Jim Thorpe’s Records Restored

July 16, 2022

Little did Bob Wheeler know in 1967 that he was starting a lifelong odyssey when he thumbed his first ride to hitchhike across America to interview people who had known Jim Thorpe. His crisscrossing the continent was necessary to meet all of them. Lugging a 30-pound tape recorder of the kind that stooped Howard Cosell’s shoulders, he embarked on a trip to gather information for his master’s thesis. Oral histories were in their infancy and Wheeler’s advisor was no fan of them, but that didn’t discourage the young historian.

Wheeler collected a lot more material than needed for a master’s thesis but he kept going until he had a book. “Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete,” is still in print, available from University of Oklahoma Press. Getting published might have been the end of the story but, in many ways, it was just the beginning.

In 1971, Bob married another Syracuse University student, Florence Ridlon, who was working on her Ph.D. in Sociology. Bob was teaching at the time but he soon made a career shift to public relations. Their focus soon changed. In 1975 they formed the Jim Thorpe Foundation, headquartered in a closet at Danker’s Restaurant in Washington, DC. Its purpose was to restore Jim Thorpe’s Olympic honors, including his medals and records.

Little progress was made until Dr. Ridlon discovered a long-forgotten rule book for the 1912 Olympics that had dropped behind a row of books in a Library of Congress stack. The rules clearly stated that all challenges had to be made in 30 days. The revocation of Jim’s medals was illegitimate because the challenge came seven months after the games.

Eventually Thorpe’s medals were restored but there was a problem: no one knew where they were. So, new medals were struck and awarded to his surviving children. Perhaps his original medals may be found but, with two world wars having ravage Europe in the intervening years, it seems unlikely.

Now, after 41 years of trying, Bob and Flo have succeeded in getting Jim Thorpe’s Olympic records restored. Will they retire or is a movie in their future?

Official Announcement

Gridiron Gypsies: The Complete History of the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

June 17, 2022

At long last my latest book, Gridiron Gypsies: The Complete History of the Carlisle Indian School Football Team, is getting close to being published. The text layout, complete with 155 illustrations (period photos and cartoons), a list of players with the years they played, notes, and an index, is complete and a draft cover has been designed. A few softcover copies of the ARC (advance reading copy) will be printed for reviewers that don’t accept digital copies. Since Covid, most reviewers want PDFs but some still want hardcopies. PDFs have been sent to reviewers who accept them and I expect to have print versions in a couple of weeks.

The book will go on sale this fall. Preorders will be accepted after Labor Day. Now I have to design a simple website, GridironGypsies.com, because books are supposed to have websites these days.

Who Were These Players?

May 25, 2022

I came across a photo of the complete 1913 football squad in the Lancaster New Era dated September 30, 1913. This photo includes a caption listing all the names of the players’ in the photo. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find several of them in the Carlisle Indian School files and can’t identify them. Some of the names could be misspelled, others could be nicknames, and the reporter may have gotten some of them wrong. Here are the ones I am having trouble identifying:

Name, position                                 Place in photo

Archibald, halfback                          First person on far left of third row (below Warner’s left shoulder)

Mann, fullback                                 Five players to the right of Archibald

G. Morin, guard                               Three players to the right of Mann

Hemlock, tackle                               Third layer from the right in the fourth row

Skundooli, guard                             First person on the far right of the fourth row

Barie (Barle?), guard                        Third person from the right in the bottom row

Winneco, halfback                           Second person from the right in the bottom row

Any help in identifying these players would be most appreciated.

New Guardhouse

March 1, 2022
Molly Pitcher’s Grave in Carlisle Cemetery

While reviewing something from the 1911 Carlisle Indian School football season, a pair of sentences on the front page of the November 3rd edition of The Carlisle Arrow caught my eye. The paragraph began with: “The new guard-house is about finished.” That the Hessian powder magazine, built in 1777 by prisoners captured by Washington in the Battle of Trenton, wasn’t always used to incarcerate recalcitrant students. This was news to me. That students and their instructors provided the labor was not surprising because they had build other buildings, including Pop Warner’s house and the Native Arts Building, both of which still stand.

While reviewing something from the 1911 Carlisle Indian School football season, a pair of sentences on the front page of the November 3rd edition of The Carlisle Arrow caught my eye. The paragraph began with: “The new guard-house is about finished.” That the Hessian powder magazine, built in 1777 by prisoners captured by Washington in the Battle of Trenton, wasn’t always used to incarcerate recalcitrant students was news to me. That students and their instructors provided the labor was not surprising because they had build other buildings on campus, including Pop Warner’s house and the Native Arts Building, both of which still stand.

While reviewing something from the 1911 Carlisle Indian School football season, a pair of sentences on the front page of the November 3rd edition of The Carlisle Arrow caught my eye. The paragraph began with: “The new guard-house is about finished.” That the Hessian powder magazine, built in 1777 by prisoners captured by Washington in the Battle of Trenton, wasn’t always used to incarcerate recalcitrant students. This was news to me. That students and their instructors provided the labor was not surprising because they had build other buildings, including Pop Warner’s house and the Native Arts Building, both of which still stand.

