01 May 2010

Lt. Moss and the men on their "wheels"

[73.0031],U.M. Collection, F.M Ingalls, Archives & Special Collections, Mansfield Library, University of Montana- used by permission- unauthorized use is prohibited

In 1897, 20 soldiers, an army surgeon and a reporter led by Lt. James A. Moss, rode bicycles from Fort Missoula in Montana to St. Louis, Missouri. The trip was made as an experiment to see whether the bicycle could serve a useful purpose in the Army. 1890s America was also experiencing a bicycle-craze due to the recent invention of the "safety bicycle" (a bicycle with wheels of equal size and chain driven). Accounts make it clear that Moss had a romantic streak, and enjoyed the outdoors, as well as what he referred to as "the poetry of cycling".

The 41-day journey to St. Louis was 1,900 miles and took the men through Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Missouri. In the 1890s, the Army was segregated, with most black units (a.k.a "Buffalo Soldiers") serving in the isolated outposts in the West. Fort Missoula, at that time, was home to the 25th Infantry, a black regiment. Moss was a Southerner and recent graduate of West Point. He was only twenty-five years old. He and some of the '97 riders had done trips before. In the summer of 1896, eight of them rode first to the Mission Mountains, north of Missoula and then Yellowstone Park. For the St. Louis trip, Moss picked a path that mostly followed the railroads -- the Northern Pacific to Billings and then various arms of the Burlington the rest of the way.

Fortunately, Eddie Boos, a nineteen-year-old, rode along with the Corps to St. Louis and wired lengthy reports to the local Missoula paper, as well as newspapers all over the United States. Combining his accounts with those of Lt. Moss, we get a fairly detailed picture of the trip. Sadly, no accounts from the soldiers, themselves, are known to exist. We only know them through Boos and Moss's somewhat stereotyped descriptions. Nevertheless, what comes through is a group of highly dedicated, tough, resilient, men who at the end of a long, hard ride still had a keen sense of humor and enjoyment of life*. A year after the trip they proved their mettle as soldiers, securing key victories during the Spanish-American War. Boos tells us that the Corps was escorted by hundreds as they drew closer to the finish of their journey and were welcomed by over 10,000 upon reaching their goal in Forest Park in St. Louis.

On this blog you will find primary sources, including newspaper accounts, Lt. Moss's reports and links to 1890s maps. It is my hope that those familiar with this story will find this site a useful research tool. I invite you to help me add to the available body of information if you know of anything I've missed. For those new to the story, perhaps this site will spark further interest.

* "At the battle of San Juan, when numbers of the American bicycle corps were wounded, they would simply say, "I've got a puncture."

26 January 2009

Wildflowers Boos reported seeing

Camas prairie wildflower

Purple coneflower - This is probably the flower Boos described as being like the Montana Arnica, but with pink petals, according to Earl Jensen [Greybull, WY], local wildflower expert.

Montana Arnica

22 January 2009

25 July 1997

Epilouge - After the Trip

The enthusiasm of the wheelmen of St. Louis over the wonderful trip of the bicycle corps of the 25th United States Infantry has not yet had time to cool. That bicycle ride of 2,000 miles from Fort Missoula to this city, over mountains, streams and deserts, marks an epoch in wheeling. In the first period, the wheel was a toy; in the second period, wheeling was looked upon as a sport; the third period has arried when the world must acknowledge the wheel to be a practical, all-around machine.
Great credit is due to Lieutenant Moss for planning and carrying into execution this ride. He is himself firmly convinced that the bicycle will fill a place in military tactics which has heretofore been unfilled. No troop of cavalry could by any possibility do what this bicycle corps has done, making an average of over fifty-five miles a day during the riding days,--an average of only a little under fifty miles a day, counting all the days, those given to rest as well as those spent in the saddle.
The wheels which the private soldiers rode were specially constructed for the purpose. But Lieutenant Moss rode an ordinary roadster, -- just such a one as thousands of riders are using every day in this country. These men carried no only their rifles, but all their equipments and camp equipage. In fact they rode in heavy marching order. They encountered mud and sand, rain and snow, heat, winds, rocks, mountains, gumbo soil (that which there is none worse in the world when it rains) and roads strewn with prickly cactus. Yet they covered one day over seventy miles, and on several days they rode more than sixty miles.
Perhaps the most remarkable circumstance is the fine condition of the wheels at the trip's end. There was, necessarily, break downs and punctures. But when the men finally pitched their tents in our beautiful Forest Park no one would have surmised that their wheels had been subjected to such a tremendous test. They bore comparison well with the average wheel ridden by those who flocked to gaze on the corps.
Lieutenant Moss and his men have been greatly pleased with the reception they have received here. Not only was the Lieutenant given a luncheon by the Good Streets Committee of the L.A.W., but the private soldiers were well taken care of. On several occassions the corps has given a public exhibition of its drill and peculiar evolutions, much to the admiration of the host of spectators."

