Will the Media Stop Tilting at the Redskins Windmill?

August 19, 2016

By virtue of being Lone Star Dietz’s biographer, I am sometimes drawn into the Redskins naming controversy. Earlier this year, I thought this issue had finally been put to rest when The Washington Post, the most vitriolic of the eastern media elite opposing the team’s name, conducted its own poll of American Indians and found, to use the Post’s own headline, “New poll finds 9 in 10 Native Americans aren’t offended by Redskins name.”


That hasn’t stopped the Post from insisting they know better how Indians should feel than do the Indians themselves but it greatly reduces their credibility in claiming the name is offensive. It also hasn’t stopped the Obama administration.

Barrett Dahl, an autistic member of both Choctaw and Sac and Fox Nations, committed the criminal act, at least within view of a member of the current administration, of wearing a Redskins jersey. While on a school trip to the nation’s capitol on October 30 of last year, he attended a pow-wow at which, according to Dahl, William Mendoza, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, approached him. “He comes to me and calls me the name weetard not retard, weetard. You’re a weetard for not understanding Redskins is offensive. Where are you from that you’re so stupid and uneducated that you don’t understand that the Redskins is offensive. I told him, ‘I’m from Oklahoma,’ as I’m very proud to be. That’s when he spits on me.”

A physical altercation ensued, the details of which haven’t been sorted out yet as Mr. Dahl and Mr. Mendoza each tell quite different stories about the ugliness. Mendoza claims to have witnesses to back him up but the press has been unable to reach any of them for confirmation.


I wonder how Mendoza feels about calling someone a retard after hearing about the poll.


Barrett Dahl

Eagle Feather Mystery Solved

August 4, 2016

Sherman Pierce photos

Cathy Jimerson sent me two photos of Sherman Pierce, one as an older and another as a younger man in his Oorang Indians uniform.  Ms. Jimerson wrote:

I have been in contact with the family of Sherman Pierce and they have the very picture that you are questioning as to the identity of Eagle Feather.  I have included that plus a picture of him as a older man.

I don’t know Cathy Jimerson but am very much inclined to believe her.  Jimerson is a family name well known by Carlisle Indian School researchers. National Archives files include records for at least a dozen students named Jimerson, possibly more with misspellings. Jimersons are Senecas from upstate New York as are the Pierces. The likelihood of people from these families knowing each other and being friends is great.  Cathy’s husband’s great great grandfather Jacob Jimerson attended Carlisle in the 1910s. However, Carlisle listed him as Jacob Jamison. Yes, the same Jakey Jamison whose great play in the 1896 Yale game was erased by a bad call from an official. More on that in a later post.

I think Sherman Pierce is Eagle Feather based on this photo and draft card data. His age and physical attributes jibe but we already knew that. Sherman Pierce’s smile, shape of his face, and stance would lead me to believe he was Eagle Feather even if I didn’t know his family claimed he was. It seems highly unlikely Sherman Pierce’s family would still have a 1922 photograph of a football player from a team that hasn’t existed for 93 years if he hadn’t played on that team. So, I think we’ve found our man.


Yet Another Eagle Feather

July 9, 2016

Dennis Hildebrand 1924

After the dissolution of the Oorang Indians NFL team after the 1923 season, Eagle Feather’s name next appeared with Jim Thorpe’s in a December 18, 1927 article in The Sunday Repository out of Canton, Ohio.  This Eagle Feather was playing on Jim Thorpe’s World Famous Indians basketball team. The article discussed an upcoming game with the local Orphans team that consisted of former college and high school stars. Something different about this article was that it gave two names for the WFI players. Jim Thorpe was Bright Path, Nick Lassaw was Long Time Sleep, and Dennis Hildebrand was Eagle Feather. Could Dennis Hildebrand be the same Eagle Feather who played football with Thorpe on the Oorang Indians NFL team?

Since The Sunday Repository piece listed Hildebrand/Eagle Feather as having attended Haskell Institute, that institution would be a likely place to look for him.  The World-Herald of January 12, 1924 featured a photo of the Haskell basketball team. Dennis Hildebrand was one of the eight Haskell players dressed in the school’s basketball uniforms in the photo. Another was the famous football star John Levi, who played center on the basketball team. Articles written while Eagle Feather played for the Thorpe’s WFI said he was captain of the 1925 Haskell hoops squad and was a North Carolina Cherokee native of Oklahoma. (The 1905 census listed him as having been born in Oklahoma but living on a Navajo reservation in Arizona.) The December 21, 1927 edition of The Canton Daily News claimed that Hildebrand had attended Indiana University not Haskell. The Daily News was clearly wrong about him not attending Haskell because his playing on that team is clearly documented. But did he also play for IU at some point? Finding out if he did or not is my next task.

