Posts Tagged ‘Sally Jenkins’

Radiolab Program About Carlisle on NPR

February 13, 2015

I was interviewed at length some weeks ago by NPR’s Radiohead for a future broadcast about Carlisle Indian School football. While listening to Sally Jenkins’s interview during the program, I was saddened by the lack of nuance in her description of the 1896 Carlisle-Yale game. Yes, William O. Hickok was a Yale alum but he was also Carlisle’s coach that year. Omitting this important fact spun the officiating of the game as outright cheating. Carlisle Indian School ran a special edition of its newspaper, The Red Man, that included contemporaneous coverage of the game from the viewpoints of several observers who had differing opinions. A reasonable conclusion that could be made after reading these articles would be that Hickok blew the call, to use modern football parlance, by prematurely blowing his whistle before Isaac Seneca or Jonas Metoxen (accounts vary as to who was carrying the ball initially) was taken to the ground. Bad calls are still part of football, so much so that instant replay has been instituted in recent years to overturn them when ample evidence is provided on the video. To say that Hickok, Carlisle’s coach at the time, cheated his own team in favor of his alma mater, is a serious accusation that doesn’t stand up to the available evidence. Think about the boost a victory, or even a tie, with Yale would have given Hickok’s coaching career. He had a significant incentive to beat Yale. He just blew the call and, possibly, his chance at being a top-flight coach.

Contrary to the Radiolab program, Pop Warner didn’t just happen to coach Carlisle. After graduating from Cornell with a law degree, he had coached Iowa State and Georgia–simultaneously–before returning to lead his alma mater. Seeing that his players needed better coaching, Superintendent Pratt asked Walter Camp, the greatest expert on the game of his day, for advice. Camp suggested he consider Pop Warner, an ingenious up and coming coach. Warner and the Indians made a perfect match football-wise. Neither would likely have had the records they did without each other.

Richard Henry Pratt, who was sometimes called “an honest lunatic” by his critics, deserves a more balanced treatment than NPR gave him. Where a common, if not majority, view at the time favored eradication, Pratt held the radical view that Indians could do anything a white man could do. I’ve never found anything from the period stating that Carlisle students weren’t allowed to speak their own languages. They were surely encouraged to speak English but Pratt had no need to force them. How else were they going to communicate with each other if they didn’t? The various tribes represented at Carlisle spoke numerous different languages and could only understand those from their own tribe or one that spoke a similar-enough language. Other schools, where the students were from a single or only a few tribes, may have forced their students to speak English but Carlisle had no need to do that.

 

Why Did Jenkins Smear George Woodruff?

February 4, 2015

After Harry Carson Frye informed me of the December 25, 1905 Washburn-Fairmount game, I did a little research in the 1906 Spalding’s Guide. When my eyes drifted off to Penn coach George W. Orton’s description of the 1905 season in “Football in the Middle States.” What caught my eye most was his assessment of the 1905 Carlisle team:

“Carlisle fell a little below the high standard of former years, though the brilliant games put up against Pennsylvania, Harvard, and West Point proved that the Indians were yet very much to be feared in any company. They played the same style of game as in previous years in spite of their new coach; good punting, end running and tricky open play being their main sources of strength.”

Orton’s assessment sharply contradicted an assessment of Carlisle’s 1905 team by Sally Jenkins in The Real All Americans:

“Mercer demonstrated his utter lack of feel for the place with a totally unsuitable hire; George Woodruff….The Indians were a predictable disappointment under Woodruff. Their marvelous offense, formerly a maze of men going in different directions, became ordinary. They looked and played just like any other team, and their record showed it. They were 10-5 and lost every significant game, and more important, they lost their uniqueness. Their only real fun came in a 36-0 defeat of crosstown rival Dickinson.”