22oo Miles
On Wheels.
Over Snow-Capped Mountains and
Across Vast Stretches of
Akali Desert
Riders Endured Hunger and Thirst,
Snow, Rain and Scorching Sun
Twenty-two men on bicycles, grimy, rain-soaked, weather-beaten and tattered, rode up to the cottage in Forest Park at 6:45 o'clock last night. A hundred odd cyclists cheered them as they dismounted.
Henry V. Lucas, president of the Associated Cycling Clubs of St. Louis, stepped out and grasped the hand of the sun-browned young man who led the corps of riders. he called for three cheers and a tiger and they were heartily given.
That was the end of the 2,200-mile ride of the Twenty-fifth Regiment, U.S.A., bicycle corps, from Fort Missoula, Mont., to St. Louis--the greatest feat in the history of the latest development in the science of warfare.
The little band of enthusiastic spectators knew that every grimy rider was a hero who had endured adventure beyond the wildest flights of imaginative romanticists.
They had crossed from the furthermost corner of the States to the heart of the Mississippi Valley. For forty-one days they had ridden an average of 53 1/2 miles a day. They had slept under the stars. Rain and snow had pelted them. The sun scorched them until they fell exhausted in the road.
Negroes though they were the cyclists of St. Louis who could appreciate their feat were glad to welcome them with honor and make them their guests.
The corps will rest in St. Louis for a week at least, until orders are received from the War Department for their return to their post in the far Northwest.
Today and Monday they will be in camp on the hill just south of the cottage in Forest Park. The public will have ample chance to see what men look like after a 2,200 mile bicycle ride.
This morning, under escort of the Associated Cycling Clubs of St. Louis, the corps will parade through Forest Park, east on Lindell boulevard to Grand Avenue, south to West Pine boulevard, thence west to Spring avenue, back to Lindell boulevard and return to camp.
The parade will form at the cottage at 10:30 o'clock sharp. A detachment of mounted police, the Branch Guards Bicycle Corps, the Associated Cycling Clubs and Good Streets Committee will be in line.
In the afternoon the corps will give an exhibition drill on the Y.M.C.A. grounds in the park. Monday they will remain in camp and Tuesday they will wheel to Jefferson Barracks.
Once at the military reservation they will doff their picturesque tatters. In new uniforms all traces of the trip will be at an end.
Lieutenant Moss, Lieut. Kennedy, the surgeon and Mr. Edward Boos, a civilian who accompanied the corps in the capacity of official reporter, will be the objects of great social attention while in the city. They have been tendered the courtesies of the University Club and Mr. Henry V. Lucas will be their social mentor, which means they will have an enjoyable time in every possible way.
Rain and mud made the closing hours of the memorable ride an echo of the first two weeks.
On Sunday, June 14, the corps set out from Fort Missoula, one of Uncle Sam's miliarty posts in the northwest corner of far-off Montana. The start was made at daybreak in a blinding rainstorm. The rain kept up for two weeks, but the corps pushed on, riding the railroad ties where the ballast would permit, and walking where the roads were impassable.
When they struck a stream they forded it, rider and wheel alike indifferent to water. At Mullan's Divide, in the Rocky Mountains, the corps pushed their wheels through six inches of snow.
The men paid heavily for their rapid riding and Surgeon Kennedy had three cases of heat prostration on his hands.
