Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

Gridiron Gypsies: The Complete History of the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

June 17, 2022

At long last my latest book, Gridiron Gypsies: The Complete History of the Carlisle Indian School Football Team, is getting close to being published. The text layout, complete with 155 illustrations (period photos and cartoons), a list of players with the years they played, notes, and an index, is complete and a draft cover has been designed. A few softcover copies of the ARC (advance reading copy) will be printed for reviewers that don’t accept digital copies. Since Covid, most reviewers want PDFs but some still want hardcopies. PDFs have been sent to reviewers who accept them and I expect to have print versions in a couple of weeks.

The book will go on sale this fall. Preorders will be accepted after Labor Day. Now I have to design a simple website,, because books are supposed to have websites these days.

A Coaching Mystery

February 25, 2022

The current edition of the College Football Historical Association’s newsletter includes and article titled “Mystery Solved.” The author, Timothy Hudak, was researching the life of Hall of Fame coach Frank “Iron Major” Cavanaugh when he unexpectedly came across a reference to Cavanaugh coaching the University of Nebraska at Omaha football team in 1919. Knowing that the war hero was with Boston College at that time created a mystery to be solved. He wondered, “How could a man fresh from recovering from serious wounds suffered in the closing stages of the war, with a wife and six kids, coach at two schools at the same time located in opposite parts of the country?”

Hudak’s further investigation revealed that they were two different men. The Omaha coach was Frank P. Cavanaugh; the Iron Major was Frank W. Cavanaugh. Case closed. However, a similar case but not involving war injuries and a wife and six kids actually happened decades earlier.

From 1895 through 1899, Glenn S. “Pop” Warner coached teams at two different teams quite distant from each other. He coached Iowa State all five years while leading Georgia (1895-6), Cornell (1897-8), and Carlisle Indian School (1899). The question is: How did he do it?

A year after graduating from Cornell with a law degree, Warner had passed the bar but hadn’t yet developed  a substantial practice. So, when the Iowa State graduate football manager offered him twenty-five dollars a week plus expenses to coach their team, he seriously considered the offer. Curious about other possibilities, he contacted some southern and western schools. The University of Georgia offered him thirty-five dollars a week plus expenses for the ten-week period starting September 15.

He then told Iowa State he was willing to coach their team for four weeks beginning in early August. Unable to find a better coach, they offered him one hundred fifty dollars plus expenses for thirty days. An alumni player would assist him while he was there and would take charge after he left.

Warner had no losing seasons with Iowa State, one losing (3-4-0) and one undefeated (4-0-0) season with Georgia, two winning seasons (5-3-1 and 10-2-0) with Cornell, and a strong season (9-2-0) with Carlisle. Warner’s promotion to athletic director at Carlisle in 1900 ended his double-coaching career.

Pop Warner with Jim Thorpe

Working for the Man

January 6, 2022

When going though George May’s student file, I came across his application to go out on an outing over the 1916 summer. The Carlisle outing program has been severely criticized in recent years, unfairly in some instances. For starters, students had to apply for the outing program and the school’s administration had to approve it before the student was allowed to go. Younger students weren’t allowed to go for obvious reasons.

By submitting a signed application, the student agreed in writing to obeying several specified rules.    

One that wasn’t taken literally was reporting immediately to the school if taken ill. Those who were injured—farms were and are dangerous places to work—were generally given medical attention locally. It would have been foolish to delay treatment by sending them back to the school when injured.

Paying board often wasn’t an issue because room and board were part of the pay when living and working on a farm. Room and board were most definitely issues for students interning at Ford Motor Company. Paid $3.41 a day while learning the autobuilding trade, the quarter of pay required to be deposited into the student’s account at Carlisle and the cost of room and board ate up most of this pay. After completing the internship, they were paid $5.00 a day, a large amount for workers at that time.

The admonition not to return to the school on Sundays without special permission was probably to increase the student’s exposure to the majority culture and to attend church with the outing family.

George spent his first outing with Harry Snyder in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. That no town name was provided suggests that Mr. Snyder was a farmer, as were the majority of outing hosts. George returned to Carlisle in time to play football. The next summer, 1917, he went to intern at Ford. This was a plum assignment given to many football players. Carlisle was criticized for having the boys return to the school at summer’s end to play football, interrupting their learning skills.

