Archive for March, 2009

Rebirth of Chilocco Indian School

March 27, 2009

While conducting research on Lone Star Dietz in Kansas and Oklahoma, we drove past the long-closed Chilocco Indian School. Seeing that the gate was unlocked, we drove in the lane past cultivated fields, the school’s lake, and eventually into the center of the school’s campus. A caretaker noticed us wandering about and inquired about our presence there. She was puzzled because the gate was supposed to be locked as the grounds were not open to the public. She graciously allowed us to continue looking around.

The school closed its doors and, other than part of it being used by a drug rehabilitation program for some years, it has been fallow since 1980. Ivy has grown over some of the beautiful stone buildings. Decay would make renovating the campus an expensive undertaking, but well worth the investment. After bemoaning the sad state of this beautiful campus for some years, I came across something on the web that caught my eye.

Chilocco, “The Light On The Prairie,” has been deeded over to Council of Confederated Chilocco Tribes (CCCT) which consists of representatives from Kaw Nation, Otoe-Missouri Tribe, Pawnee Nation, Ponca Nation, and Tonkawa Tribe. The outer portions of the campus, consisting of large agricultural fields have been divided up among the five tribes for development . The 165 acres which comprise the central campus are held jointly. The Alumni Association, with a grant from Conoco-Phillips 66 Oil Company, is restoring the cemetery. The CCCT is raising money to be used to restore the buildings and create a museum. The Chilocco campus has been on the National Register of Historic Places for some time and is under consideration for nomination as a National Historic Landmark.

Some Carlisle students, such as Iva Miller (Jim Thorpe’s first wife), faculty and administrators also spent parts of their careers at Chilocco. I first became aware of Iva and Chilocco at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. That story is told in Keep A-goin’: the life of Lone Star Dietz.

Chilocco Indian School campus

Chilocco Indian School campus

Talks at Retirement Centers

March 24, 2009

When the issue of giving book talks at retirement centers came up on a message board frequented by authors, some writers had found the experience not to be worthwhile. My experiences have been different – and that’s a good thing. Pennsylvania has the second oldest population of any state, behind Florida. As a result, Pennsylvania is home to quite a number of retirement centers that offer a variety of levels of care. Carlisle, being a county seat, has many of these homes with each one differing from the others in various ways. By giving talks at them, I have learned what they have in common. All are populated with significant numbers of people who are interested in history, particularly in local history.

I believe that my topic, the Carlisle Indian School, would be well-received by history buffs anywhere, it is of particular interest here where it was located. What I get out of the talks is the response from the attendees. Often, a person attends who knew people from the Indian School. One man swam with Jim Thorpe when he was a boy. Another had lunch with Thorpe a couple of times when Thorpe was passing through town and heard a friend of Thorpe’s lecture him on the evils of alcohol.

Sometimes I sell a few books, other times none at all. But that isn’t the point. These talks only take two hours of my time, door-to-door, so they cost me little to do. Some of the people who attend these talks cannot drive and have no practical way of getting to talks held at other places. These talks give shut-ins opportunities to interact with the outside world that they wouldn’t otherwise have. They also learn something because Carlisle Indian School is a fascinating and misunderstood topic.

I recommend that other authors seriously consider giving talks at retirement centers. It is rewarding and the retirees enjoy it.

Bogus Jim Thorpe Photo on ebay

March 19, 2009

Carlisle memorabilia collector Frank Loney asked my opinion about a photo that is currently up for sale on ebay. Immediately upon bringing up the item on ebay, I noticed that the photo could not be as advertised due to the seller’s description of it:



As anyone who is at all familiar with Jim Thorpe knows, he was not at Carlisle in 1910. So, right off the bat, the date is wrong. One of the first things one sees when looking at the photo are his teammates’ names. The only problem is that those names aren’t the names of Carlisle Indian School football players. The uniforms the players are wearing are not Carlisle uniforms. This must be some other team. When one looks closely at Thorpe’s image on the photo, it is not Jim Thorpe, or at least not the Jim Thorpe who played at Carlisle. This is clearly not a photo of a Carlisle Indian School football team.


Frank contacted the seller before I looked at the photo and got this response:


this was purchased at sotheby’s auction. after examination by auction house. it was determined to be between 1908-1912. the picture came from his estate and is 100% legit. the other players were from the carlisle indian school which was a college. thank you.”


As we all know, Carlisle was never a college and never purported to be one. If Sotheby’s actually examined the photo, which I doubt, they blew it. All they needed was five minutes with Steckbeck’s book to determine this was neither Jim Thorpe nor the Carlisle Indians. This may well be an interesting photo but of different people and another team.


Be careful out there. Things aren’t always what they seem.