William L. Sachtleben, the globe girding cyclist; William Chase and William Sanderson of St. Louis rode out to St. Charles to pilot the corps into the city.
At 1 o'clock the start was made. The corps rode the Wabash track into Bonfils (sp?) and then took a half hour's walk through the slush to the St. Charles Rock road. They had an easy spin then into the city.
The corps entered St. Louis at Wellston and rode to Rinkle's, where Henry Lucas and a big delegation of local wheelmen awaited them.
Among the party were George Durant, Cliff Allen, Will Nisket, T. Henry Kent, Ed Simmons, Julius Toy, Harry Crow, C.C. Branch Guards Bicycle Corps un-uniformed.
The brigade moved east on Easton avenue to Union boulevard and cut across the park. It was met at the entrance by Sergt. Callens (sp?) and four mounted aides.
The blue-coats cleared the roads as the troop rode swiftly over the gravel road-ways.
There was a running fire of cheers from the throng of pleasure-seekers that was caught up by the waiting crowd at the cottage as the procession was seen moving across the bridge at the foot of the hill.
The loyal cyclists made a detour and lined up along the cottage to let the corps pass in review as it ended its memorable journey.
Lieut. Moss, with Lieut. Kennedy and Mr. Boos, rode five wheel lengths in front of the corps that followed after in platoons of fours.
The men wore their faded blue coats, their rifles were slung across their shoulders and their bayonet scabbards clanked against their wheel frames.
They moved swiftly up the hill as perfect in formation as a troop of cavalry. When the word "Halt" came they dismounted and their faces were illuminated with broad grins. The end of their adventures had come.
A moment later they moved up the hill, walking their wheels. They aligned in review. Lieut. Moss said: "Our trip is ended. I thank you for your fortitude. You will now rest wheels and fall in for mess."
The cycles were banked against the trees and while the officers were receiving the congratulations of friends, Bugler Johnson blew the "mess call." The men fell in and marched to the Cottage Annex, where thy sat down to a hearty supper of beefsteak, tomatoes, bread and butter, milk and coffee.
The men will not have to look after their own food while they are the guests of the A.C.C.
After supper the men built camp fires on the hill where Park Commissioner Ridgely had provided fuel and water. All evening they were the center of attraction for a throng of visitors.
At 10 o'clock the shelter tents were up, the blankets were spread and the men turned in for a well-deserved rest.
The ride of Lieut. Moss and his men is a feat of world-wide interest. Military cycling has been the rage in Germany and France, but nothing approaching this 2,200-mile journey has been accomplished.
The conditions under which it was made mark it as a unique test of the bicycle's fitness in warfare.
No condition of weather, no topographical obstacle was wanting. "We endured every possible condition of warfare, but being shot at," is the way Lieut. Moss puts it.
"The trip has proved beyond peradventure my contention that the bicycle has a place in modern warfare. In every kind of weather, over all sorts of roads, we averaged fifty miles a day. At the end of the journey we are all in good physical condition.
"Seventeen tires and half a dozen broken frames is the sum of our damage. The practical result of the trip shows that an army bicycle corps can travel twice as fast as cavalry or infantry under any conditions, and at one-third the cost and effort."
- Sunday Morning - St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 25, 1897