The December 15 Arrow included a reprint of an article published by The Patriot of Harrisburg, PA under the heading, “New Guardhouse at Carlisle.” It took up most of a column. Of particular interest was a short paragraph: “Associated with this old structure is one of the early residents of Carlisle—Molly Pitcher, the Heroine of Monmouth. After the war she is credited with spending many a day within the thick walls of the gloomy prison, cooking and washing for the prisoners.”

The new building was of modern concrete and steel construction where the old one was of stone. Little else is known about it except that, starting in late 1911, it replaced the dank, dingy old structure built by Hessian prisoners, and continued in that use until the school was closed in 1918. This means that references to a guardhouse made to the 1914 Joint Congressional Committee investigating the school referred to the new guardhouse not the old one.

Those who read about students being detained after 1911 often incorrectly assume they were incarcerated in the Hessian powder magazine when they were actually in the new guardhouse .

A Coaching Mystery

February 25, 2022

The current edition of the College Football Historical Association’s newsletter includes and article titled “Mystery Solved.” The author, Timothy Hudak, was researching the life of Hall of Fame coach Frank “Iron Major” Cavanaugh when he unexpectedly came across a reference to Cavanaugh coaching the University of Nebraska at Omaha football team in 1919. Knowing that the war hero was with Boston College at that time created a mystery to be solved. He wondered, “How could a man fresh from recovering from serious wounds suffered in the closing stages of the war, with a wife and six kids, coach at two schools at the same time located in opposite parts of the country?”

Hudak’s further investigation revealed that they were two different men. The Omaha coach was Frank P. Cavanaugh; the Iron Major was Frank W. Cavanaugh. Case closed. However, a similar case but not involving war injuries and a wife and six kids actually happened decades earlier.

From 1895 through 1899, Glenn S. “Pop” Warner coached teams at two different teams quite distant from each other. He coached Iowa State all five years while leading Georgia (1895-6), Cornell (1897-8), and Carlisle Indian School (1899). The question is: How did he do it?

A year after graduating from Cornell with a law degree, Warner had passed the bar but hadn’t yet developed  a substantial practice. So, when the Iowa State graduate football manager offered him twenty-five dollars a week plus expenses to coach their team, he seriously considered the offer. Curious about other possibilities, he contacted some southern and western schools. The University of Georgia offered him thirty-five dollars a week plus expenses for the ten-week period starting September 15.

He then told Iowa State he was willing to coach their team for four weeks beginning in early August. Unable to find a better coach, they offered him one hundred fifty dollars plus expenses for thirty days. An alumni player would assist him while he was there and would take charge after he left.

Warner had no losing seasons with Iowa State, one losing (3-4-0) and one undefeated (4-0-0) season with Georgia, two winning seasons (5-3-1 and 10-2-0) with Cornell, and a strong season (9-2-0) with Carlisle. Warner’s promotion to athletic director at Carlisle in 1900 ended his double-coaching career.

Pop Warner with Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe Disliked Redheads

February 10, 2022
Black Hawk

An August 1914 newspaper article said Jim Thorpe didn’t care for redheads. The column was headed “Sport Snap Shots” and didn’t include a byline so we don’t know who wrote it. In the column, the author wrote that Big Jim was always courteous to Giants’ teammates John Joseph “Red” Murray and Leon Ames but he couldn’t be chummy with either of them. The reason was that both had red hair. It appears that Jim’s dislike came from a long-standing feud. The Sac and Fox, Jim’s tribe, were relocated from their homes at the end of a bloody 1832 war commonly called the Black Hawk War. An August 1914 newspaper article said Jim Thorpe didn’t care for redheads. The column was headed “Sport Snap Shots” and didn’t include a byline so we don’t know who wrote it. In the column, the author wrote that Big Jim was always courteous to Giants’ teammates John Joseph “Red” Murray and Leon Ames but he couldn’t be chummy with either of them. The reason was that both had red hair. It appears that Jim’s dislike came from a long-standing feud. The Sac and Fox, Jim’s tribe, were relocated from their homes at the end of a bloody 1832 war commonly called the Black Hawk War.

The U. S. Government was pushing the Sac and Fox leaders to relocate their tribe from Illinois and Wisconsin to Iowa. Women of the tribe urged Black Hawk to fight this removal. It was the women who were the farmers and their hoes weren’t sharp and strong enough to break the tough Iowa sod.

Andrew Jackson was President at this time and strongly supported the removal of Indians from their historic locations to across the Mississippi River. That he had red hair was his defining feature to the Sac and Fox. From that day forward Sac and Fox children, including Jim Thorpe, were taught to dislike redheads.