Jim Thorpe Fitness Center

March 16, 2009

Not long ago it was my pleasure to inform readers that Carlisle, PA isn’t the only town to have Jim Thorpe on a mural. Now I can share that Carlisle Barracks isn’t the location of the only Jim Thorpe Fitness Center. Haskell Indian Nations University (HINU, Haskell Institute in Big Jim’s day) also has a Jim Thorpe Fitness Center. In fact, Haskell has had a Jim Thorpe Fitness Center for a couple of years – in a building constructed and named after the great athlete 50 years ago. A sign that formerly adorned the building’s exterior now hints to the building’s former use now hangs inside the building.

On Monday, March 9, 2009, Robert W. Wheeler, author of “Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete,” gave a talk at the re-dedication of the Jim Thorpe Fitness Center as part of the commemoration of the 125th anniversary of Haskell’s founding. The building formerly known as the Jim Thorpe Power Plant now houses machines designed to help humans maintain their muscle tone rather than machines to eliminate the need for human muscle power.

In the audience was someone who also is familiar with Carlisle. Before joining the faculty of the University of Kansas, Bernie Kish was executive director for the College Football Hall of Fame for a decade. I met Dr. Kish there when researching Lone Star Dietz. Bernie recalled his time in Carlisle:

“I was a career military officer, serving in the US Army for over 29 years. In 1981, I attended the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks—the site of the Carlisle Indian School—in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It was my privilege to play basketball in the same gymnasium and run laps on the same track as Thorpe, Lone Star, and Gus Welch. The biggest annual extra-curricular event at the War College is Jim Thorpe Sports Day. It is competition in ten sports among the military’s senior service schools, the Army, Navy and Air Force War Colleges plus the National War College and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. For two days, these future generals forget their military studies and compete for the honor of taking home the Jim Thorpe Sports Day Trophy. I was the Athletic Director for the 1982 Sports Day and in that capacity came to know Carl Thorpe, Jim’s son, quite well. I still treasure the photo of Carl and me presenting the Sports Day awards.”


Mystery Auto

March 13, 2009

Mike Balenti’s granddaughter sent me a photo of Mike and four of his Carlisle Indian School teammates in an automobile at Union Station in St. Louis. The photo was on the back of a postcard mailed in late November 1908. Checking the record confirmed that the team was on an extended road trip. The November 20, 1908 edition of The Arrow reported, “Our Varsity team will leave for the west on Wednesday, with our coach and the substitutes, to play with Minnesota University, St. Louis University, Nebraska University, and Denver University.” Newspaper accounts reflect that the Indians lost to Minnesota then won the other three games. This was the last time they played Minnesota. No coverage of the game was printed in The Arrow. All it said was, “We notice by the papers that our first football team lost to Minnesota University last Saturday by the score of 11-6. The news causes a surprise, for it was generally expected here that Minnesota was our easiest team on the western schedule. Judging from the report that our athletic relations with that-team-has been broken, we would infer that our boys failed to get the treatment there they had reason to expect.”

An Associated Press report stated, “Glen S. Warner, athletic director of the Carlisle Indian School tonight gave out a statement denying that, the University of Minnesota has cancelled athletic relations with Carlisle.” This report implies that Minnesota may have had a beef with Carlisle, but we are all too aware of how often newspapers get it wrong. Regardless, the two schools never played again. In fact, that was the last game Carlisle played against a Big Ten team.

Because I am interested in old cars, I tried to figure out the make and model of the car in the photo. It had an unusual hood that sloped downward on the sides and front. I recalled having seen photos of a Renault having a similar hood. On closer inspection, the Renault hood was a little different but I found a couple other French makes that had similar hoods. So, I posted questions on two old car sites, one on either side of the pond. Bozi Mohacek, webmaster of a site in Surrey, England posted a response to my question on the AACA site in Hershey, PA. His posting led to the correct identification. 1937hd45 posted a closeup of a 1903 Thomas Model 18 that looks very much like the car in the photo. Wondering if the car in question could have been of a later vintage, West Peterson informed me that the Thomas used a different engine and hood in 1904. Along the way I learned that a 1907 Thomas Flyer won the Great Race from New York to Paris in 1908, but that’s a story for a different blog.


Hall of Fame for the Birds

March 9, 2009

While we wait for the College Football Hall of Fame to properly acknowledge Lone Star Dietz’s contributions to the game, his old teammate and 1911 team captain, Sampson Bird, was inducted into the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. On December 12, Sampson Bird was one of 16 inductees in just the second class of the Hall of Fame. Sam Bird, Blackfeet, was the captain of Carlisle’s greatest team. His 1911 squad went 11-1, defeating both Harvard and Penn, two of the day’s greatest football powers. Two future College Football Hall of Famers, Jim Thorpe and Gus Welch, played alongside Sam, but he was elected captain for his leadership abilities. Quiet but stalwart, he led the Indians to their greatest height. Sam starred in other sports but it was in football that he made the greatest impact. Because of his versatility he was inducted as an all-around athlete rather than for a specific sport.

