Buffalo Soldiers program brings history to life with bike ride
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took the iconic Buffalo Soldiers out of the history books and into Resaca de la Palma State Park on Saturday during the Iron Riders Christmas Dash. The 8-mile bike ride from Rancho Viejo to the park dropped participants off to an awaiting replica of a 1896 Buffalo Soldier encampment and the park’s holiday celebration.
Jessica Lagalo, Buffalo Soldiers Heritage and Outreach Program outdoor education and outreach manager, said the event commemorates an experiment run by the Buffalo Soldiers of the 1896 to test whether horses could be replaced by bicycles.
“We’re trying to get folks outdoors and active during the holiday season,” she said. “We try to connect people with the diverse cultural history of Texas.”
Allen Mack, Buffalo Soldiers Program training assistant, said the soldiers were important because they were the first professional African-American soldier in the U.S. military and were integral to helping settlers through westward expansion. They were some of the country’s first park rangers and fire jumpers, he said, fighting fires in the deepest parts of blazing forests.
TPWD Outreach Assistant Ricky Dolifka said the Bicycle Corps experiment was conducted by the 25th Infantry in Montana. They successfully road from Fort Missoula to Lake McDonald, Yellowstone National Park and St. Louis.
“You don’t have to stop and rest, feed and water the bike,” Program Supervisor Luis Padilla said. “The experiment would have gone a little further without the Spanish-American War.”
They would have continued the Bicycle Corps with a ride to San Francisco but was interrupted by and languished after the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Padilla said the Buffalo Soldiers Program focuses on the lives of soldiers the segregated units in the late 1960s to 1890s. They were made up of not only black soldiers but Hispanic, Asian and other people of color.
“We don’t have much of the history in our books, so that keeps our jobs relevant,” he said. “(Our program) immerses you in that history.”
The Buffalo Soldiers had wide-ranging impact on the frontier as they mapped terrain, built roads, built telegraph lines, protected stagecoach lines and guarded railroad construction, Dolifka said.
The soldiers started baseball teams in their spare time at Fort McDavid and Fort Brown, he said, and games between the Buffalo Soldiers and white soldiers predated Jackie Robinson’s historic 1947 debut as the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. Robinson served in the 27th Cavalry in Texas.
John Tamayo, Jr. took part in the bike ride as pack leader of Boy Scouts Troop 189 and Cub Scouts Troop 189 from Jubilee Academy.
“I had heard about the Buffalo Soldiers, but I didn’t know much. The fact that they were actually down here, building roads, telegram posts, all the work they did down here,” he said. “The bike ride itself is good for the boys because most have never ridden 8 miles straight through. It’s great they’re doing this, not just for us but all the people who wanted to come out.”
Padilla said the Buffalo Soldiers Program does about 85 programs around Texas each year and is always looking for volunteers. Learn more or get involved by visiting facebook.com/TexasBuffaloSoldierProgram or www.texasstateparks.org/buffalosoldiers.