Archive for June, 2010

No Hall of Fame for Jim Thorpe

June 29, 2010

Shortly after Jim’s body had been moved to the Rose Hill Mausoleum in Tulsa, one of his sons, Bill Thorpe, wired Governor Murray to protest the removal, stating that it was done without the approval of the deceased’s children. The Shawnee Chamber of Commerce was in an uproar over losing $3,000 that was donated by area residents, but their fund-raising effort for the project hadn’t advance beyond the planning stages. A month earlier, she threatened to move the body if progress wasn’t made and she carried out that threat.

Plans in Tulsa didn’t advance much either. The JayCees considered it briefly but found that there were “too many complications.” In early November, still in 1953, reports came out of Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania that two neighboring boroughs were considering merging, naming the new municipality after Jim Thorpe, creating a national shrine in his honor, and building a hospital for the treatment of cancer and heart patients (Thorpe suffered from both).

According to Bruce Heydt, managing editor of British Heritage magazine, Patricia Thorpe found her way to Mauch Chunk after meeting with Bert Bell, then the Commissioner of the NFL. She had seen a TV broadcast about Mauch Chunk’s revitalization efforts and Bell was looking for a location for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They negotiated with Mauch Chunk officials and struck a deal. In addition to the above-named items, the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be located in the newly-incorporated Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Bell died before he could bring the Hall of Fame to Jim Thorpe and it went to Canton, Ohio, the city for which Big Jim had his greatest professional years.

It appears that the town fulfilled its side of the agreement but Mrs. Thorpe and Bell were unable to provide everything they promised. The outcome may have been considerably different had Bert Bell succeeded in bringing the Hall of Fame to Jim Thorpe.

Jim Thorpe to be Moved?

June 25, 2010

Yesterday, Jack Thorpe, the son of Jim Thorpe, sued the Borough of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, for the return of his father’s remains. When asked about the law suit that was filed in Federal Court in Scranton, he stated that he waited until the last of his sisters had passed to avoid disharmony in the family. The sisters, children of Jim Thorpe’s first wife, especially Grace the activist, supported the eastern location for their father’s remains. Jack and his brothers were the issue of Big Jim’s second marriage. The arrangement to have her, by the time this happened, very late husband interred in what had previously been called Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk were made by Jim’s third, and last, wife.

The State of Oklahoma had the opportunity to provide a fitting memorial after he died but failed to support it. In the spring of 1953, the Shawnee, Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce planned to erect a memorial to Jim Thorpe on an 80-acre tract at a cost of $100,000. The State Legislature even appropriated $25,000 toward the cost of the memorial, but Governor Johnston Murray vetoed it. The Chamber of Commerce gave Mrs. Thorpe $3,000 in “expense money” with understanding that she would bring the body to Shawnee.

By early September, little money had been raised and she said that the rent on the crypt in Shawnee hadn’t been paid and that, “I was afraid he’d wind up in Potter’s Field.” The Chamber of Commerce was unaware that crypt rental was due. She then moved his body to Tulsa where plans “are pretty far along.” She announced that a five-man committee, of which three were Tulsans, had been formed to build a monument to be known as the Jim Thorpe memorial and foundation somewhere in the Tulsa area. (to be continued)

Chicken Legs or Bird Legs?

June 21, 2010

I have wondered for some time where John S. Steckbeck found some of the the anecdotes he used in Fabulous Redmen. The other day while searching for something else—the usual situation—I came across a Project Gutenberg file for Football Days: Memories of the Game and of the Men Behind the Ball, a 1916 book by William H. Edwards, Princeton 1900, with an introduction by Walter Camp. In one section of the book, Edwards retells some of stories told by former Yale star Carl Flanders, who helped coach the Indians in 1906.

Because Flanders related these stories within a decade of them happening, they stand a better chance of being accurate than those that were told a half century, or longer, after that. Of particular interest was the topic of nicknames:

“The nicknames with which the Indians labeled each other were mostly those of animals or a weapon of defense. Mount Pleasant and Libby always called each other Knife. Bill Gardner was crowned Chicken Legs, Charles, one of the halfbacks, and a regular little tiger, was called Bird Legs. Other names fastened to the different players were Whale Bone, Shoe String, Tommyhawk and Wolf.”

