile of the journey, while the white men would occasionally catch a train to meet them at their next stop. When riding through Sheridan, the brigade stopped at the Sheridan Inn. The three white members of the brigade were allowed in, but the Iron Riders themselves were denied service.

“The three white guys that went inside and had fine dining while the Buffalo Soldiers ate canned beans outside,” explained Knapp. “And so that's a part of why we're hosting it [at the Sheridan Inn] is to kind of acknowledge that and invite them to be at that venue and be proud and celebrate at that venue.”

Sheridan invited the Buffalo Soldiers 9th and 10th Cavalry Associations to the event not only to perform and educate, but to stand in the halls of a building that once denied their forefathers service based on skin tone. Additionally, Knapp helped the town develop a GPS guided tour using a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

“[This] is not the typical grant you would get out here in Wyoming. Those are usually going to somewhere where there's more of a civil rights history,” said Knapp.

The tour itself is embedded into the landscape, requiring only a GPS signal to take it. While one can ride it on a modern bike with more ease than the Iron Riders had, Knapp expects most people to take the tour by car. Starting at the Sheridan Inn and ending at the Claremont Historical Center, the tour stretches 40 miles.

“As you go out and hit these specific GPS points, it starts talking to you with our pre-recorded audio tour,” said Knapp.

Knapp hopes to work with Campbell County to possibly extend the tour.

“Our ideal would be that we could have some kind of interpretation all the way from Missoula to St. Louis. We'd love it,” said Knapp.

Jordan Uplinger was born in NJ but has traveled since 2013 for academic study and work in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He gained experience in a multitude of areas, including general aviation, video editing, and political science. In 2021, Jordan's travels brought him to find work with the Wyoming Conservation Corps as a member of Americorps. After a season with WCC, Jordan continued his Americorps service with the local non-profit, Feeding Laramie Valley. His deep interest in the national discourse on class, identity, American politics and the state of material conditions globally has led him to his current internship with Wyoming Public Radio and NPR.

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