Posts Tagged ‘John Francis’

Gus Welch Was a Redskin

February 13, 2010

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.