*** UPDATE ***

Mary Mellon of the Indiana University Archives responded to my inquiry about Dennis Hildebrand:

I’ve checked into your question about Dennis Hildebrand. The IU registrar’s office has no record of him attending IU, which would have been a requirement to play for the basketball team. There’s also a handy online IU basketball database: http://www.indystar.com/story/sports/college/indiana/2013/10/29/indiana-basketball-mens-database/3308409/

Although it covers the years Hildebrand might have played college basketball, neither version of his name appears.



Important Info About Eagle Feather, Maybe

June 3, 2016

Eagle Feather Carlisle fullback 19221011

When my Eagle Feather research returned me to 1922, the Oorang Indians’ first year of operation, I took a second (or third) look at some newspaper articles I had previously collected. I was forced to search for an early article I for which had neglected to capture the date of and publication name. Mercifully, the easily recognizable article popped up early with the graphic at the top of the page. Rereading “Former Bulldogs Now Important Cogs In Jim Thorpe’s All-Indian Football Machine” brought me back to “Thorpe has unearthed a brilliant fullback in Eagle Feather, from Carlisle.” No new information there, I thought, “At least I know where this came from now.” My eye wandered to a piece immediately below the one I had sought, finding something I’d previously overlooked.

“Most Of Jim’s Indians Are Carlisle And Haskell Men” grabbed my attention. Perusing the piece unveiled “Eagle Feather, fullback who weighs 230 stripped, is a cousin to Bemus Pearce [sic], famous as a tackle in the old Carlisle days. This could lead us to who Eagle Feather really was or it could have been wrong as are so many things in newspapers.

Since we have so little else to go on, let’s assume it is correct. Let’s accept that Eagle Feather was a cousin of Bemus Pierce and that he attended Carlisle. To make our lives as easy as possible, let’s assume (for now) that his last name was Pierce and research Carlisle and tribal records for a person from that family who would have been between 18 and 25 in 1922, based on his youthful appearance in the Oorang photo. I’d also scan Carlisle football files and photographs for a player weighing over 200 pounds (he might have put on a few after Carlisle closed in 1918).

If we come up dry, we’ll have to do some genealogy work to identify Bemus Pierce’s cousins who might fit the criteria. This research will likely require considerable assistance from the tribal librarian. It’s not exactly looking for a needle in a haystack but only by an order of magnitude or two.

Eagle Feather Bemus Pierce cousin 19221011












Eagle Feather, I Presume?

May 31, 2016

Wanting to find out exactly who the Eagle Feather who played fullback for the 1922 Oorang Indians football team, I spent several hours searching through old newspapers for clues as to who he was. I received a plethora of hits and quickly learned that Eagle Feather was not an uncommon name nor was it unique to a single tribe. Nor was the Eagle Feather who played football the only athlete of that name. Here they are in ascending order:

1904       A Cheyenne who played right field for a Sioux baseball team in

1908       An Otoe who played football for the Otoe School in Red Rock, OK.

1909       Chief Eagle Feather toured with 101 Ranch Wild West Show.

1910       Pitched for Fallsington M. E. church at Cadwalader Park in Trenton, NJ.

1911       Eagle feather aka Dr. Frank DeKay of Toledo, OH restored a woman’s vision by rubbing her head and conferencing with a mystical medicine man.

1911       Chief Eagle Feather was featured in Priscilla and the Pequot, touring with The Obrecht Family show.

1911       Father of baby born in Canton, OH to “a Sioux squaw traveling with the John Robinson circus.”

The next day, Chief Eagle Feather was assaulted by Bear Paw and struck in the head with a whisky bottle.

1914       Performed in Gray Eagle’s Last Stand at Lyric in Wellsville, NY.

1915       Eagle Feather’s daughter Princess Mary Eagle Feather performed in Miller Brothers and 101 Ranch Wild West Show.

1915       Chief Eagle Feather was a wealthy land owner in South Dakota.

1915       Chief Eagle Feather toured on Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits.

1915       Sherman Institute gala – couldn’t tell if Eagle Feather was a person or a character in a skit.

1915       Eagle Feather came in 2nd in the “Half-mile Indian Buck Race at the Cheyenne Frontier Days.

1919       In Winnipeg, old Chief Eagle Feather cranks his car in front of his farm house to drive his children to school.

1919       Winnebago Eagle Feather, aka John Smeade, operated and maintained the elevator at the Des Moines Club.

1919       In Chicago, Chief Eagle Feather’s wife, Princess Waunita, a full-blood Choctaw, assisted Vera Trepanier during her murder trial. Eagle Feather was reputed to be a Carlisle grad.