“Just before leaving Fort Missoula and again three days after reaching St. Louis, the soldiers were weighed and measured. Sixteen gained in chest expansion; the greatest individual gain being 3 ins. And the smallest 1/8, the average being 1.16 ins; three neither gained or lost. Four increased in right biceps measurements—maximum increase 3/4 in; minimum 1/4 in: nine lost – maximum loss 1 1/2 ins; minimum 1/4 in; five neither increased nor decreased. Ten gained in right leg measurements: maximum gain 1 in; minimum 1/8 in—four lost. Maximum loss 1 in; minimum 1/4; five neither lost nor gained. Fourteen gained in weight: maximum gain 9 lbs; minimum 2 lbs –five lost; maximum loss 6 lbs; minimum 1 lb."
- J.A. Moss, Report to the Adjutant

"MILITARY CYCLING. – A Detailed Report to be Made by Lieut. J.M. Moss. [BY ASSOCIATED PRESS WIRE] ST. LOUIS, Aug. 15 -- Lieutenant J.M. Moss and the members of the bicycle corps, Twenty-fifth Regiment, U.S.A., will leave Jefferson Barracks tomorrow and return by rail to their regiment at Fort Missoula, Mont. When Lieut. Moss reaches Fort Missoula, his first duty will be to prepare a detailed report of the trip and forward it to the War Department.
The report to be furnished the War Department will contain a more minute description of the journey than has reached the general public, the quantity of rations carried; the details of their consumption and distribution, the weight of accoutrements and the detailed manner of their shifting, the arragement of the pair problem, so that the entire command was never delayed in progress, the physical capacity of the men to cover certain distances in certain times, the effects of hunger and thirst, the adaptability of the wheel to topographical and meteorological conditions –all these conditions will be discussed in detail from the standpoint of a military expert."
- Los Angeles Times, Aug. 16, 1897

"The place the bicycle will have in military affairs and plans is a question now engaging the attention of officers of the United States army. A test has just been made by a trip of twenty-three regular troops on wheels from Missoula, Mont., to St. Louis, 1900 miles, the average per day being fifty-two and two-thirds miles. Lieutenant Moss, who had command of the expedition, reports as follows:
The trip has proven beyond peradventure the contention that the bicycle has a place in modern warfare. In every kind of weather, on all sorts of roads, we averaged fifty miles a day. At the end of the journey we are all in good physical condition. Seventeen tires and a half dozen broken frames is the sum of our damage. The practical result of the trip shows that an army bicycle corps can travel twice as fast as cavalry or infantry under any conditions and at one-third the cost and effort."
- Galveston Daily News Wednesday, July 28, 1897

"A dispatch from St. Louis tells of the arrival in that city of the troopers of the Twenty-fifth infantry, who started from Ft. Missoula, Minn.,[sic] and passed through Lincoln on bicycles. The trip of 2,000 miles was made in forty days, thirty-five of which were actually spent on the road. The dispatch says:
The first twelve days of the trip were rainy and disagreeable, but good time was made, nevertheless. It was during these days that the main divide of the Rocky mountains was crossed as well as the greater part of Montana. There were a few pleasant days while the corps was in Montana and excellent runs were made. In crossing the Crow Indian reservation heavy rains fell and the corps was stuck in gumbo much of the time. All the way across Wyoming rain hampered the progress of the company and many hardships arose from lack of good water.
The southwestern corner of South Dakota was crossed, two days being occupied in that state. The sandy roads were awful and the prairie beside the road was a field of prickly pears making travel on the whole very careful and tiresome work. A stretch of good buy hilly road was struck afer leaving Edgemont, and the run from that to the Nebraska line was made in short order.
As soon as Nebraska was reached new troubles confronted the corps in the shape of sand hills and heat. From the state line in Alliance the roads were fair, being only sandy patches, but after Alliance was reached and for a distance of nearly 200 miles the sand in the roads was eight and ten inches deep. The road was given up and the railroad was used, the men riding as much as possible, but walking the greater part of the time. While in this desolate country there was no good water to drink and a number of the men were taken sick. After four days of suffering the sand hills were passed. The corps passed through Grand Island, Lincoln, and Table Rock, in Nebraska, and out of that state into Missouri on July 17, at Rulo. As a whole the roads through Nebraska were good, but far from being level, short steep hills being continually encountered.
The first camp was made at Napier, St. Joseph, Hamilton, Macon, Louisiana and St. Peters being camping places for the other nights. The roads across Missouri were bad and hilly and with the exception of a few gravel roads were the worst on the entire trip. When away from the railroad the people were inhospitable; in one instance water sufficient for cooking was refused and no reliable information regarding the roads could be gained. The heat for the last three days of the trip was severe and hard on the men.
The distance on the trip was 1,900 miles, the average per day being fifty two and two-thirds miles. After leaving the Nebraska sand hills the average was over sixty miles per day.
The bicycles stood the trip remarkably well, but few accidents of a serious nature having occurred, those that did occur being through carelessness. According to Lieutenant Moss the trip was a success froma military standpoint.
In an interview Lieutenant Moss said: “The trip has proved beyond peradventure my contention that the bicycle has a place in modern warfare. In every kind of weather, over all sorts of roads, we averaged fifty miles a day. At the end of the journey we are all in good physical condition. Seventeen tires and half a dozen broken frames are the sum of our damage. The practical result of our trip shows that an army bicycle corps can travel twice as fast as cavalry or infantry, under any conditions and at one-third the cost. I am not sure whether we will return on our wheels or not, but will know as soon as orders are received from Washington.”
- The Evening News[Lincoln, NE] pg. 8, July 26, 1897