George May (continued)

January 3, 2022
George May in football uniform

Oscar Lipps responded to George May’s mother on the 31st, not having decided what action he was going to take regarding her son’s behavior:

“Generally speaking, George has not been a bad fellow at Carlisle. It is very unfortunate that he became involved in trouble that led to his infection. He is a young man [19] and should have known better….I have done everything in my power to break down this tendency among a number of the larger boys to slip out and meet girls of bad reputation near the school grounds and get liquor. I have talked to the boys, the disciplinarian has talked to them, and I have had men of experience and high standing in the community come out to the school and talk to them along these lines. Unless a boy has some backbone and strength of character, he is going to go wrong in this world….Unless George, himdelf, wants to do right, no power on earth can make him except that of the police force.. We could lock him up in the guard house and he could not get out to get into mischief, but I do not wish to do that. A boy who has to be treated in this manner had better not be in school.

“I do not know just yet what we shall do with George….He is now practically cured of this disease, but any boy who has once had this disease is usually shunned by the better class of boys in school, and the fact that such a boy is allowed to remain in school often has a bad influence among other boys who have learned to regard such conduct as disgraceful.”

His mother wrote back, saying, “Yes, George is not a bad boy. He wrote to me saying that he was very sorry for what he had done. And if you gave him another chance he would be a good boy and behave himself.”

Superintendent Lipps allowed George to stay at Carlisle. He was soon playing in the school band and running races for the track team. The next fall, he played on the football team and captained it in 1916. In 1917 while working in the apprenticeship program at Ford Motor Company, he enlisted in the 33rd Michigan Infantry and played in the band.

Wicked Carlisle

December 30, 2021

While researching the players on the 1913 Carlisle squad for my compete history of the Carlisle Indian School football team, I came across a player named Moy starting at left end for the Reserves line-up against Holmesburg on November 27, 1913. Finding no Carlisle student named Moy, I thought it might have been George May, who was known to have played on later Carlisle teams. Scrolling through his student file showed that it couldn’t have been him because he didn’t enroll at Carlisle until September 19, 1914. Not wanting to overlook a previous enrollment he might have had and wanting to know something about a future player, I scanned his entire file.

The first thing I found in his file after the enrollment papers was a short letter from May’s mother to Superintendent Oscar Lipps dated December 19, 1914 in which she wrote that she was very concerned about George as she had heard that he was ill. He wasn’t mentioned in the school newspaper as having gone out for football and his name didn’t appear in the coverage of any game. So, his illness wasn’t related to participating in athletics. However, he probably came into contact with, what was called at the time, a sporting woman.

Lipps responded to her letter on December 22nd, informing her, “…that your son, George May, has been afflicted with a venereal disease. He is being treated at our school hospital and it will probably be necessary to have him sent home as soon as an apparent cure is effected because he is morally undesirable to continue as a student here on account of his diseased condition.”

George’s mother responded on the 27th blaming Lipps for his condition. “[H]e had [a] good reputation and was respected wherever he went.” She was unhappy that her son was to be sent home in disgrace and asked that he receive the best possible medical treatment.

(to be continued in the New Year)

Under the Big Top

October 21, 2021

Identifying the starters and frequent substitutes went like a breeze. The reserves didn’t go nearly as well. They are always harder to determine because they get so much less press than the varsity regulars. Their names were misspelled worse than the regulars and their names appeared in the school newspaper less frequently.

 The first game the Reserves played was against Mercersburg Academy. The September 27 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer listed some unfamiliar players’ names or names similar to those of students who had already left. Achambault, Matlock, Crow, Wynaco, Knox, Kettle, and Leo required some research. Quarterback Knox was the most interesting. He seems to be Augustine Knocks-Off-Two. Crow turned out to be Boyd Crowe.  

Dickinson College’s prep school, Conway Hall, was next. The October 5 Philadelphia Inquirer had Robbin playing quarterback. The closest name I could find to that was Robinson, of which several attended Carlisle. George Robinson appeared to be the most likely one, although he was only seventeen.

The Lebanon Daily News of October 13 listed Quick Bear at left end, Crow at quarterback, and Knox at right halfback against Albright College. Ernest Quick Bear had played for the Indians but was gone by then but younger brother Levi was there. Their father Reuben Quick Bear was among the first bunch of Sioux students to come from the Rosebud Reservation in 1879.

Robbin again substituted for Crow against Bloomsburg as reported in the October 26 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

No new names were introduced in the coverage of the Hillman Academy game.

