Posts Tagged ‘Richard Henry Pratt’

Vance McCormick Was First Carlisle Coach

May 1, 2012

While cleaning up the scanned files in preparation of reprinting the 1892 Spalding’s Guide, I noticed a photograph of Vance McCormick on the page opposite page 17. Walter Camp had named the Yale star as the quarterback of his 1891 All-America team, an honor that earned his photo a page in the next year’s Spalding’s Guide. A friend, Nancy Luckenbaugh, taught at Carlisle Indian School and, in 1894, invited him to make the trip from his family’s home in Harrisburg to look over the football material that could be found there. McCormick had graduated from Yale in 1893 and was living at home and working in the family businesses at that time. Liking what he saw, he agreed to become the Indians’ first coach, albeit unpaid. Disciplinarian W. G. Thompson was put in charge of the football team in 1893 when Superintendent Pratt relented and allowed the boys to play against other schools but he was not a coach.

Pratt recalled McCormick’s exuberance in his memoir:

He was on the field one day taking part in instructing the boys how to fall on the ball when chasing it down the field. The ground was moist from recent rain, but he disregarded that and was giving them most enthusiastic incentive. The boys failed to execute the movement properly as he explained, and to show them how, without removing his hat or coat he rushed after and fell on the ball, as the game required. When he got up, his hat and clothing were some admonition against too sudden enthusiasm. The boys gave themselves up to the severest practice, and such energy they soon met all conditions.

Unfortunately, Vance wasn’t a full-time coach and, thus, couldn’t devote the time and energy necessary to lead the Indians to victory against the level of competition they played. He again helped in 1895 but couldn’t devote much time to what could best be called a hobby. He would be followed by other Yale men until 1899.

Jim Thorpe’s Eye Disease

May 27, 2010

While looking through some 1911 newspapers about the 1911 Carlisle-Syracuse game for an article Ray Schmidt is doing for the College Football Historical Society, I came across a piece about Jim Thorpe having eye surgery. The December 12, 1911 edition of The Washington Post included a special from Carlisle, Pa. dated Dec. 6 titled, “Thorpe Under Knife” and subtitled “Great Indian Athlete Is Operated On for Eye Trouble.” This was news to me. I was completely unaware that Jim Thorpe had had eye trouble when he was young.

A quick scan of Thorpe biographies revealed nothing nor did the Carlisle Indian School newspaper and literary magazine. Apparently, wire services didn’t pick up this article and Thorpe biographers didn’t stumble across it. A reason for that may be that trachoma was so prevalent among Indians at that time that it was not surprising that Jim would have had it. Richard Henry Pratt devoted several pages to eye disease among the Indians in his autobiography because it was a large problem with which he dealt.

Dr. Cornelius R. Agnew of New York City visited Fort Marion and became interested in improving conditions for the Indians. Agnew was a frequent visitor at Carlisle and a significant benefactor. On each visit, he would examine ill students and recommend treatments for them. He also treated students with trachoma at his office in New York. After his demise, his protégé, Dr. L. Webster Fox, of Philadelphia stepped up and treated students for free, charging the school only a dollar a day for room and board in his hospital. Fox treated Carlisle students for 20 years and, during this time, trained the school’s physicians in performing certain treatments. So, by the time Jim Thorpe developed trachoma, the school’s physician was probably able to do the surgery himself.

The article pointed out that Thorpe was unable to read Walter Camp’s article in which he named Thorpe to his All America first team, but was able to listen to someone read it to him. Apparently, the surgery was successful because good vision is necessary to hit a major league fastball.

Honest lunatic

April 21, 2008

The May 18, 1905 edition of the Carlisle Indian School newspaper, The Arrow, listed the then current enrollments at over a dozen of the largest colleges and universities in the country at that time. Several of these large schools were and still are private schools whose enrollments haven’t grown anything like the state schools on the list. Perhaps the growth or lack thereof of student bodies gives us some insight as to why some of these schools are no longer football powers like they once were. It should give us a sense of what portion of the population went to college a hundred years ago – a very small portion. College students then consisted primarily of scions of wealthy families. Athletic scholarships didn’t exist then, at least officially. However, great athletes found their way into the elite schools and onto their teams, even if not always enrolled.


When Carlisle started playing football against the elite schools, including The Big Four, pundits were surprised to see the Indians play so well with so little formal training. They were not thought to be smart enough to play this game that originated at the major colleges and universities. Nor were they thought smart enough to compete successfully. Carlisle’s success on the gridiron showed the larger population that they could compete on a level playing field. If Indians could master something as difficult as football, they could surely become competent in other things. Critics viewed Richard Henry Pratt, founder of the school, as an “honest lunatic” because they thought Indians were not educable. The football team’s foes soon learned otherwise and, by the very early 20th century, some Carlisle alums were attending major colleges or universities and others were coaching high school or small college football teams. Not educable? Huh!