As the holiday season approaches and excitement builds for this “most wonderful time of the year,” people who may not have enough to make ends meet have a very different experience than those with enough money to just go to the store and buy whatever they need. With Thanksgiving already here and Christmas fast approaching, the season of good cheer isn’t always that for everyone. However, there are heroes and heroines in the community that sincerely care, and among them is the Seattle-Tacoma Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club.
On a sunny, and chilly, Sunday afternoon Nov. 24, Tacoma club members and associates suited up, revved their engines and took off on a caravan of at least two dozen bikes and several cars full of everything needed for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Throughout the afternoon, five families in Tacoma heard the thundering bikes approaching toward their neighborhood from a distance, as the bikers stopped by each house with turkeys, hams and boxes of food to hand over to grateful family members. The children were especially excited, and some got a chance to sit on one of the big, bad motorcycles and have their picture taken. The words “thank you” were repeated countless times by both those receiving and those giving, as everyone involved was blessed in some way by the kindnesses the bikers were sharing.
“With us, it’s more personal than dropping off food at a food bank,” said the Buffalo Soldiers’ public information officer David Johnson, who organizes the yearly run. “We like to talk to the kids, make sure they get to see the bikes, take pictures and stuff like that. It’s awesome.” Sometimes he gives them pep talks about staying out of trouble and staying in school, and he’ll leave them his business card so they don’t forget this tall man in a leather vest and cowboy hat.
Planning for the Soldiers’ Thanksgiving run starts weeks before the holiday, when Johnson contacts counselors in five Tacoma schools in order to identify students whose families need a helping hand. Then he and a club member go out food shopping and assemble the boxes for distribution on the big day.
“We try to do everything we can for the community,” Johnson said. “We want to rebuild the community we came from, give back to it. It gives us an opportunity to say, ‘I’ve been there and now I can give back.’”
Every club member has a special nickname and job to do. Johnson is “Grumpy.” Then there’s Suga (treasurer), Onyx (club historian), Houdini (road commander), Liquid, Handyman, Double D, and Joker, among others. Women are welcome in the club as full members and as associates like Sista Soldier (even though she’s now learning how to ride). Club member Road Dogg is her husband and “prospect manager” for newbies looking to join the club. Road Dogg said he joined the Buffalo Soldiers to help project a positive image to the youth and community.
“It was about the tradition of the Buffalo Soldiers and carrying on that legacy as well as that I like the members,” he said. “And it’s not just riding – we go out and do things for the community.” This includes sponsoring sports teams, organizing children’s Easter egg hunts, visiting seniors in a nursing home, volunteering at homeless shelters and offering a $1,000 scholarship to students at Bates Technical College.
“That really drew me to it,” said Houdini, who’s currently enlisted in the Army, “a motorcycle organization that has roots with the African-American cavalry and promoting that legacy. Between that and riding, it was a perfect fit for me, and finding out all the things they do in the community – it was a done deal. This is where I fit in.”
During the Thanksgiving run, the bikers were very impressive rumbling through the streets of Tacoma in formation. Kids out playing waved at them, as others on the sidewalks gave a thumbs-up or stared in awe. The beauty part is that the attention the bikers generate makes for the perfect opportunity to educate people on an important part of American history that can’t be shared enough. If you ask any of the club members, they’ll be happy to tell you about the brave history of the Civil War-era Buffalo Soldiers after whom the club is named. In fact, it’s a requirement of joining the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club to know the history of this oft-overlooked cavalry regiment that contributed much to the settling of the West, and thus the building of our nation, in the 1800s.
“That’s one thing we definitely groom new members on – history. As you come in to the organization, the night that you’re going to be voted in we ask what do you know about the Buffalo Soldiers? What do you know about Cathay Williams?”
Made up of recently freed slaves and freemen who were finally allowed to enlist in the regular U.S. Army thanks to new legislation in 1866, the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments were born – the first peacetime, all-black regiments of the U.S. Army. One theory of the origin of the cavalry’s nickname “Buffalo Soldiers” was that the soldiers’ hair was similar to that of the buffalo, while other theories suggest that the Native Americans they encountered gave them this sacred name due to the soldier’s fierce fighting ability.
As described at www.BuffaloSoldiersMC.net, “Units of the black regiments were stationed all over the West. In the battles and countless skirmishes that marked the Indian Wars, the black soldiers played a significant role. Commanded by white officers, who at times resented their duty with the black regiments, the Buffalo Soldiers endured and overcame tremendous social and environmental obstacles. They sometimes received inferior supplies and equipment…yet the men of the black regiments, often finding themselves in the forefront of action, never shirked their responsibilities. For more than 25 years they…built forts and escorted wagon trains, mail stages and railroad crews. They mapped and charted areas and located sources of water. Black soldiers were responsible for opening millions of square miles of western lands to peaceful settlement and development.”
Among the Buffalo Soldiers was Cathay Williams, another important figure in our country’s history. She was the first African-American female ever to formally enlist in the U.S. Army, although before that she served in the 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment and saw action on the battlefield at several key Civil War battles before the 1866 legislation made officially enlisting a possibility. She served in the 38th U.S. Infantry from 1866-1868 and only by posing as a man and reversing her name – William Cathay. She became known as the only female Buffalo Soldier.
Keep an eye out for members of the Seattle-Tacoma Buffalo Soldier bikers when you’re driving on I-5 or anywhere around Puget Sound. Look for the patch on the back of the rider’s vest – if it says “Buffalo Soldiers,” you’ll know that this is a person who deserves respect for making the world a better place. Keep your vehicle at a safe distance and say a silent “thank you” for their patriotism and service to those who need some kindness in their lives. The world needs more people like those in the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club.
To learn more about the Seattle-Tacoma Buffalo Soldier Motorcycle Club, visit www.BuffaloSoldiersMC.com.