Pratt: The Red Man’s Moses

January 23, 2022

While finishing Elaine Goodale Eastman’s 1935 book about Richard Henry Pratt, founder and superintendent of Carlisle Indian School for its first 25 years of operation, I came across the the passage below. Under it is a photograph of Pratt’s grave marker in Arlington Cemetery.

Working for the Man

January 6, 2022

When going though George May’s student file, I came across his application to go out on an outing over the 1916 summer. The Carlisle outing program has been severely criticized in recent years, unfairly in some instances. For starters, students had to apply for the outing program and the school’s administration had to approve it before the student was allowed to go. Younger students weren’t allowed to go for obvious reasons.

By submitting a signed application, the student agreed in writing to obeying several specified rules.    

One that wasn’t taken literally was reporting immediately to the school if taken ill. Those who were injured—farms were and are dangerous places to work—were generally given medical attention locally. It would have been foolish to delay treatment by sending them back to the school when injured.

Paying board often wasn’t an issue because room and board were part of the pay when living and working on a farm. Room and board were most definitely issues for students interning at Ford Motor Company. Paid $3.41 a day while learning the autobuilding trade, the quarter of pay required to be deposited into the student’s account at Carlisle and the cost of room and board ate up most of this pay. After completing the internship, they were paid $5.00 a day, a large amount for workers at that time.

The admonition not to return to the school on Sundays without special permission was probably to increase the student’s exposure to the majority culture and to attend church with the outing family.

George spent his first outing with Harry Snyder in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. That no town name was provided suggests that Mr. Snyder was a farmer, as were the majority of outing hosts. George returned to Carlisle in time to play football. The next summer, 1917, he went to intern at Ford. This was a plum assignment given to many football players. Carlisle was criticized for having the boys return to the school at summer’s end to play football, interrupting their learning skills.

George May (continued)

January 3, 2022
George May in football uniform

Oscar Lipps responded to George May’s mother on the 31st, not having decided what action he was going to take regarding her son’s behavior:

“Generally speaking, George has not been a bad fellow at Carlisle. It is very unfortunate that he became involved in trouble that led to his infection. He is a young man [19] and should have known better….I have done everything in my power to break down this tendency among a number of the larger boys to slip out and meet girls of bad reputation near the school grounds and get liquor. I have talked to the boys, the disciplinarian has talked to them, and I have had men of experience and high standing in the community come out to the school and talk to them along these lines. Unless a boy has some backbone and strength of character, he is going to go wrong in this world….Unless George, himdelf, wants to do right, no power on earth can make him except that of the police force.. We could lock him up in the guard house and he could not get out to get into mischief, but I do not wish to do that. A boy who has to be treated in this manner had better not be in school.

“I do not know just yet what we shall do with George….He is now practically cured of this disease, but any boy who has once had this disease is usually shunned by the better class of boys in school, and the fact that such a boy is allowed to remain in school often has a bad influence among other boys who have learned to regard such conduct as disgraceful.”

His mother wrote back, saying, “Yes, George is not a bad boy. He wrote to me saying that he was very sorry for what he had done. And if you gave him another chance he would be a good boy and behave himself.”

Superintendent Lipps allowed George to stay at Carlisle. He was soon playing in the school band and running races for the track team. The next fall, he played on the football team and captained it in 1916. In 1917 while working in the apprenticeship program at Ford Motor Company, he enlisted in the 33rd Michigan Infantry and played in the band.

Wicked Carlisle

December 30, 2021

While researching the players on the 1913 Carlisle squad for my compete history of the Carlisle Indian School football team, I came across a player named Moy starting at left end for the Reserves line-up against Holmesburg on November 27, 1913. Finding no Carlisle student named Moy, I thought it might have been George May, who was known to have played on later Carlisle teams. Scrolling through his student file showed that it couldn’t have been him because he didn’t enroll at Carlisle until September 19, 1914. Not wanting to overlook a previous enrollment he might have had and wanting to know something about a future player, I scanned his entire file.

The first thing I found in his file after the enrollment papers was a short letter from May’s mother to Superintendent Oscar Lipps dated December 19, 1914 in which she wrote that she was very concerned about George as she had heard that he was ill. He wasn’t mentioned in the school newspaper as having gone out for football and his name didn’t appear in the coverage of any game. So, his illness wasn’t related to participating in athletics. However, he probably came into contact with, what was called at the time, a sporting woman.

Lipps responded to her letter on December 22nd, informing her, “…that your son, George May, has been afflicted with a venereal disease. He is being treated at our school hospital and it will probably be necessary to have him sent home as soon as an apparent cure is effected because he is morally undesirable to continue as a student here on account of his diseased condition.”

George’s mother responded on the 27th blaming Lipps for his condition. “[H]e had [a] good reputation and was respected wherever he went.” She was unhappy that her son was to be sent home in disgrace and asked that he receive the best possible medical treatment.

(to be continued in the New Year)