The Philadelphia Inquirer introduced several new names in its coverage of the November 13 game with Muhlenberg. Eastman, and Gibson were resolved fairly quickly. Oneida and Pigtop weren’t. The Allentown Democrat added some confusion by spelling the latter two as O’Neida and F. Bigtop. It also sent in Indian for White instead of Eastman. Indian Jack was the closest I got and he left in the late 1880s. No student was named Oneida, by either spelling, but numerous Oneidas had played on the football team.

Finally, The Philadelphia Inquirer added Moy and Deerfoot and continued Bigtop for the Holmesburg contest. Moy couldn’t be George May because he hadn’t arrived at the school yet. Perhaps it was Thomas Montoya. Pigtop was Fred Big Top.  His signature gives a hint as to his name’s meaning.

New Information!!!

While browsing the October 23, 1914 edition of The Carlisle Arrow, I came across the following:

Grant White, better known as “Indian,” is the first Carlisle Indian ever to cross the goal line at Albright College, but despite that fact, the second team was defeated.

Note that the varsity generally played Albright College in Carlisle. Now we know that Grant White was the player listed in the 1913 and 1914 line-ups and that he was the person The Philadelphia Inquirer had referred to as “Indian.”

More Mystery Players

October 12, 2021

After going through the games played by the first string—some time around 1900—Carlisle started scheduling a few games each year for its second and third strings. Pundits often referred to these teams as the reserves or scrubs. All four terms can be found in coverage of these games. Their opponents were generally small colleges or prep schools. While researching these games, I’ve come across a number of Carlisle Indian School football players’ names I cannot resolve. I haven’t been able to identify the names below in school records or publications although they were listed in newspaper accounts of games.

1906 Wholes – Might this player be Clarence Woodbury, aka Hole-in-the-Day?

1908 McGill – I have no idea who this might be

1908 Barlow – Students named Carlow & Garlow were enrolled at Carlisle but no Barlow

1908 O’Bline – The closest I found was O’Brien but none were of the proper age when at Carlisle

1908 McClure – Frank McClure was long gone by this time

Do you have any idea who they were?

Mystery Players

October 6, 2021

While researching records and newspapers, I’ve come across a number of Carlisle Indian School football players’ names I cannot resolve and I still have the 1913-1917 seasons to go. I haven’t been able to identify the names below in school records or publications although they were listed in newspaper accounts of games. Most of them were in write-ups of games involving the reserves as varsity starters and frequent substitutes posed few problems. Sometimes the digital imaging site at Dickinson College helps. For example when I submitted “Wanneshie Carlisle Indian” to the Internet search engine, it returned a link to the Student File for William Winneshiek on the Dickinson College site. I found no other person with a name near as close as this on my own, so I’m guessing he was the guy. Any help in determining who the players were would be most appreciated. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out some were nicknames.

Early Bird1911

Who Was Long Horn?

September 19, 2021

After finishing what I hoped was the final draft of my complete history of the Carlisle Indian football team and waiting for my editor’s comments, I started working on the appendices. Perhaps most important is the listing of the young men who played on the varsity each year. Aware of the difficulties Steckbeck had in compiling rosters given the incomplete records that existed both then and now, I rolled up my sleeves and dug into the task. It’s been tedious to the extreme and I’m sure I’m missing people but records are sketchy, especially for the early years. When I found a complete listing of the 1905 squad in the school newspaper and a photo of the entire team with a legend identifying all the players, I thought I had it made. The school newspaper article even included the first names of the players, something rarely done on the sports pages. While crosschecking against game write-ups in newspapers from across the country, I came across a curious little item.

A piece about injuries in The Pittsburgh Press included a couple of seemingly innocuous sentences: “Hunt is taking the place of the injured Kennedy at center. Big Long Horn is a new sub-center and passes the ball well.” I had no idea who Long Horn was, big or otherwise, having not heard of him before and not seeing his name on any roster. Searches of the school records for Longhorn or Long Horn returned only a reference to an assistant carpenter at the Kiowa Reservation in 2010. Line-ups in newspaper coverage of games throughout the season included Longhorn either starting or backing-up a line position, mostly center, starting with the The Philadelphia Inquirer’s coverage of  the Indians’ first game against P. P. P. Y. M. C. A. of Columbia, PA and immediately followed by The New York Times’ coverage of the Villanova game. The next week, The Philadelphia Inquirer did a most unusual thing: it published a complete roster of Carlisle players at that time, all 54 of them by name, age, tribe, and home state. Long Horn was listed as a 24-year-old Seneca from New York.  The October 21 Boston Evening Transcript also mentioned him: “Long Horn, right guard on the second eleven, has lately developed as a good centre, and the coaches believe that he will make a sure hand at passing the ball.” A week later, he was getting playing time at center against Penn.

