NFL Drafts 3 Albright College Players

April 26, 2020

Today’s post is something different. It isn’t mine. I rejected offers from others who have offered to supply posts in the past. But this time it was me who did the asking. Sheldon Cohen wrote up a short piece on the 80th anniversary of the 1940 NFL draft that I find very interesting. He is the son of Gus Cohen who, among a number of other things, played football at Albright College under Coach Lone Star Dietz. We met at Dietz’s induction into the Albright College Hall of Fame. Lone Star was important to Gus and his family because he acted like a second father to Gus, who had lost his father to an early death.

Gus graduated from Albright College in 1940 where he was an All-East and 2nd/3rd team All-American lineman, playing for 2 Hall of Fame coaches, Biggie Munn (who recruited Gus from high school and later became famous as the coach and AD at Michigan State) and Lone Star Dietz (Pop Warner’s coaching protege). The draft which concluded today marks 80 years from the time Gus was drafted.

The draft and professional football were both very different. Somehow, Gus had 2 offers from NFL teams–the Philadelphia Eagle offered him a $1,000 bonus and the Brooklyn Dodgers $500. He had friends on both teams, namely his college teammate, Dick Riffle, on the Eagles (Dick was an All-American at Albright and All-Pro for the Eagles) and Leo “Moose” Disend on the Dodgers (Moose later played for the Green Bay Packers).

Gus decided to sign with the Dodgers for less money. His eldest brother, Sam (after whom I’m named), had been murdered in 1939 and Gus was very close to his mother, Sadie (after whom Sandy* is named). Signing with the Dodgers enabled Gus to be with his mother and family in New Jersey after Sam’s untimely passing at the age of 39.

Things are obviously very different with the draft and the NFL today. The one connection the family has with the NFL is cousin Barbara Bashein’s daughter, Dr. Robin West, who is Head Team Physician of the Washington Redskins (the team was named after Lone Star, a Native American, by George Preston Marshall in 1933 when the team was the Boston Braves and Lone Star was the coach).

Times have changed.

*Sandy is Gus’s daughter and Sheldon’s sister.

GusCohen

From a classmate’s 1940 Albright College yearbook.

 

Kid Irish

April 9, 2020

While watching Robert Ryan get pummeled as a too-old-to-compete boxer in a movie on TCM while sequestered over the weekend, Kid Irish flashed through my mind. My father worked at the Owens-Illinois Glass Company machine shop in Alton, Illinois starting in 1950. He continued working there when the shop moved to a new facility in the nearby town of Godfrey in 1957 (I think). He retired in 1976 or 1977. While working there, he told me that one of his coworkers had been a boxer who fought under the name “Kid Irish.” I worked there one summer as a clean-up boy but don’t recall meeting the pugilist. He could have worked on the other shift, the one Dad was on. A few years back, I read or heard that Kid Irish was a common moniker used by white boxers to inform fans that they were not black.

Intrigued and required to self-distance from society, I made a quick internet search for “Kid Irish.” Boom. Up popped a listing for a professional boxer who fought under that ring name.  Thomas A. Chiolero of Alton, Illinois lived from 1909 to 1987. This had to be the guy Dad worked with. A St. Louis sportswriter was credited with giving him his nickname, probably because he had difficulty pronouncing the Italian surname.

Kid Irish fought 55 professional bouts for 352 rounds winning 39 (7 knockouts), losing 7 (knocked only once and that was in his last fight), and drawing 9 times. He fought primarily in Illinois and Missouri but ended his career on a tour of Australia in 1938.

A search of newspaper archives uncovered two other fighters using the same name. The first was a decade earlier and ended up in an insane asylum. The other came along decades after he had retired. I also found a wrestler and a race horse using that name.

Irish wasn’t through with boxing when he hung up his gloves. His obituary in the Alton Telegraph included his activities coaching boxing at local schools, the YMCA, and the Alton Police Department. It also mentioned that he was a machinist at Owens-Illinois Glass Company for 25 years, retiring in 1973.

Kid Irish 1974

What Color Were Oorang Indians’ Uniforms

April 6, 2020

1923 Team photoFor years I’ve wondered what the Oorang Indians’ uniforms looked like, having only seen black and white photos of them. For those who aren’t familiar with the Oorang Indians, they were an early NFL team formed by Jim Thorpe and Walter Lingo, owner and operator of the Oorang Airedale mail-order kennel. A complete history of the team can be found in Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe, and the Oorang Indians by Chris Willis. A much shorter version is included in my book Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Chiefs.

