WebHeader_Grove.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Your gift by 7PM will be matched dollar-for-dollar by our Member Match Fund!
National

On Steel Horses They Ride — To Honor 19th-Century Cavalries

Members of the Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle club ride in Huntsville, Ala., on April 26, 2014. Together with the Huntsville Historical Society, the bikers were unveiling a Buffalo Soldier historical marker.
Members of the Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle club ride in Huntsville, Ala., on April 26, 2014. Together with the Huntsville Historical Society, the bikers were unveiling a Buffalo Soldier historical marker.

In the mid- and late 1800s, the Buffalo Soldiers were all-black cavalries and regiments deployed to patrol and protect what would eventually become America's national parks.

Their moniker was said to have been given to the cavalries by Native Americans who thought the soldiers' hair resembled the woolly texture of a buffalo.

It's a name that carries a lot of pride — and one that lives on today. But instead of horses, today's Buffalo Soldiers ride bikes.

As a "modern progressive motorcycle club," one that strives to promote positivity, they pay homage to the frontier soldiers of the Ninth and Tenth cavalry.

Soldiers of the 25th Infantry — some wearing buffalo robes — pose for a photo in Montana in the late 19th Century. Like the men of the 9th and 10th cavalry, these troops were referred to as Buffalo Soldiers.
/ Library of Congress
Soldiers of the 25th Infantry — some wearing buffalo robes — pose for a photo in Montana in the late 19th Century. Like the men of the 9th and 10th cavalry, these troops were referred to as Buffalo Soldiers.

Welcoming A New Season

One morning this spring, more than 50 bikers from the club gathered in the parking lot of Lillie Mae's House of Chicken and Wafflez in San Jose, Calif..

They're here to welcome a new season of riding together — and to have their bikes blessed.

The Rev. Jeff Moore, wearing a long gold robe, does the honors, pronouncing "the spirit of God is in the wheels of the bikes that we ride." Then he presses anointing oil on the forehead of a biker nicknamed Squirt.

"Squirt, we ask that he guides you and loves you," he says.

Haymon Jahi, the president of the San Jose Chapter, shows off the patches on his leather motorcycle jacket — from one that says Buffalo Soldier, with crossed sabers, to some with more individual significance.

"I'm a member of the National Brotherhood of Skiers. I wear dreads; I'm definitely an advocate of Bob Marley," he says. "You kind of put your identity on the front."

But the most important symbol is on the back of his jacket: A Buffalo Soldier from the late 1800s.

"We are representing a legacy of a group of men that fought and died for this country," says Jahi.

'It's 24/7 Love'

In the modern day, these bikers pride themselves on not being your average motorcycle club.

"The Buffalo Soldiers is multi-racial, multi-gender and multi-bike," says Mark Nielsen, whose ride name is Wolfguard.

Wolfguard is more than 6 feet tall, wears a leather sleeveless vest and has thick arms full of tattoos. He says being a white member of a mostly black bike club is actually the place where he's felt most at home.

"The brothers like to joke around — you can't be thin-skinned," he says. "But it is all in love — it's 24/7 love."

Also among the crowd is rider Cheryl Morgan, who has prepared for the day by baking cookies in the shape of buffaloes.

"Everyone has this image of a hardcore female biker who's more male-oriented than female-oriented and ... bikers don't bake cookies," she says with a laugh.

After handing out cookies Morgan gathers the bikers. They hold hands and bow their heads while Moore leads a prayer.

"May God hold you and your bikes. May God keep you in the palm of His hands," he says. "Because He says, 'Once I have you in the palm of my hands, can't nothing take you out of that.' "

Local chapters of the Buffalo Soldiers are gearing up for the riding season. Some will deliver scholarships on their bikes; other chapters will be re-tracing routes of the original Buffalo Soldiers.

And if their bikes weren't loud enough, they make sure their voices are. Chants fill the parking lot: "Buffalo! Soldiers!

"It's what? It's all good!"

Copyright 2015 KALW