Archive for August, 2012

Today’s Event at the National Museum of the American Indian

August 17, 2012

Several decades ago, Robert W. Wheeler then a grad student at Syracuse hitchhiked coast to coast carrying an incredibly heavy reel-to-reel tape recorder to interview acquaintances of Jim Thorpe for his master’s thesis. The project grew as the miles rolled on. His budget, however, didn’t grow. But Bob persevered.

Years—it probably felt like decades—later, he had not just a master’s thesis but a full length biography of the world’s greatest athlete. After reading the book, Dick Schaap referred to Bob as Jim Thorpe’s Boswell, drawing an analogy to the thoroughness of his research in comparison to that done by James Boswell in documenting the life of Samuel Johnson. Since Wheeler’s book was first published, several other biographies of Thorpe have been written but they all draw on the painstaking work done by Wheeler.

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is celebrating of the 100th anniversary of Jim Thorpe’s triumphs in the Stockholm Games along with other Native Americans’ participation, many for medals, in the Olympics. The entrance to the exhibit features a blown up photograph of Carlisle Indian Frank Mt. Pleasant broad jumping in his Dickinson College track uniform. Here is a link to information about the exhibit:

Today, Bob Wheeler is giving a talk at the NMAI that I will be attending. Those unable to attend can hear Bob speak on the NMAI’s webcast of the event. Here is a link to the webcast: Also speaking will be Flo Ridlon, Bob’s wife, who played a crucial role in getting Thorpe’s Olympic medals restored. Both are spellbinding speakers. This is an event not to miss.

Lone Star Dietz Article in Indian Country Today

August 14, 2012

Yesterday’s edition of Indian Country Today includes an article by Jack McNeel on Lone Star Dietz. The headline, which probably wasn’t written by Mr. McNeel, understandably focuses on Dietz’s posthumous induction recently into the College Football Hall of Fame. But the article covers more than that. He covered as much of Dietz’s highly eventful life as space would allow.

Something I particularly like is that McNeely chose to use a photograph of Dietz with the Washington State team that isn’t widely used. It’s nice to see something you haven’t seen before. In this case, I probably saw it briefly when going through the Washington State photo archives some years ago but didn’t remember seeing it.

There are a few things in the article that need a little bit of clarification. First, Tournament of Roses wasn’t arranging its annual football game in the fall of 1915 because they had only hosted a game once before and that was back in 1902. The Washington State victory over Brown in 1916 was what established the game as an annual event and much of the credit for that goes to Lone Star Dietz for putting West Coast football on the same level as the eastern powers.

The statement, “Soon after, many college sports were suspended for World War I,” may compress the timeframe too much for readers unaware of what happened during that period. Dietz’s men lost two games in 1916 and were undefeated again in 1917 but weren’t invited to Pasadena because of the popularity of military teams. It was after the 1917 season that college sports were curtailed freeing Dietz to coach many of his former players on the Mare Island Marines team.

The phrase “Indian agent from the Sioux Nation” may be misleading and cause unfamiliar readers to think the agent was an Indian. The agent was a white man assigned to the Pine Ridge Agency, one of several reservations on which Sioux live.

“Benjey’s research indicates that Dietz’s father took the dead baby…” would more accurately be phrased, Benjey’s research indicates that Dietz’s father claimed to have taken the dead baby…. However, W. W. Deitz (he spelled his name differently that Lone Star spelled it) denied that publicly.

Here is a link to the article:

Time Out for Photos

August 8, 2012

Tex Noel just sent me a link to a Library of Congress website that contains digital images, some of which are of Indian football teams. The link he sent was

Tex suggested that I click on football, which I did. The problem is that I’m easily distracted. Before I could see anything related to Indian football teams, the term “Early films” jumped out at me. The first one, listed just below the sheet music for On Wisconsin!, is moving picture footage (silent of course) from the 1903 Chicago-Michigan game shot by the Edison studio. I doubt seriously if Thomas Edison himself was directly involved in making these films; employees of his probably shot them but were likely among the best in the industry, such as it was, at the time.

Four items down the list is footage of the 1903 Princeton-Yale game, also shot by Edison. A. C. Abadie is credited as being the cameraman. The footage of these old games featuring prominent teams gives one an idea what the state-of-the-art was in football uniforms and equipment at the time. The action is hard to make out at times but some things can be gleaned from replaying the clips.

Eventually, I looked at still photos. The first one I noticed, the one at the bottom of the page, is of an Alaskan Indian football team. It was also taken in 1903. Unfortunately, little in the way of detail is supplied. It would be interesting to know which team this is. Someone knowledgeable about reservations, agencies and schools around the turn of the last century might be able to shed a little light on this.

My person favorite, found on page 6 of the list, is of the 1903 University of Chicago-Haskell Institute game titled “players arguing.” From what I can tell, it looks like they’re doing a bit more than arguing. A higher resolution version might even reveal some players who later transferred to Carlisle.

Chicago & Haskell Players “arguing”

The Devil Is In The Details

August 3, 2012

I recently read in an article about Carlisle School that “[T]he Friedmans attended the local Presbyterian church that Captain Pratt and other staff belonged to.” While not inaccurate, the statement leaves off much of the story. For starters, Carlisle had three Presbyterian churches: First Presbyterian, Second Presbyterian, and Third Presbyterian. Third Presbyterian no longer exists, Second Pres. flourishes in a modern building on the edge of town, and First Pres. sets on the square, where it has since its early days, not far from the Carlisle Indian School campus.

Because of its location and because some students from the school attended First Presbyterian, readers generally assume that Pratt and Friedman attended First Presbyterian.  But a local historian knowledgeable about such things informed me that wasn’t the case. Pratt attended Second Presbyterian instead of the historic First Presbyterian Church on the square where George Washington once worshipped. Wondering why he chose that church when he was raised a Methodist, I perused the Second Presbyterian Church website history section.

Sheldon Jackson was a well-known minister who set up over 100 missions and churches in the western United States and Alaska. He was also the brother-in-law to Rev. George Norcross, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church from 1869 to 1909. Jackson used Carlisle as a home base between trips and met Pratt when he was in town. That Jackson and Pratt had compatible educational philosophies probably established a bond between them that may have extended to Norcross. That Pratt attended Second Presbyterian could be due to meeting Jackson and finding his brother-in-law to be an acceptable minister.

The Devil is in the Details may not be an accurate analogy for researching history. The truth can be found in the details is probably closer to the truth. Sometimes the cause is something prosaic rather than something more exciting or nefarious. But some digging is required to find the details.