I had heard the team’s colors were maroon and orange but found nothing to confirm that. The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio had neither a jersey nor a color photo in its collection. So, the question of what the Oorang uniforms looked like has remained a mystery to me.

Out of the blue last week, Channel Parrish sent me a photo of the 1923 team that the person who goes by djabamowin had colorized. The artist made the uniforms maroon and gold, with the cut outs on the jerseys in gold matching the pants. This was an attractive combination reminiscent of Carlisle Indian School’s colors: red and old gold.

Colorized photo

However, Willis’s book lists the colors as “predominately maroon, with the logo in the middle a dark orange, with the same color on the side and inner arm of the jersey. The canvas pants were brown.” This squares more closely with what I had previously heard but I have no physical evidence either way.

Sherman Pierce in Oorang uniformA black & white closeup of a player sheds a little light on this question. Where the colorized photo has the same color on the sides of the jersey as on the pants but in the black & white photo, it is clear the sides of the jerseys are darker than the pants. My guess would be that the jerseys are a different color than the pants, possibly orange. Although Spalding’s list their PTP style of pants as being brown in color. Photos I’ve seen tend to be tan (a lighter shade of brown) or gold (special orders were accepted). Since the pants in the Oorang photos aren’t shiny, I’d guess they are tan.

It would be wonderful if an old Oorang uniform surfaced so we’d know, but I’m not holding my breath until it happens.

 

 

 

Sampson Bird Fights the Pandemic

March 28, 2020

SamBird2The current pandemic brought to mind a favorite Carlisle Indian School football player. Sampson George Bird, son of John Bird, a white man of English descent, and Mattie Medicine Wolf, full-blood Piegan Blackfeet, lived on the Blackfeet Reservation near Browning, Montana, just east of present-day Glacier National Park before coming to Carlisle Indian School. Sam started receiving notice for his athletic ability at Carlisle in the fall of 1909, when he was elevated from the second team to the starting eleven. Because he was a lineman, he toiled in relative obscurity.

His social life, however, generated him more coverage in the school newspaper when he and his partner, Margaret Blackwood, Chippewa from Michigan, won three dance contests. After the school year ended, the couple left for Montana to be married. Their marriage barely survived the honeymoon because Margaret was stricken with spinal meningitis and died in August 1910.

Sampson returned to Carlisle, where he assisted Pop Warner in coaching the team while also playing right guard. At season’s end, he was elected captain of the 1911 team because he was “…one of the best players on the team, a heady player, a natural leader, and very popular among the players and students….” Coach Warner shifted him from guard to end and added an end-around play to the playbook. Sam led the team to its greatest season, beating two of the Big Four for only the second time in Carlisle history. The only blemish on their record was a one-point loss to an inferior Syracuse team on a wet field.

Off the field, he earned the reputation of being everyone’s best man by standing up for so many of his friends at their weddings. Soon after school’s end in May 1912, he married fellow student Margaret Burgess, Haida/Tlinget from Alaska, and operated his family’s ranches in Montana. They soon had a growing family. When the Great Influenza Pandemic struck, Sam Bird allowed no one on or off the ranch. Supplies from town were dropped off at the end of the lane for later pick up by the family. No one on the ranch got sick.

Athletic genes must run in Sam’s family because his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are stars on the Indian rodeo circuit.

Lone Star Dietz at Lehigh Exhibition

March 1, 2020

I just learned something new about Lone Star Dietz I didn’t know before. Andrew Jay maintains a blog about the artwork of Francis Quirk, someone I had never heard of before. In 1955, the Lehigh University Art Galleries held an exhibition of works done by Quirk, head of the department of fine arts at Lehigh, Joseph Brown, boxing instructor and associate professor of sculpture at Princeton University, Jose deRivera, formerly of Yale University and working on a Texas hotel project, and Lone Star Dietz, formerly of Reading, PA’s Albright College.

Here is a link to the Francis Quirk blog: http://francisquirk.blogspot.com/

Dietz’s contributions to the exhibit included his prize-winning landscape, “My Pittsburgh,” as well as several other famous portraits and landscapes not listed. All of these paintings were done in oil.