I do wonder if Edwards got a couple of the names reversed or if Flanders remembered them incorrectly. During WWI, Bill Gardner was referred to in newspaper columns as “Birdie,” something that leads me to suspect that his nickname was Bird Legs not Chicken Legs. If that is so, then Wilson Charles was probably called Chicken Legs. Perhaps a descendent of his will let us know which was his correct nickname.

Bill Church Letter for sale

June 17, 2010

Right now, for sale on eBay is a letter dated October 26, 1896 on Essex County Park Commission stationery to “My Dear Mr. Church” from a person whose signature I can’t make out. From the tone of the letter, the writer was apparently a Princeton alum who was thanking Church for his hospitality by allowing him to stay in his room at the Cannon Club on a Princeton football Saturday. The recipient of the letter was probably one of the football-playing Church brothers, J. Robb “Bob” Church, class of 1888, or Bill Church, class of 1897. The seller states that the letter is from the estate of Bill Church. This makes sense because the Cannon Club was first opened during Bill’s time at Princeton. Bob was awarded a Medal of Honor for his valor in the Spanish-American War. Bill was named to the All America first team at tackle that year. After graduation, coached and played football for a few years after leaving Princeton.

A second purpose of the letter was to provide Church with some intelligence for the upcoming Princeton-Yale game. Two days earlier, the writer had attended the Carlisle-Yale game that was played on Manhattan Field in New York City. That was the infamous game in which the Indians were robbed of a touchdown. This Princetonian thought it was worse than that. He wrote, “The score should have been about Carlisle 18 – Yale 12, in order to represent the facts – and the relative merits of the teams. I wish you would say to yourself and to the rest of the Princeton boys that there is no reason now in sight why they should not win this year.”

And win they did. Princeton beat Yale 24-6. They beat Carlisle 22-6. These 12 points were all that were scored against that year’s national champions. Yale ended its season at 13-1. It should have been 12-2.

More on Pop Warner’s last game with Carlisle

June 15, 2010

Apparently, Pop Warner added three post-season games to the 1914 schedule very late in the season, quickly or while on the road or all three. The first mention of the post-season games came in the December 4 issue of The Carlisle Arrow, after the first two of these games had been played. The team likely did not return home after the Thanksgiving game with Brown because the first pot-season game was played two days later in Boston. On December 6, the Indians met Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn) in a game played in Atlanta that figures prominently in Auburn folklore. It was Pop Warner’s last at Carlisle’s helm and Lone Star Dietz’s last before embarking on a career as a head coach.

Some research into student files uncovered the fact that former Carlisle end Charles Guyon, aka Wahoo, was instrumental in setting up that game. At that time, he was th Atlanta branch manager for Spalding Sporting Goods and, as such, was closely involved in athletics in that city. Unfortunately for him, the game had been set up too quickly to generate much publicity and, due to having a bad season, the Indians weren’t a big draw at that time. Guyon fronted the money for the game and lost it. Attempts to have the government refund part of it were fruitless.

The game itself was a defensive struggle. The Indians had the ball in Auburn territory much of the first quarter but failed to score. Auburn stiffened. The second and third quarters were fought to a standstill with neither team able to generate much offense, let alone score. In the final period, Auburn moved the ball with a series of line plunges followed by pass from quarterback Hairston to left end Kearly, who carried the ball to the Carlisle six-yard line. “On the next play Hairston catapulted through the Indian line for the touchdown.” Louiselle kicked the extra point. Carlisle moved the ball with a series of lateral and pass plays but fell short when a pass was intercepted.

The game lives on in Auburn folklore, not for the victory so much as for the play of a Carlisle substitute named Hawkeagle.

Pop Warner’s Last Game as Carlisle Coach

June 10, 2010

A person interested in writing a biography of Pop Warner contacted me last night with some questions that got me thinking about what is not commonly known about Warner. One thing I uncovered is his last game as head coach of the Carlisle Indians. Steckbeck didn’t cover it, most likely because the school paper didn’t say anything about it.

Warner considered the 1914 season to be a disaster and made it his last. Up through the end of November, Carlisle’s season was to end with the annual Thanksgiving game with Brown University. When writing about the Brown game in the December 4, 1915 issue of The Carlisle Arrow, Assistant Coach John McGillis announced three postseason games: 1. Former Harvard All Stars in Boston, 2. University of Georgia at Atlanta, and 3. University of Alabama at Birmingham. The Boston game, in which Carlisle lost 13-6, had already been played by that time. Then the Indians beat Alabama 20-3. It should be noted that Bama still plays some of its big games in Birmingham rather than on-campus in Tuscaloosa.