Sampson Bird was previously inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. Some have asked about what happened to Indians’ athletic ability since 1930. Samson Bird’s life provides part of the answer. After finishing at Carlisle, Sam and his bride, a fellow Carlisle student, Margaret Burgess, Tlinget/Haida, returned to his family’s ranch in Montana where they raised their large family. Sam was a working cowboy as were his children. His grandchildren and great grandchildren, boys and girls alike, put their athletic abilities on display as modern-day rodeo stars. Sam’s athleticism can be seen as his descendants compete in the Indian Nation Finals Rodeo. Even their horses win prizes!

Also inducted into the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame with Sampson Bird was Sam Bird Jr. The apples have indeed fallen closely to the tree.

Lone Star Dietz Belongs in Hall of Fame

March 5, 2009

The National Football Foundation released the 2009 ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame and Lone Star Dietz’s name is on it again, but don’t get too excited. Lone Star Dietz should have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame decades ago but hasn’t been. In my opinion, Dietz shouldn’t need an HoF-worthy win-loss record (something he has) to gain admission to the Hall. His 1915 season culminated by the 1916 Rose Bowl in itself should be enough. He took over a Washington State team that had had a string of losing seasons and led them to the best record on the West Coast that year. As a reward, he was given the honor of defending the honor of the west in a New Year’s Day game to be played in Pasadena after the parade. At that time West Coast football was considered to be inferior to the Eastern brand. In 1899 the Carlisle Indians defeated the University of California in a Christmas Day game played in San Francisco and this was before the Indians hit their stride. A 1902 New Year’s game was played in Pasadena between Michigan and Stanford but it was a failure because Stanford threw in the towel in the second half while losing 49-0 because they could no longer field 11 players without broken bones. They waited until 1916 to give it another try.

Dietz and his team demonstrated to the entire country that West Coast football (at least Dietz’s team) was the equivalent of Eastern Football when they beat Coach Eddie Robinson’s fine Brown University team that featured Fritz Pollard. They also established the New Year’s Day football tradition, the Rose Bowl, and all the other bowls that would follow. Some Eastern sportswriters considered Washington State to be national champs that year. Dietz didn’t need to do anything more to deserve induction, but he did and did it well. Robinson and Pollard were inducted half a century ago but not Dietz. He was inducted into the Helms Foundation long ago but not the College Football Hall of Fame.

For years the HoF had incorrectly computed his win-loss record and deemed him unworthy of consideration. Their mistake was finally corrected in this century, so almost no one alive remembers him. Also, his selection would probably not result in as large a number of banquet tickets being sold as did Bowden’s and Paterno’s. Thus the HoF has little incentive to induct him.


Indians Are Human Beings

March 2, 2009

About the same time in 1879 that Lt. Richard Henry Pratt was negotiating with the War and Interior Departments to establish an off-reservation boarding school at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, Standing Bear was defending himself in federal Court in present-day Omaha, Nebraska on the grounds that he was a human being.

While watching a C-SPAN2 Book TV segment on The Trial of Standing Bear by Frank keating, I learned something: Indians were not considered to be human beings by the U.S. Government prior to 1879. I’m not recommending Keating’s book, beautifully illustrated by Mike Wimmer, because it is a children’s book unless it is to be given to a child to read. However, the story told in it is important. As a chief of the Poncas, Standing Bear was arrested by federal troops under Brigadier General George Crook for leading a group of about 30 weak, starving tribe members from present-day Oklahoma back to their ancestral grounds in Nebraska along the Niobara River. Standing Bear’s intention was to bury there the bones of his oldest son, Bear Shield, who had died in Oklahoma. After the arrest Gen. Crook, appalled by the condition of the captives, allowed them to remain long enough to rest up for the return journey.

Supported by Crook, pro-bono attorneys John L. Webster and Andrew J. Poppleton, and Thomas Tibbles of the Omaha Daily Herald, Standing Bear filed a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court in Omaha. Due in great part to Standing Bear’s powerful testimony: “That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man. God made us both,” Judge Dundy ruled that, “…an Indian is a person within the meaning of the law” and, thus, Standing Bear had the inalienable right to “…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” providing that he obeyed the laws of the land.

This May 1879 ruling established that, in the eyes of the government and the courts, Indians were indeed human beings, a concept that Pratt had assumed some time before.