1920       Chief Eagle Feather’s mother was Geronimo’s oldest sister. He gave a talk on patriotism and Christian sentiment near Elkhart, IN. He also advertised for performers for his medicine show.

1920       Eagle Feather aka Jackson Barnett, who became rich when oil was found on his Oklahoma scrub land, gave his wife most of his money and sent her and the children to Los Angeles. He bought a horse and went back to the blanket.

1921       Chief Eagle Feather, Cherokee from Oklahoma, toured Indiana speaking in favor of granting Indians full citizenship.

1921       Chief Eagle Feather, 100 year-old Hopi, visited Ruston, LA.

1922       Big Chief Eagle Feather appeared in a medicine show at the Indiana State Fair.

1922       Local boxer Eagle Feather fought Bud Brown in a match held in Loraine, Ohio.


Investigating all of these various people named Eagle feather would be a considerable undertaking, so I first looked into the one I considered most likely to be him. The boxer, an athlete located in Ohio when the Oorang Indians were founded, looked promising until I noticed that the fighter weighed 125 pounds. To play fullback, he would have had to put on 100 pounds by the start of football season. Not likely. I continued looking and found something I didn’t think looked promising but might just be.



ForeWord Reviews Now On-Line

May 28, 2016

Summer 2016 ForeWord Reviews cover 1 in

The Summer 2016 edition of ForeWord Reviews is on-line as of midnight. The Spotlight section on Climate Change, in which my book is featured, hasn’t been uploaded as yet although it is in the print version.

The full review of my book can be found in full at: https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/glorious-times/

First Review for New Book

May 20, 2016

Summer 2016 ForeWord Reviews cover 1 in

The first review of my new book, which is to be released in late June, arrived in today’s mail. It received a prominent position on a Spotlight page but the last sentence and a half of the review were cut off. One would expect the entire review to be in the on-line version at ForeWordReviews. com when it is released.





 ForeWord Reviews

Summer Issue 2016

 Glorious Times: Adventures of the Craighead Naturalists

Tom Benjey

University of Montana Press

Softcover $16.95 (370pp)


In this genealogy of the Craighead family, the author explores the history and exploits of this famously nature-oriented clan.

The tale of the Craigheads begins with the dawn of the American colonies, but the book itself begins with the engaging tale of two Craighead brothers capturing and training hawks in Depression-era Pennsylvania. This story-oriented style typifies Glorious Times, which recounts the lives of the historical Craigheads in lively detail, bringing readers into close, personal proximity to the subjects’ lives. Roughly chronologically, the book describes each significant Craighead chapter by chapter, always highlighting their nature-loving and environmental points. Since the family’s story begins so early in American history, the book spends several chapters working through older relatives, who predated what modern activists would recognize as environmentalism, before getting to the generations that produced the more famous conservationists and natural scientists. However, the theme of the Craigheads as nature-lovers, hikers, campers, and outdoorspeople remains a powerful thread throughout the book. The author’s research on the topic could not be more meticulous, incorporating typical genealogical sources, such as newspapers, as well as personal interviews with Jean Craighead George and family documents, such as diaries.

Particularly valuable to book people may be the insight that Glorious Times provides into the mind and personality of Jean Craighead George, who is presented as at once more liberal and ambitious than other Craighead women and fully in step with her family’s environmentalist tradition. Fans and critics of her work and of the roots of the twentieth century environmental stewardship movement will find this work a fascinating insight. Genealogists may also be interested in the book as an example of a family history well executed.

50 Years Ago Today

May 10, 2016

My blogs are almost always about some person or thing other than myself. This one is intentionally different. This morning’s Facebook post generated some interest in my life I hadn’t expected:

50 years ago today, I was inducted into the U.S. Air Force. I didn’t want to be there but I was about to be drafted and my dad suggested I’d have better conditions than in the Army and might learn something useful. He was right but it was a very long 3 years, 7 months and 16 days, including 18 months in The Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

Besides receiving well wishes from several people, I was asked about what was it I did when in the Air Force and responded with the following:

I was an Automatic Weapons Control System Technician on MG-10 and MA-1 systems. In English, I worked on the fire control radar on F-102 & F-106 interceptors.

To make sure I remembered some of the terminology correctly, I Googled the terms to unexpectedly find this written by Tim White:

PACAFUSAFETAC An Extraordinary Bunch

In the middle and late 1960s, the sophistication of high-tech electronic systems began to grow at a phenomenal rate. Fortunately, the USAF (and a few other nations) had a small number of technicians – rarely exceeding 600, worldwide–who had the ability to maintain, upgrade, and even improve upon these state-of-the-art systems. Sustained, at first, by the compelling “equality” of the Vietnam draft (a rich source of competent and intelligent recruits who otherwise would have excelled in civilian life) the switch to an all-volunteer military resulted in a slow decline in the “quality” of personnel available for this challenging task.