The Georgia game was never played or had been confused with Auburn because the Indians played the unscored-up Auburn team four days later. However, nothing was written about it in the Carlisle school newspaper, even after it was played. That was probably because Pop Warner had decided to take the Pitt job and leave. Later, Warner wrote that he had been approached by Pitt officials after the Carlisle-Pitt game on October 17 about the head coaching job and he decided to take it.

After the joint congressional investigation earlier in 1914, Warner’s publicity machine appears to have been shutdown, leaving the writing of articles to the coaches. Already mentally in Pittsburgh, Warner didn’t bother to write up anything about the Auburn game. More on that game next time.

George Woodruff’s Coaching Record

June 8, 2010

Recently, biographer David O. Stewart asked “Who’s Checking the Facts?” in his blog at: In that blog, Stewart pointed out a gross error in a book that “just received a respectful review from NPR.” The book in question described Aaron Burr as “tall, elegantly dressed…” when it is widely known that Burr was short and that he was called “little Burr.” Stewart wonders “Why don’t book reviewers catch such howlers? Laziness? Ignorance? You tell me…” I have asked myself similar questions with regard to the 2007 books on Jim Thorpe by Sally Jenkins and Lars Anderson. Stewart’s question caused me to revisit Jenkins’s glaring omission of the 1905 Carlisle-Army game.

While trying to determine where Jenkins came up with a 10-5 record for the Carlisle Indians (she apparently included the Second Team’s loss to Susquehanna University on the same day the Varsity lost to Harvard), I noticed that Advisory Coach George Woodruff is generally credited by usually accurate sources, such as the College Football Hall of Fame and, with Carlisle’s 10 wins and 4 losses that year. This error is understandable because head coaches normally lead their teams for the entire season. That was not the case for George Woodruff and the 1905 Carlisle Indians.

After the Indians beat the Cadets at West Point on November 11, 1905 (the first time the Indians played Army), Woodruff left the team and headed to Washington, DC for a government job. Thus, his record for 1905 was 7-2. The remaining 5 games should have been awarded to Woodruff’s assistant, Ralph Kinney. Woodruff’s old friend, Gifford Pinchot, had taken the helm of the newly formed U. S. Forest Service and needed legal counsel. Woodruff accepted the position as the first Chief Legal Officer for the Forest Service.

Eliminating the 3 wins and 2 losses for games played after he was no longer coaching Carlisle does not dilute Woodruff’s worthiness for induction in the College Football Hall of Fame in the least. It’s just that records should be accurate.

John B. Warren

June 4, 2010

A collector contacted me about two cabinet cards he had purchased from what was purported to be the estate of John B. Warren in an attempt to verify that they were in fact photographs of Carlisle Indian School students. The collector wasn’t familiar with Warren and I only knew that he played on the Carlisle Indian School football team at some point. Identifying the first one was easy. The collector was correct in that it was a photo of Martin Wheelock. He was a star on the teams from 1894 to 1902, serving as captain of the 1899 and 1901 teams. In 1899 and again in 1901, Walter Camp named Martin Wheelock as a tackle on his All America second team. Thus, his face was well known and readily identifiable. This was not the case for Warren.

Steckbeck, the first place to look for information on Carlisle Indian School football, listed a Warren as being a member of the 1899 team. The photo of the 1899 team in Steckbeck’s book identified him as being the person second from right in the middle row, next to Jonas Metoxen. He was not mentioned in the book’s text, so more research was required.

Newspaper coverage of the 1899 games had Warren as playing right guard and tackle in parts of some games. Although not a starter, Warren got some playing time that year. That was probably the extent of John’s varsity play because he graduated in March of 1900 and is included in his class photo in the commencement issue of the school newspaper.

The June 26, 1903 issue of The Red Man and Helper mentioned that “John Warren, class 1900 Carlisle, who has been attending the Minnesota State University is home.” The October 3, 1902 edition reported that his sister, “Grace Warren married a white man and is disappointed.” More research is clearly required.