" Of Interest to Wheelmen. Washington, Sept. 21 – The war department has made public the report of James A. Moss, Twenty-fifth infantry, who commanded the bicycle corps which made the long journey from Fort Missoua, Mon. to St. Louis last summer. The document is filled with information of the greatest value to bicyclists who contemplate making long trips awheel. Every ounce of foot eaten every days events mishaps and experiences are set down with military exactness yet in a style that makes the subject entertaining reading for wheelmen."
- The Times Democrat [Lima, Ohio] July 21, 1897

"The bicycle corps fo the Twenty-fifth United States Infantry recently rode from Fort Missoula, Mont., to St. Louis, Mo, a distance of 1,900 miles. The commander of the corps has reported to the War Department that the trip required thirty-four days of actual travel, at an average rate of 6.3 miles per hour. A large part of the trip was made under trying conditions, over mountains, and on sandy or muddy roads, with an occassional fording of streams; the men leving meanwhile on the regulation field and travel ration. The health of the command was excellent, and none of the soldiers were disabled; the commander thinks that the practicability of the bicycle as a means of military transportation is demonstrated."
- Alton Evening Telegraph [Alton, Illinois] pg. 2 October 23, 1897

Missoula, under command of Lieutenant Moss, and the wheel has proved to be of practical utility --

"Bicycles for the Army – Experimental Ride Begun from Missoula to Jefferson Barracks. – Fort Missoula, Mont., June 14 – Twenty-four men started Saturday on a ride of nearly 2,500 miles to Jefferson Barracks, Mo., which will be reached in about six weeks. Whether bicycles will be used in the army depends on the result of the experiments, including cooking utensils and shelter tents, are carried on the wheels. Each member of the party wears the regulation field service uniform with the exception of bicycle shoes. Ten of the men carry their Kreg-Jorgensen rifles slung to their machines under the left leg and parallel to the top tubing of the frame. The rest of the party carry pistols. Each is supplied with 75 rounds of ammunition."
- Clinton Mirror [Clinton, Iowa] pg. 2 June 19. 1897

"SOLDIER CYCLISTS RETURN – Journey of 2,380 Miles from Fort Missoula to St. Louis on Wheels St. Louis, Mo., Aug. 18 – The center of attraction at the union station Monday night was the company of colored soldiers of the Twenty-fifth United States infantry, who recently made the journey on wheels from Fort Missoula, Mont., to St. Louis, a distance of 2,380 [sic] miles, in thirty-five days. Nineteen men constitute the coterie, led by Lieutenant Moss and Sergeant Sanders. Among the number are Private Richard Rout, John Finly (sic), Cook, Martin, Williams, Dingemon and Crockter. They were forty days in making the journey, five of which they spent in resting at various points along the route. They stopped one day each at Ellison, Mont., Fort Harrison, Mont., Fort Custer, Mont., and Broken Bow, Neb. They arrived in St. Louis, wheeling into the city through Forest park, on July 24. After a day or two spent in rest and in viewing the city, they proceeded to Jefferson barracks, where they remained until Monday. Private Rout told a Globe-Democrat reporter that they regarded their trip as a great success. He stated that they had encountered numerous obstacles on the way. On July [sic] 17 they met a tremendous snow storm while crossing the main divide of the Rocky Mountains, near Ellison, Mont., at a distance of more than 4,000 feet about the sea level. Their greatest difficulty was experienced in passing through the sand hills of Nebraska. They had to walk through 185 miles of sand, pushing their bicycles before them, the thermometer registering 110 degrees in the shade. While they had enjoyed the venture, said Private Rout, they were glad to be on the return trip and going by rail instead of traversing the route again in the manner in which they had come. They left Monday night on the 8:45 Burlington train and will proceed to Billings, Mont., and there take the Northern Pacific road to Montana City. Thence they will march a four days’ journey to their post."
- Daily Iowa Capital [Des Moines, IA] pg. 3 August 18, 1897