They were farm boys and ghetto punks; college drop-outs and those who barely passed in high school. Scoring in the top 5 percent of the population in spatial perception, electronic/mechanical aptitude, and command of language, they were some of the best and the brightest the nation had to offer.

Eventually, basically-analog systems (containing digital components) were completely replaced by digital; in many cases, the software writers had no idea how the electronics worked, and never considered the hardware to be a maintainable, alignable system. In a binary world of on/off, there was no room for a concept other than pass/fail. Maintenance mock-ups became “test stations” in a “smart machine/dumb technician” form of maintenance–and the WCS troops were no longer required. Failing components were trashed instead of repaired (because no one knew how anymore), and dependence upon “spares” grew, along with depot and manufacturer-level repair. WCS troops, as a species, started to become extinct. It was the end of an era.

I assumed the newer aircraft used digital systems but was unaware that the newer equipment does not require alignments—which were a significant part of my job—and of the shift to a “smart machine/dumb technician” approach to maintenance. Thank you for the kind words about my generation, Mr. White.


Two F-102s I worked on overseas. PK on the tails indicates that they are 509th FIS birds.

New Jim Thorpe Movie

May 6, 2016

Yesterday, the ever-vigilant sports statistician Tex Noel sent me a link to an article he thought I’d be interested in reading. As usual, he was correct. The link was to a news article about Bright Path: The Jim Thorpe Story, a much-needed new movie about Jim Thorpe. The previous major biopic about the world’s greatest athlete, starring Burt Lancaster as the young Thorpe, was released in 1951. Sadly, that dated film came as much from the screenwriter’s imagination as from actual events.


Crowds throng Carlisle Theatre

Abraham Taylor, producer of the new film, is striving for accuracy. He explained, “To tell an authentic Jim Thorpe story we have to maintain control of the project. The only way to do this is with the help of Indian country. We are honored and incredibly grateful for Tuolumne’s partnership on this project.” The reason I believe him—much fluff comes out of Hollywood that is far from the truth—is that Bob Wheeler is involved in the project.

When a grad student at Syracuse nearly a half century ago, Robert W. Wheeler undertook a new approach for writing his thesis: an aural history of Jim Thorpe. He acquired a bulky reel-to-reel tape recorder similar to the one that his boss some years later, Howard Cosell, blamed for making him stoop shouldered, and crisscrossed the United States, hitchhiking from one place to another to interview people who knew Thorpe or had experiences with him. The noted Dick Schaap called him “Jim Thorpe’s Boswell” for the thoroughness of his research.

Bob has worked as an unpaid technical advisor for the film for more years than I can remember. Our numerous conversations and emails always dealt with the same thing: getting the details right. My next hope is to see Bob sitting in a director’s chair with a megaphone at his side, scrutinizing each scene for accuracy at Carlisle Barracks, the real-life site of where much of the story told in the film actually took place.


Joseph Tarbell at Craighead

May 1, 2016

One of the Carlisle Indian School students to stay with Charles and Agnes Craighead on one of his outing periods was Joseph Tarbell, Mohawk from the St. Regis Reservation at Hogansburg, New York. His Carlisle student file suggests that his father had attended the school earlier. However, the student file number given for his father appears to have been lost or renumbered. Joe first arrived at Carlisle on August 10, 1901 at 12 years of age. His previous off-reservation schooling had been 8 years at The Educational Home (for American Indians) in Philadelphia, which closed in 1900. That Joseph was sent away from home at such an early age is curious, especially since both of his parents were still alive when he first enrolled at Carlisle.

Joseph TarbellTo the best of our knowledge, Joe only spent one outing period in the vicinity of Boiling Springs, during the fall of 1907, after spending much of the summer in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. He returned to Carlisle on August 13, staying there till leaving on September13. He stayed with Charles and Agnes Craighead until December 8. It’s not clear whether they had moved to Harrisburg by that time or not. Other evidence suggests that Joseph Tarbell stayed with them at Craighead station.

Joe was photographed in a team photo in which all the players wore the uniforms of a Boiling Springs baseball team, not a high school team, but a town team made up of players from the area. How Joseph Tarbell came to be associated with this team is unknown. He may have come to the Craigheads as a result of being on that team or vice versa. What is known is that he was a very good baseball player. He spent his next summer in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where be played for the Hershey Chocolate team along with his brother, Louis.