The Pittsburgh Press shed some light on the issue before the Harvard game: “Scott, whose Indian Name is Long Horn, is badly bruised as a result of the Dickinson game….” Thus, the mystery is solved. Long Horn was Frank Scott’s Indian Name. A quick look at The Philadelphia Inquirer’s coverage of the Villanova game had Scott at left guard and didn’t mention Long Horn. Pittsburgh Daily Post had Scott playing center against Dickinson College and also made no mention of Long Horn. That both names don’t appear together in any line-up is further evidence Scott and Long Horn are the same person. But other such mysteries may still exist.

Lies About Carlisle Indian School

July 13, 2021

I generally don’t bother to refute misinformation promulgated about Carlisle Indian School but, with reports on what happened at First Nations schools in Canada operated by the Catholic Church often being conflated with American schools, I now find it necessary to comment on a Facebook post (included below) that was forwarded to me for comment. Mr. Edwards appears to have visited Carlisle Barracks but is unfamiliar with its history. Some errors are so off they require no research on my part.

His sentence that includes the phrase “til ’51 or 2” is worded awkwardly but appears to mean that Mr. Edwards’ relatives played on the grounds at Carlisle Barracks in the early 1950s. If they had done that, they likely had some affiliation with the Army because Carlisle Indian School closed permanently in 1918.

Edwards’ comment about seeing fingerprints in the mortar on the Indian Field grandstand are incorrect unless the Army brought Indian masons back to Carlisle to build the new, concrete grandstand years later. Students learning the building trades likely built the original wooden grandstand around 1906, but they were long gone by the time the masonry grandstand was erected. However, they did build a masonry building: the Native Arts building which still stands. The school newspaper lauded the students for the quality of their work on the building in which the famous Winnebago artist, Angel DeCora, taught. It is diagonally across the street from the house in which Pop Warner lived. That house was also built by students. The funding for both these structures came from the Athletic Department.

A quick look at newspapers from August 1927, when the graves were moved, gives the total at 187. Perhaps Mr. Edwards was confused by hearing that over 1,000 students were enrolled in the school at its peak and mistook that for being the number of graves. Superintendent Pratt has been criticized for sending sick children home to die. He likely did that to keep diseases from spreading to other students and there was little he could do for many of them. The state-of-the-art of medicine had not advanced very far at the time the school was in operation. Lifespans were short. People, white and Indian alike, died at early ages. Tuberculous was rampant and took many lives. Pratt sent bodies of dead children home to those parents who wanted their remains whenever he could because a large graveyard filled with dead students wouldn’t have been good advertising for his school.

The graves were not moved to make room for a road. Officer housing was built on that site.

I had heard that the moving of the graves had been done in a haphazard manner but the newspaper articles suggest otherwise. Sixteen men were assigned to do the job. While errors were likely made, it appears that remains were paired with the headstones as both were relocated from the old cemetery to the new one. Some records were surely lost when the Indian School was closed with little advance notice. So, it would not be surprising to learn that some graves were mismarked. Something that argues for the overall data to be accurate is that the headstones were created shortly after the students died and would have been mostly correct, although some details could have been wrong. This was a government project after all so some screw ups were inevitable.

Neil Edwards

From where I’m standing a few yards to my right, a few yards to my left and back to that building almost where the stop sign is behind them vehicles is the old graveyard at Carlisle. There’s children under there…. but you won’t hear about that you’ll only hear about the graveyard out front. If I remember correctly, without looking it up, there was about 1,200 students back there and during the early 30s they ripped the graves out deep enough to make the road and piled them at random out front in 190 holes 192 I think or whatever……strange things happen here that’ll make yer neck hairs stand up…… this isn’t far from the “good ice” …their winter ice rink. In back and to my left is the field where Jim Thorpe, my family George Thomas todadaho, my great uncle, til ’51 or 2 I believe and his sister Edith Thomas, my GG, used to play. You can see the students fingerprints in the mortar between the Rocks when they built the grandstand there’s even fingerprints where they ended each pass in the morter.

If you don’t start learning about boarding schools here at Carlisle it’s like starting a book in the middle of it. You don’t know anything until you start here.