To the contrary, Caspar Whitney ranked Carlisle as the 10th best team in the country, three places behind Army even though the Indians beat the Cadets in their first-ever meeting. Still, 10th is pretty good, especially considering that he ranked them 14th in 1904. In spite of Carlisle’s four defeats (Harvard, Penn, Massillon Tigers, and Canton Bulldogs. One wonders where Jenkins found the fifth loss) Whitney ranked Harvard second in the country and Penn third. Massillon and Canton weren’t ranked because they were semi-pro teams, arguably the best of their day, in the middle of the Indians’  whirlwind 6-games-in-20-days tour. In addition to Army and the local colleges, the Indians defeated Villanova 35-0, Penn State 11-0, Virginia 12-0, Cincinnati 34-5, Washington & Jefferson 11-0, and Georgetown 76-0.

The December 8, 1905 edition of The Arrow coverage of the Georgetown game likely written by Carlisle’s PR department and subtitled “Red Men Have Such A Picnic That They Try All Sorts of Plays” suggests that the Indians had fun at more games than the one with Dickinson:

“Although the score was one-sided, the game was interesting throughout, owing to the diversity of the Indians’ work and the great amount of open field play. Mount Pleasant and Libby, the two Indian quarterbacks, let loose the great repertoire that had been taught by Woodruff, the old Pennsylvania player, and Kinney, the All-American Yale guard of last year, and gave Washingtonians the greatest exhibition of diversified football they had ever witnessed.”

Why Jenkins chose to belittle George Washington Woodruff is unclear. Maybe it advanced her storyline. Regardless of the reason, her treatment of him is unfair. Prior to coming to Carlisle, George W. Woodruff had amassed a coaching record, including three unofficial national championships at Penn that assured his enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame. A lawyer by trade, he left the team after the last regular season game at West Point to work at a various positions in the Roosevelt administration and with his friend Gifford Pinchot. Suffice it to say, Woodruff’s legacy is radically different from Jenkins’ slurs.

Was 1912 Thorpe’s 2,000-Yard Season?

July 31, 2012

It may be that the reporter was trying to determine if Jim Thorpe was the first to rush 2,000 yards in a single season rather than in his career at Carlisle. I say that because, in her article in the current edition of Smithsonian Magazine, Sally Jenkins wrote, “He returned to lead Carlisle’s football team to a 12-1-1 record, running for 1,869 yards on 191 attempts—more yards in a season than O.J. Simpson would run for USC in 1968. And that total doesn’t include yardage from two games Thorpe played in. It’s possible that, among the things Thorpe did in 1912, he was college football’s first 2,000-yard rusher.”

Again because stats aren’t my thing, I contacted Tex Noel about the single-season rushing statistics.Tex responded quickly with:

I do know that JT was NOT the 1st back to rush for 100+ yards in a game. (3 had best game totals; his 362 vs Pennsylvania in 1912 in 9th of 10 spots.)

Yards       Player, Team and Season                      

2032        Ken Strong, New York University, 1928

1869        Jim Thorpe, Carlisle, 1912

1500        Lindsey Donnell, Cumberland TN, 1935

1450        Glenn Presnell, Nebraska, 1927

1421        Norman “Red” Strader, St. Mary’s CA, 1924

1393        Lloyd Brazil, Detroit, 1928

1349        Earl “Dutch” Clark, Colorado College, 1928

1287        Frank Briante, New York University, 1927

1163        Morley Drury, USC, 1927

1074        John “Shipwreck” Kelly, Kentucky, 1931

Source: Stars of an Earlier Autumn (C) 2011, Tex Noel.

Tex has the same total rushing yards for 1912 that Jenkins has but without the caveat that he played in two games for which his statistics weren’t recorded. I suspect that, because Tex is so familiar with the haphazard way in which statistics were recorded in those days, he felt no need to point out that all numbers from that era are to be taken with a reasonable amount of salt.

