Monday, February 6, 2012

Mingo Sanders

Good morning history buffs! What are you up to this week? I’ll be giving a talk, “Vignettes of Valor,” profiling some of the contributions of blacks in the military stationed in Montana or with Montana connections. It will be here at MHS on Saturday, 2:00 PM, in celebration of Black History Month. This is the little-known story of Mingo Sanders,  one of these courageous men.

African American buffalo soldiers of the Twenty-fifth Infantry arrived at Fort Missoula in May of 1888. Some of these men participated in the famous bicycle experiment, riding 1,900 miles from Missoula to St. Louis in the summer of 1897. One of the key riders was Mingo Sanders, a 16-year army veteran.

From The Brownsville Raid by John D. Weaver.
Mingo Sanders (center, in uniform) with his baseball team at Fort Missoula.

Although partially blind from an explosion, Sanders had an excellent service record and the respect of his commanding officers. In 1898, the Twenty-fifth was ordered to Cuba at the start of the Spanish American War. Sanders and the Twenty-fifth distinguished themselves fighting alongside Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders at the Battle of San Juan Hill. Today historians credit the buffalo soldiers with saving the Rough Riders, who instead got all the press and praise, and Roosevelt, who got himself elected president. Sanders then served in the Philippine Insurrection and received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions. In 1906, Sanders, stationed at Fort Brown, Texas, was a year away from his retirement and well-deserved pension. He and 166 others of the Twenty-fifth Infantry, many of them fellow members of the famous bicycle corps, were falsely accused of murdering a white bartender. Fabricated evidence and President Roosevelt’s political agenda led to their dishonorable discharge without a trial. The incident was known as the “Brownsville Affair.” Mingo Sanders, blind in one eye and diabetic, gave most of his life to his country, but never received his pension. He died in 1929 during the amputation of a gangrenous foot. Decades later in 1972, Congress reopened the case and found all 167 men innocent. They received honorable discharges posthumously and each received $25,000 in restitution, paid to their heirs.

Harper's Weekly, January 12, 1907
Sanders upon hearing the verdict.


  1. Wow. There's too much to learn! This is really interesting.

  2. Do you know if Mingo and Luella Mariah Sanders had children? Any possible living relatives?

  3. I don't think so. Tthe 1900 census notes Luella had one child, but none living, so they may have had one child that died. In 1920, there are no children living with them, so I would assume not.
    Tthanks for you question!

  4. Sanders and Luella never had any children.