The party of colored soldiers of the Twenty fifth United States infantry, who made the bicycle trip from Fort Missoula to St. Louis, 2, 380 miles, passed through Kansas City on their return [train] trip yesterday. They reported that every one of the twenty-three men composing the expedition had gained in weight and had been generally benefited in health during the trip in, and they started back with full confidence in the bicycle as an appliance for the promotion of health. To these soldiers of the United States army belongs the credit of having given the most thorough long distance test of the bicycle as a mode of conveyance. They carried with them their arms, shelter tents and knapsacks, the full marching equipment. They made the long distance in less time than it could be covered by cavalry troops marching at the customary rate. They crossed one range of mountains through deep snow. There seems to be no reason why a brigade of bicyclers could not be moved through a country possessing any sort of roads as easily as this squad traversed the 2,380 miles, and were then ready to try it over
- The Leavenworth Herald (Leavenworth, KS) Saturday, August 21, 1897; Issue 28; col B

"While the strength of this Corps was increased later to twenty and it proved valuable as scouts and couriers in regimental maneuvers, it did not continue, and during the usual peace inertia between wars, no similar organization took form. The extent of our country, its lack of network roads, its large supply of horses--all these were factors discouraging bicycle corps while the reverse in Europe encourages them."
- Buffalo Soldier Regiment, John Nankivell pg. 62

[an article all the way from New Zealand!]
"An interesting experiment in the practical use of the bicycle from the military point of view has just been made in the United States. A company of twenty three men of the 25th United States Infantry Bicycle Corps, successfully completed a ride of 1,900 miles from Fort Missouri [sic - that should be Missoula], Montana, to St. Louis. The journey was made in every kind of weather, over all sorts of roads, and lasted forty days. The average speed was fifty miles a day, and the men were in excellent physical condition at the end of the ride. The damage amounted to seventeen tyres and half-a-dozen frames, but these were easily repaired. The practical result of the trip is said to have shown that "an army bicycle corps can travel twice as fast as cavalry or infantry under any conditions and at one-third the cost and effort."
Inangahua Times, Volume XXII, Issue 1360, 3 November 1897, pg. 4

"...On February 7, 1898, Lieutenant Moss requested permission from the adjutant general to organize another bicycle corps that spring for the purpose of making a trip from Fort Missoula to San Francisco. [File No. 70545, RG 94, NA] Moss's commanding officer, Col. Andrew S. Burt, added an interesting endorsement to the proposal. In a personal letter to George Meiklejohn, the assistant secretary of war, he suggested that the proposed trip would call favorable attention to "colored soldiers" as they passed through the country. He added:
It is well known there is prejudice against the colored man and when he appears in uniform it is like shaking a red flag against a bull. It is a wise policy to educate the people to become familiar with the colored man as a soldier...Is it not better--is it not fairer to the colored soldier as well as to the people that the masses should be familiarized with the sight of a 'n**ger' in uniform? The expedition proposed by Lieutenant Moss would be a fine educator. The one he made last year to St. Louis (think of it--a 'n**ger' soldier in 'secesh' Missouri!!) had a very happy effect. The men by their behavior won the respect of everybody.
[File No. 2166, RG, NA. Col. Burt added in a postscript: "We don't use that word 'n**ger' here. Why I have used it above is to more clearly illustrate my meaning."]
By this time, war with Spain seemed imminent and further bicycle tests were judged unnecessary. Later that year Lieutant Moss was transferred to the Twenty-fourth Infantry and saw duty in Cuba. In October of 1898 he proposed the organization of a bicycle company of one hundred soldiers who would patrol Havana once it was occupied by American troops. After pointing out the advantages of speed and mobility in courier service, he noted that "in case of riots or other disturbances of any kind, a number of cyclists, armed with rifles and rapid fire guns (such guns have been mounted on tandems and tricycles and tested with the greatest success) could be moved to the seat of disturbance with inconceivable rapidity." He estimated that the cost of equipping a corps of one hundred men would be between four and eight thousand dollars. He concluded his proposal by noting that "After three years of practical and theoretical work, I have compiled plans for the organization of a cycling service and the specifications for a military bicycle, all of which are at the disposal of the War Department." Lieutenant Moss's proposal was rejected.
- Buffalo Soldiers in the West: a Black soldiers anthology [pg. 253-254] Bruce A. Glasrud, Michael N. Searles