Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Is There a Picture of Mingo Sanders?
Recently, I received an e-mail from a reader of this blog wondering about a picture of Mingo Sanders. Does one exist? Sanders was the most famous of the enlisted men due to his later involvement in the Brownsville Incident. He was an incredible soldier who Colonel Burt testified was the "best sergeant in the Army". You can read more about Sanders on The Riders section of this blog.
The picture above is from the National Archives (NARA 111-SC-83638) and is also found in the Nankivell book, Buffalo Soldier Regiment (pg. 39). Unfortunately, there is some confusion about which company is pictured. Some sources claim it is Co. B while others, such as Nankivell, say it is Co. I. Nankivell, who was an officer in the 25th and published his book in 1926, would seem to be the most reliable source. In the PBS production The Bicycle Corps the camera zooms in on the fourth man kneeling from the left when talking about Sanders. In the picture to the right, Sanders would be the third man, from the left, kneeling. I do not know if Gus Chambers, and the researchers who made the film, had reason to think that particular man was Sanders. E-mails I have sent to him have gone unanswered.
The Registers of Enlistment tell us Sanders was discharged from his first enlistment at Fort Snelling on May 15, 1886. He had attained the rank of corporal. By 1891, he was in Fort Shaw, Montana and had risen in rank to sergeant. The third man in the photo appears to be a private, judging by the lack of stripes on his sleeve. All the Registers of Enlistment describe Mingo Sanders as being 5' 7 1/2" and having a dark complexion. He would have been 27 years old in 1883.
The photo above is, according to Nankivell (pg. 39), Company B, 25th Infantry. It was taken at Fort Snelling, Minnesota in 1883. If that is correct, Sanders is probably in it. Had Sanders been promoted to corporal by the time this photograph was taken? I do not know. If he was a corporal, assuming, of course, he is in the picture, we can narrow down the possibilities considerably. Next would come comparing our guesses from this photo with pictures taken of the 25th Bicycle Corps.
When I look at the best photo I have of the 1897 Bicycle Corps riders (see homepage of this blog), and consider all I know of Sanders, including he was dark complected and the oldest rider, I conclude that the soldier pictured to the left is him. Admitting my guess is a tenuous match of age and complexion, I have one other reason to think this might be Sanders. Look at the way this man's hat is worn and folded (compare to the other riders). Doesn't it look like the way an orderly, disciplined sergeant--which we know Sanders was--would wear his hat? But all of this is merely conjecture. Not all of the riders can be seen and the photograph is too grainy to compare to the men in the Fort Snelling picture. It would seem that once again, my efforts to know more about men who deserve to be more than nameless faces, are frustrated. But within the pictures and records remains the possibility that more can be discovered. And who knows what else has yet to be discovered? Surely, I tell myself, some reporter took Sanders' picture. Perhaps, it lies waiting in some archived newspaper or dusty attic trunk. The search for an image of Mingo Sanders goes on.