Bike Week in Arizona: Honoring Isaiah Mays, a Buffalo Soldier

Here’s a side of me many people don’t know.

My husband, Dr. Karl Anthony Huff, rides a motorcycle and is a member of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club. As a rider, I’m in the Buffalo Soldiers MC Social Club.

Karl & Loretta for Buffalo Soldier Isaiah Mays
Karl & Loretta for Buffalo Soldier Isaiah Mays

Here we are Friday, March 27 at the kickoff of Arizona Bike Week at Chester’s Harley Davidson shop in Mesa.  Charlie Daniels Band was the headline act.  About 15 other Buffalo Soldiers MC club members were present as well staffing our booth to raise awareness and funds for Isaiah Mays.

In 2001, Isaiah Mays was finally awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Until recently, however his remains were buried near a hospital’s historic grave site, “All Souls Cemetery” but alone, close to a trash dumpster locked behind a chain link fence.

Mays and Sergeant Benjamin Brown, of the 24th Infantry, were awarded the Medal of Honor in 1890 for “gallantry and meritorious conduct” while defending an Army pay wagon against masked bandits near Tucson.

In a fierce battle with the robbers, several soldiers were seriously wounded. Mays, shot in both legs, walked and crawled two miles to a nearby ranch to sound the alarm.

(Mays’ and Brown’s regiment was one of several famous Black “Buffalo Soldier” regiments formed after the Civil War and sent West during the Indian Wars.)

The robbers got away with $29,000 in gold (worth nearly half a million dollars today) that was never recovered.

Mays’ and Brown’s gallantry caught the attention of his superiors, who said the men “behaved in the most courageous and heroic manner.”

Born a slave in Virginia in 1858, Mays left the Army in 1893 and worked as a laborer in Arizona and New Mexico. In 1922, he appealed for and was denied a federal pension.

Mays was eventually committed to the hospital, which at the time housed not only the mentally ill but also tubercular patients and indigents with nowhere else to go. Mays died at the hospital 1925. Because of a fire in 1935, the hospital had no record of his actual burial site.

For decades after his death, Mays’ grave was marked only by a modest bricklike marker etched with a number. Mays might have been forgotten had it not been for the efforts of hospital staff and a small group of Arizona veterans who identified Mays as one of the state’s recipients of the nation’s highest military honor.

In 2001, Mays finally received a Medal of Honor headstone from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for his bravery 110 years earlier.

The headstone was unveiled just a few days before Memorial Day in 2001 at a formal ceremony with members of the American Buffalo Soldiers in attendance.

The Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club took on the commitment to further honor this soldier by partnering with the Cop. Mays Memorial Fund to build a memorial at the State Capital and to get the burieal place changed to Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C.

For more information, visit the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club’s website.

10 thoughts on “Bike Week in Arizona: Honoring Isaiah Mays, a Buffalo Soldier”

  1. Hi Loretta,
    I’m not sure how I found this exactly, but wanted you to know that we also participated in this ride with you. Extraordinary and far too little made of it. I can’t believe we missed each other as our group sat up front as the band played. Thank you to you and The Buffalo Soldiers for this lovely event and the long overdue recognition of Isaiah Mays and these brave, devoted men. See you soon!
    Blessings,
    Kathleen Malone

  2. Wow! Small world!

    As you know, there were tons of people at the Bike Week kick-off event. Easy to miss each other.

    Some of the Buffalo Soldiers are making their way across the country as I write to take Isaiah’s remains to Arlington National Cemetery for the much-overdue memorial and burial.

  3. Hello Loretta,
    I am a Buffalo Soldier from Shreveport, LA. My wife and I met the escort in Topeka, KS and rode to Arlington National Cemetery with them. We met some amazing people and it was an honor being part of bringing not one, but three heroes to Arlington and their final resting place. Although it rained almost every day and we logged 3426 miles on motorcycle, I would not hesitate to do it again

    Much love and peace,
    Tarikh

  4. Hi Tarikh
    Thanks for writing! My husband flew to DC. He told me that Buffalo Soldiers from all across the country joined in the ride all along the way. It was quite inspiring.

    He got his photo taken by a CNN photographer at the cemetery. You can see it at
    www.cnn.com/2009/US/05/29/missing.soldier.buried/

    Also, just last weekend, we went to Tombstone AZ, where they celebrated the Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle club, infantry & horsemen. We honored the man who initiated the exumation of Isaiah May’s remains.

    You can see my photo album here

    www.flickr.com/photos/23206517@N03/sets/72157619760431238/

    Would love your comments.

    Stay in touch!

  5. HI Loretta
    The pictures were very nice. I had spoken with Chaz and he had Shelia Neal send me other pictures of the Tombstone event. Funny not many were duplicates so I got more of an insight of what went on. I saw a few friends that we spent a week with and it brought back memories of a special time. I was standing just off camera when your husband took that picture. I took one in the same spot when they finished. I was truly glad to meet the Buffalo Soldiers from Arizona. Chaz invited me to Phoenix and I’m making plans to do so. Keep up the good work.
    Tarikh

  6. I served in the United States Army and was in Vietnam in 1967 thru 1968 Central Highlands. My unit was 1st. Platoon A Troop 1st. Squadron 10th Cavarly 4th Infantry Divison know as the Buffalo Soldiers. We were a small group of soldiers fighting a division of North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong. When I finally finished my enlistment I purchased a Harley bike and it helped me deal with the war in my head. I sold it and now I’m looking again to purchase a hog and want to get with fellow comrads that served. My serial number was RA 18775324 yes I volunteered to go to Nam and the military. I live in Lake Havasu, Arizona, I want to send a message to all brothers that served God Bless you all.

  7. Hi Manuel
    Thank you for volunteering and serving our nation!

    I wasn’t there but know being in Nam was a hard stint

    Anyway, I invite to you check out the AZ Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club.

    www.buffalosoldiersaz.com/

    We ride pretty often and do community service work, participate in parades, visit schools educating students about the Buffalo Soldiers.

    The President is Chaz Jackson. His number and email address are on the website

    Contact him about membership. There’s no pledging and not much craziness.

    We have another member who’s even farther up north than you. I think you would like the group.

  8. Hiya Loretta: Got your phone message….. didn’t write your # down!!! Wanted to “hear” what you were thinkin!?! Had a great time Groovin’ with y’all last weekend too!!!!! Please write or call back!!!

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