Because the descriptions of all but one of Dietz’s paintings are vague, I can speculate on only that one: his Pittsburgh painting. I have seen a cityscape of Pittsburgh done by Dietz, probably painted during the time he operated Liberty Academy of Advertising Art on Liberty Street in that city. The painting I saw is titled “Pittsburgh Just Grew.” However, on the back of the frame above that title is “My Pittsburgh.”

The painting is now owned by Joel Platt, owner of the Sports Immortals museum in Boca Raton, Florida. If you’re ever in South Florida, a visit to the museum is worth your time. Rather than telling you about the museum, I’m providing a link to its web page. Platt has an extraordinary collection of sports memorabilia, including items from Carlisle Indian School and Jim Thorpe. http://sportsimmortals.com/

Below are photos of “Pittsburgh Just Grew” being held by Joel Platt and the back side of the painting with an inscription written by Lone Star Dietz. This painting is surely the one he showed at the Lehigh exhibit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Indian School at Chambersburg?

February 27, 2020

Central Pennsylvania residents are well aware of Wilson College having to rebuild itself in recent decades. Not widely known is that the Carlisle Indian School could have been located on Wilson’s campus. The recent financial stress afflicting Wilson College was far from the first in its history.

When the Depression of 1882-85 struck, Wilson College lacked an endowment large enough to aid it in dealing with difficult economic circumstances. Enrollment plummeted, requiring the College to mortgage its buildings in order to pay staff and expenses. By 1883, the student population was half its former size to fewer than 30 students. The president tendered his resignation to the Trustees. They accepted it and informed the faculty that the school would close.

One of the last-ditch efforts to save Wilson College was to offer the campus to Richard Henry Pratt, Superintendent of Carlisle Indian School. Lucky for Wilson College (and probably the Indian School as well), Pratt turned down the offer.

It takes little insight to understand why he refused their offer. In 1879, the War Department lent idle army base Carlisle Barracks to Pratt as a campus for the Indian Industrial School he was establishing. One assumes he paid no rent. His student body was multiples of Wilson’s by 1883. A physical plant that served 50 students would have been inadequate to house and educate this number of students.

Carlisle Indian School was always underfunded by the government. Helping fund the school was a significant factor in fielding a highly profitable football program. So, Pratt would not have been looking for more expenses he couldn’t afford.

Superintendent Pratt on horseback.

Carlisle Indians in the Movies

January 9, 2020

5.4 Yellow fort

A photo of The Yellow Menace being shot

Sometimes something goes full circle when you least expect it. On a recent trip to St. Augustine, Florida, I looked into a few things I only had the vaguest understanding of. I was well aware that, around 1875, Richard Henry Pratt was assigned to confine captive plains Indians taken in combat at a place 2,000 miles from their homeland on the prairie. The place was Fort Marion. I knew it was located near St. Augustine but that was about it. A visit to Castillo de San Marcos, built by the Spanish between 1672 and 1695, informed me that this impenetrable fort was the place of incarceration. Old photographs taken during the 1875-1878 period of confinement supported this.

When the U. S. purchased Florida from Spain,  the Castillo was renamed Fort Marion. It was there that Pratt conceived the radical view that American Indians were educable and need not be eradicated. Prior to coming to Fort Marion, Pratt had led a troop of Buffalo Soldiers in the 10th Cavalry and had worked closely with Indian scouts (from tribes that were enemies of the ones he was fighting). At Fort Marion, he dressed the prisoners in cavalry uniforms and assigned trustees to guard their brethren. As a practical matter, escape was pointless with the Atlantic Ocean on the east and land that was foreign to plains Indians in all other directions.

Pratt allowed Quaker ladies who wintered nearby to teach the prisoners to read and write. The prisoners taught them archery and sold Sunday visitors their artwork. His experiences here led Pratt to open Carlisle Indian Industrial School at the former site of the army’s cavalry school at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

While researching the lives of Carlisle Indian School football players, I learned that three (possibly more) of them matriculated at Keewatin Academy in Wisconsin after leaving Carlisle. That the three were all Chippewa from Minnesota may have been coincidental but they appeared to be friends. Leon Boutwell and Joe Guyon joined the football team that was coached by their former schoolmate, Peter Jordan (sometimes spelled Jourdan). After the end of the regular season, the academy migrated to its winter campus in St. Augustine, where it extended its season by playing against southern football teams—until it was time to prepare for the baseball season.

