top of page

How Major Taylor Won an Unexpected Championship in Iowa. (Excerpt from his Autobiography-1928 ).



I decided to give up riding on the National Circuit for a week or two, following the janesville program, so that I might go to Chicago to make an attempt to once more lower the one-mile world’s record. That means I will skip the Circuit races which were scheduled to be held in Ottumwa, Iowa, July 26 and 27.

Arriving in Chicago, I met ‘’Birdie ‘’ Munger who was to take charge of my record trials. My objective was the world record for the mile, which was held by Eddie McDuffee, who was the first bicycle rider to ride the distance under 1:30. As I trained for this trial against the world record something went wrong with my big steam pacing tandem which had been specially built for this occasion.

Photos courtesy of the Montreal bicycle Club

Since it would take several days to make repairs to my pacing machine I decided to jump to Ottumwa and participate in the Circuit race there. I had been working out on the chicago track for two weeks with a big gear , it measured 114 inches. Shifting from that 114-inch gear back to my usual sprint gear, 92 inches, would, I felt certain, prove too much of a handicap for me against the fast field that were entered in Ottumwa Races. Followers of bicycle racing will readily appreciate what it means to have a rider drop from a 114-inch gear to one of 92 inches, after having practiced for a fortnight exclusively on the higher gear.

Nevertheless, I won two first places and one second place in the Ottumwa two-day program, using the 114 -inch gear. One of the events that I won was the one-mile national championship. I also won the one-mile open and finished second to Nat Butler in the two miles championship race.

I quote from an Ottumwa newspaper as follows:

‘’Major Taylor Wins National Championship of the Iowa State Meet on the Ottumwa Track . Major Taylor, far-famed Negro, was a great surprise to the crowd that attended the National Championship races of the Iowa state meet on the new Ottumwa track yesterday . He is a perfect wonder on the wheel, which he rides much easier than any other rider on the track, and yet he always seems to have a reserve force that would land him a winner. Although the people could not help but admire his riding he was given a marble heart at the start. The crowd did not like him and did not want to see him win , but in spite of this he carried off his share of honors.

''When that doughty old warrior , Nat Butler , undoubtedly one of the finest men on the circuit, won the prettiest race of the entire program putting Major Taylor down to second place, winning the two-mile professional championship, the crowd demonstrated its approval by a roar of enthusiasm. The two Butlers, McCarthy and Gibson all qualified for this event and from the very outset the race was hotly contested.

WHIRLWIND Trailer Concept (A Major Taylor Documentary in the making)

The final heat was paced by Davidson and Lavin, alternating two laps each. Tom Butler took the lead in the second lap. His brother, Nat, caught his rear wheel immediately with Taylor following , McCarthy and Gibson hanging on in that order.

Gibson looked like a possible winner until Taylor arrogantly swung ahead and took the lead, even trying to lead the pacemaker. This caused his defeat as the two Butlers crowded him so closely he was exhausted.

‘‘On his last last lap-and-a-half Nat Butler suddenly jumped ahead of his brother Tom with Taylor closely following. Tom Butler held the lead for the first half of the final lap but dropped out and finished fifth. The cleverness of the sacrifice was apparent at a glance. Taylor exhausted by his long lead, could not catch Nat Butler while that clever rider sprinted over the tape as fresh as a daisy with a full wheel to spare with McCarthy third.’’

Along with the Butlers Brothers of Boston, Major Taylor was part of

the first racially integrated professional sports team in America (Courtesy of Montreal Bicycle Club)

In the one-mile open race, Tom Butler won the first heat and Llewellyn was second with Phillips third, the time being 2:40 4/5.

I won the second heat in 2:41 ⅗ with Dunbar second , Harley Davison third. Nat Butler won the third heat with McLeod second the time being 2:08 ⅖. The fourth heat was won by McCarthy in 2:08 ⅖ with Gibson second. I won the final heat in 2:06 ⅗ with Tom Butler second and Charlie McCarthy third. This was an especially closely contested race, as the fast time will indicate. There were no pacemakers used but there was plenty of team work. I believe that my good judgment rather than speed , enabled me to win this race. From the outset I was determined that the other riders would slip nothing over on me as I had a very vivid recollection of the pocket they had driven me into in the two-mile championship race just finished.

