Gus Welch Was a Redskin

While working on Gus Welch’s chapter for the upcoming “Wisconsin’s Carlisle Indian School Immortals,” I read a letter in his Carlisle Indian School file that he wrote to Superintendent John Francis in June 1917 about his experiences in Reserve Officers Training Camp at Fort Niagara, New York. Most of the letter dealt with the severe headaches Welch was suffering at the rifle range. After fracturing both his cheekbone and the base of his skull in a collision with Ray “Iron Eich” Eichenlaub in the 1914 Notre Dame game, Gus disobeyed doctor’s orders and checked himself out of the hospital prematurely. His physician described his injury as one “…which requires absolute rest to insure a future without invalidism, such as epilepsy, paralysis, deafness or loss of sight, any one of which might develop in after years from recklessness or negligence at this time.” Fortunately for Gus, none of these things happened, but not by much.

Gus also wrote about the standards he held himself to: I have done my best, keeping always in mind that I was a Carlisle man. I also had to remember that I was the only Redskin in camp, and of course my errors would naturally look larger than the other fellows.” It is significant that he referred to himself as a Redskin, something he was proud of being. Welch was no shrinking violet or “Uncle Tom.” When the Federal Government appropriated some of his land for a highway, he didn’t take it lying down. He fought them as hard as he could, using his legal skills learned at Dickinson School of Law and in his years of practice.

This is evidence that, less than 100 years ago, Redskins was not a derogative term. It seems not to have been derogative until some activists “discovered” alternative meanings in the 1960s.

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6 Responses to “Gus Welch Was a Redskin”

  1. Carlo Kumpula Says:

    Tom-
    “Wisconsin’s Carlisle Indian School Immortals”… is that going to be a book, or part of your blog?
    Also, the Carlisle Indian School file you referenced here, is that from the National Archives?
    Carlo Kumpula
    Spooner, Wisconsin

    • tombenjey Says:

      Carlo,

      “Wisconsin’s Carlisle Indian School Immortals” is a book that follows 17 football stars through their later lives. It is to be released on September 1. IIRC Gus Welch was from Spooner. Others local to you were Lone Star Dietz (Rice Lake) and Frank Lone Star (Shell Lake). Yes, the student files I referenced are from the National Archives in Washington, DC. Gus Welch’s file is larger than most due in part to the correspondence he maintained with the superintendent. As an orphan who had also lost most of his siblings to TB, he had little of his own family left.

      What these men did with their lives should be inspiring to young people today, particularly to the disadvantaged.

      Thank you for your interest.

      Tom

  2. Bruce Keating Says:

    Gus Welch was an inspiration to me in his later life. In the mid 1950’s, after his camp on the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed down, he ran a small summer camp at his farm near Bedford, VA. Gus taught us by example and made mountain farm work fun. In his late 60’s he would throw bails of hay around with ease. As a city thirteen year old, I learned to ride and keep horses and the fun of living outdoors. Loved his stories of WW1 and life at Carlisle Indian School. He and his wife were the first Native Americans that I met an am very proud to have known them

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