Unknown to me, until I received a photograph of Boutwell and Guyon made up to look like Chinese men, was that St. Augustine had hosted a bustling movie colony years before film makers escaped to Hollywood, California to avoid enforcement of Thomas Edison’s patents. Thomas Graham, professor emeritus of history at Flagler College, has documented that colorful history in Silent Films in St. Augustine. He identified the location in the photo of Boutwell and Guyon was the doorway to the chapel at Fort Marion and that they were probably playing characters in the 1916 serial film The Yellow Menace.

Professor Graham has also graciously allowed me to use a photograph taken of the shooting of the film. He explained, “Most of the ‘Oriental’ men in the movie were local black St. Augustinians, although the local newspaper ran a want ad by the movie company for ‘short statured’ white men–evidently to play Asians. The uniformed soldiers are Florida National Guardsmen and the guns are Gatling machine guns.” Although their movie careers were short, Boutwell and Guyon were far from finished.

After serving in the 14th Field Artillery Band at Fort Sill during WWI, Leon Boutwell went on to play in the NFL for the Oorang Indians under the name Little Cyclone. After the team folded, he put his training from Carlisle as a printer to work, eventually owning and operating The Daily Telegram in Mechanicsburg, Ohio.

During WWI Joe Guyon played for the Georgia Tech “Golden Tornado” championship football team where an assistant coach said, “Tackling him was like grabbing an airplane propeller.” He played for several teams in the NFL, often alongside Jim Thorpe, and minor league baseball teams. He is enshrined in both College and Professional Football Halls of Fame.

Boutwell Guyon as Chinese

Joe Guyon (left) and Leon Boutwell (right) in costume

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Restore Jim Thorpe’s Sole Standing

November 13, 2019

Everyone knows Jim Thorpe’s gold medals for winning both the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics were taken back in 1913 because he had played some low-level minor league baseball. Less well known is that, through the efforts of husband and wife team Bob Wheeler and Florence Ridlon, his medals were restored, and his name returned to the record books. Little known is that even though his records are now included in the official report, the International Olympic Committee chose to list the second-place finishers in both events as also being gold medal winners’ point totals, even though Thorpe amassed much higher point totals. Over the decades, the IOC has resisted all efforts to restore Thorpe as the sole gold medal winner for the decathlon and pentathlon even though it was proven they had illegally taken his medals and records away. Fortunately, not all have given up hope.

U.S. Representative from the 1st Congressional District of New Mexico Debra Haaland is submitting a resolution in a week to put pressure on the IOC to right this wrong. She is proposing this resolution to coincide with Native American Heritage Month. After making its case, the resolution states:

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the International Olympic Committee, through its president, should officially recognize Jim Thorpe’s unprecedented athletic achievements as the sole Gold Medalist in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon events and correct these inaccuracies in the official Olympic books.

I urge you to assist Rep. Haaland in this effort by writing in support of this resolution to her office in care of Kevin.Carriere@mail.house.gov.

jim_thorpe

 

Post Office Honors Craighead Twins’ Greatest Achievement

June 5, 2019

wild-river-stamps-usps

More than 50 years ago, on October 2, 1968, President Johnson signed the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, putting it into law. The act, written largely by and enthusiastically promoted by the Craighead twins, was what Frank Jr. and John considered their greatest achievement. Now, the United States Post Office has honored this act and these rivers with a set of Forever stamps. Each stamp is a breathtaking photo of one of the protected rivers.

The twelve different rivers depicted in this set are:

Merced River in California’s Yosemite National Park

Niobrara River in Nebraska

Missouri River in Montana

Tlikakila River in Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park

Owyhee River in southeastern Oregon

Snake River in Idaho and Oregon

Skagit River in Washington’s Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Ontonagon River in Michigan’s Ottawa National Forest

Koyukuk River in Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Flathead River in Montana

Deschutes River in Oregon

Clarion River in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest

Only 60 million were printed, so get your set now.

Interview Videos

January 22, 2019

publicdomainq-analog_film_movie_cameraBack in 2014 as part of the Gardner Digital Memory Bank project, Blair Williams of Cumberland County Historical Society interviewed me about the Craigheads. Because the video is lengthy, I’ve cut it into clips by topic. The first three clips have been loaded onto the Craighead House website at http://CraigheadHouse.org/History. That tab was chosen because the focus of the interview was about the history of the Craighead family.

Enjoy.