A shot from WHIRLWIND trailer concept.

A shot from the WHIRLWIND Trailer concept (Major Taylor Upcoming documentary)

Close as were the two-mile championship and one-mile open events, the national one-mile championship race excelled them. It was arranged in advance that only the winners of each heat would ride in the final. I was fortunate enough to land my heat and then in that hair-raising final I led the field across the tape winning by a wheel’s length from Nat Butler with Harry Gibson third. The time was 2:00 ⅖, the last quarter being clocked in 26 ⅖ which was the fastest quarter being clocked on the Ottumwa track.

Tom Butler won the first heat, George Llewellyn second with Dunbar third, the time being 2:43 ⅖ . The second heat was won by Nat Butler with Wood second , time being 2:26 ⅘. I won the third heat with McLeod second, and Phillips third, time being 2:26 ⅘ . Gibson won the fourth heat with McLeod second and shook third, time 2:29. Harley Davison led the field home in the fifth heat with Lavin second and the time was 2:57.

‘‘Dunbar paced the final heat,’’ reads a clipping from an Ottumwa daily. ‘‘Tom Butler jumped away at a hair-raising clip. He held the pace, which was hot from the start for eight laps, after which the race was between Major Taylor and Nat Butler, the Major making a great jump at the last lap.’’

In commenting on my showing at this meet the same Ottumwa paper printed the following:

‘‘Major Taylor demonstrated that he was a wonderful rider in this event. He has tremendous power and his ebony legs seem to fairly fly around the short circuit made by the pedals . He rides with apparent ease, and a lack of exertion that brands him as a true athlete. He seems to have a reverse force behind him at all times and can put forth an effort at the very moment when it seems as though he must be completely exhausted.

‘‘Major Taylor is a queer specimen. He is supremely arrogant and egotistical and does not readily make friends. He imagines that he is the whole performance. The sympathies of the crowd were naturally with the white riders, yet they could not help admiring Taylor’s wonderful speed , his marvelous endurance and his doggedness, which makes him cling on in a race as long as there is any hope to win.’’

In passing I might say that the above attack was the only one ever launched against me in my career. I feel that in justice to myself I should explain the motive behind that charge of egotism and arrogance. The writer was connected with the Ottumwa track and in common with the other officials thereof, he was peeved somewhat because I had not sent my entry for the meet several days in advance.

Illustration of an 1800's Bicycle race.

This I was unable to do as I had tried to make my attack on the world’s record for the paced mile at Chicago on the very day that the Ottumwa meet opened. This writer-official was keenly perturbed because, had he known of my plan to participate in the ottumwa program, an advertising campaign would have been launched to center about my participation therein. Therefore, my eleventh hour entry did not give the track officials an opportunity to advertise my entry as they would have had I arrived with the rest of the riders. The inference was that my failure to reach Ottumwa with the other riders caused the track hundreds of dollars loss as it was felt that many more would have attended the program had I been advertised as a starter.

The riders were also surprised by my sudden appearance and greeted me very coolly.

Something on the order of that lawn-party and the skunk business. Thinking I would not be on hand they imagined that they were going to have everything their own way, but much to their chagrin I spoiled their little party, and just about cleaned up the program.

Major Taylor win against Edmond Jacquelin Park Des Prince 1901 (Courtesy of French National Library)

This ame writer declared that the sympathies of the crowd were with the white riders. Still I recall receiving one of my greatest ovations the moment I set foot on the track to take a warming up spin about its surface. This was the first time that I had ever been in Ottumwa. The reception accorded me as I won the one-mile open event fairly swept me off my feet.

This victory in the one-mile open event came after Nat Butler had defeated me in the two-mile championship race. It was so apparent to the spectator that I was beaten because of a

pocket the riders forced me into that they fairly howled with glee as I led the galaxy of stars home in the mileevent, so far in front of my competitors that they were unable to attempts to box me or otherwise bring about my defeat by unfair tactics of any kind. I was delighted with the treatment accorded to me by the public of Ottumwa despite the belief expressed by the writer quoted above.

Let's Make History Together ...

Please donate for the production of WHIRLWIND; the Major Taylor Documentary in the making.



bottom of page