Thursday, March 20, 2014

An Epic Journey

My first bicycle was a used blue Schwinn bike.  My Mother paid a princely sum of $10.00, quite a lot of money for the 1960's.  She didn't know how to ride, but she made my Dad teach me.

Our house sat between the High School and Grade School where I grew up.  Behind our house was the baseball field and the football field. Dad took me down to the baseball field to learn to ride.  I remember trying to peddle through the soft powdery dirt.  When I would fall off the bike, the ground that met me was hard as a rock.

Dad's idea of teaching me to ride was to get me on the bike hold it  while I peddled and then give me a push and tell me to keep my balance and peddle.  Eventually I was able to peddle and keep my balance.  I loved that bike.  I remember feeling the wind in my face and the sense of speed as I traveled on the streets of our small town.

There came a day when something broke and I took it to my Dad to fix.  Unfortunately he was not very mechanically inclined and the bike got taken apart but never re-assembled.  I wouldn't experience the freedom of riding until I was in high school and in another town.  That  bike was also a Schwinn and had a banana seat.  I don't remember the model name but after looking on ebay I think it was probably a Stingray.

I wrecked it my senior year in high school and never rode very often after that.  I really didn't care for riding in gravel and rocky terrain.  I always admired the people who went mountain biking and rode so effortlessly.

In the late 1970's I was living in Helena, Montana working at Fort Harrison when I ran across some photos of the Bicycle Corp from Fort Missoula.  My interest was captured and then stumbled on an article about them in the Army Times.

In 1896 the 25th Infantry Regiment (an African American Company) was stationed at Fort Missoula (Missoula, MT).  The 25th was one of the most respected units of their time.  Most people would know them best as one of the "Buffalo Soldier" units.  The 25th was made up of African-American NCO's and enlisted men and white officers.

Second Lieutenant James Moss was assigned to Fort Missoula and the 25th Regiment.  His claim to fame at that time was having graduated at the bottom of his West Point class and for being a bicycle enthusiast.  He believed that the bicycle could prove invaluable to the US military.  When he filled out all the forms and requests to test bicycles at Fort Missoula.  His letters found their way to Major General Nelson A Miles, Commanding General of the US Army from 1895-1903.  He would later be known as the Army's "patron of military cycling".

25th Infantry Regiment, 1890 Fort Keogh

You may best remember him as "capturing" Chief Joseph in the Nez Perce campaign.  In 1877 General Miles was stationed at Fort Keogh (outside of Miles City, Montana).

General Miles approved Moss's request and the first test was to Glacier Park.  There would be other tests.  Tests of their skill, knowledge and dedication against the attitudes and prejudices of their day.  Their's was an epic journey.


  1. Deborah BussewitzMarch 21, 2014 at 4:36 AM

    I love the history you gave of both your life with bikes and with a time that bikes were used and history was made.

  2. StorykeeperferrisMarch 21, 2014 at 5:44 AM

    Thank you. I truly loved my first bike.

  3. I haven't thought of my first bike until I read your post. I remember my brother, who is all of eleven and a half months (not years) teaching me how to ride. He had the same teaching technique as your father. I remember the first tree I crashed into. I did love my bike, however and rode it everywhere I went.

  4. I'm glad you survived. Trees are not always forgiving.

  5. Ah bicycles. I'm kind of a romantic about bikes - keep one, don't ride it much, but just can't can't can't let it go.

  6. Oh, I so want you to come back to your bicycle experience and connect back to the bicycle corp from Fort Missoula...I 'm feeling like you haven't quite gotten to the significance of this piece! What is it about bicycles that are so compelling? I love the old photos of the soldiers on bicycles and your descriptions of the soft powdery dirt and the hard as rock ground. I look forward to your next post about bicycles!


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