I then looked in the 1913 Spalding’s Guide, but it made no mention of Thorpe’s (or anyone else’s) rushing yards for 1913. It did include a table of “Famous Runs” compiled by Parke Davis on which Carlisle players got their share of listings. Jim Thorpe was mentioned twice:

1) 80-yard run from scrimmage against Penn on November 16, 1911

2) 60-yard run from scrimmage against Penn on October 24, 1908

Neither of his longest runs were in 1912, the year freshest in Parke Davis’s mind, but longer runs made earlier by Charles Dillon, Gus Welch, and Thaddeus Redwater were.

I don’t know which games for which Thorpe’s rushing yardage is missing but it is possible that he ran for a combined 131 yards in them. It is just as possible that he didn’t, particularly if they were games in which Thorpe wasn’t needed and Pop Warner rested him to get a look at less experienced players in game situations. Thorpe’s 156 yards per game average for the 12 games for which records exist imply that he would have run for enough yardage to total more than 2,000 yards for the season. It’s just as possible that he watched from the sidelines so that he would be available for the tougher opponents in this grueling 14-game schedule.

P.S. Yesterday, this blog received its 50,000th view and highest monthly total (with a day to go).

George Woodruff’s Record

December 7, 2011

An article by Bob Barton in the November 2011 issue of the CFHS newsletter, among other things, discusses the elevation of Penn’s football program under George Woodruff’s leadership. Given the treatment that Woodruff received from Sally Jenkins, it seems necessary to present a more balanced view of his career. George Washington Woodruff (1864-1934) attended Yale University in the late 1880s, graduating in 1889. While at Yale, he played on the football team, rowed crew and ran track.

In 1892, he enrolled in law school at the University of Pennsylvania and took on the duties of coaching football and rowing crews. (One assumes that he initially took on these jobs to support himself while in law school.) Yale supporters did not take Woodruff’s shift of allegiance well as Woodruff had been a guard for the Eli. They also didn’t like the change in competiveness. The eleven games played between Yale and Penn between 1879 and 1892 all ended in victories for the Eli, often in a rout. Scores in Yale’s favor of 60-0 and 48-0 were quickly reduced by Woodruff to 28-0 and 14-6 in 1893. Claiming that Woodruff had recruited ineligible players although the rules weren’t in place before the 1893 season started, Yale broke with Penn and didn’t play them for 32 years. That didn’t seem to bother George much as his 1894 team went undefeated with victories over Princeton and Harvard and was retrospectively named National Champions. He repeated the feat in 1895 without Princeton, who remained off the schedule until 1935. Not only did George Woodruff bring the quality of Penn’s football to the highest level, he maintained it at that level, going 124-15-2 for the ten years he coached the Quakers. After dropping out of coaching following the 1901 season, he returned to the arena twice: first in 1903 to lead the Illini to an 8-6 season and again in 1905 to go 7-2 with the Carlisle Indians. His charges beat Army, Penn State and Virginia but lost to Harvard and Penn.

Woodruff’s .885366 winning percentage was far above the minimum required for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

1905 Carlisle Indians Were Ranked #10 in Country

August 8, 2011

While preparing Spalding’s Official Football Guide for 1906 for reprinting, I noticed a few things about the Carlisle Indian School football team’s 1905 season. These things caught my eye because it was this very team under Advisory Coach George Woodruff that Sally Jenkins maligned in her 1907 book. Caspar Whitney ranked the Indians as the 10th best team in the country for 1905. He also placed Frank Mt. Pleasant as a substitute at quarterback on his All America team.

George Woodruff placed three Carlisle Indians to his All Eastern Eleven for 1905: Frank Mt. Pleasant at quarterback, Charles Dillon at guard, and Wahoo (Charles Guyon, older brother of Joe Guyon) at end. N. P. Stauffer placed Dillon at guard on his All Eastern Eleven as well.

That an authority of the stature of Caspar Whitney considered Carlisle as the 10th best college football team in the country means something and that something is that the Indians were viewed as having had a very good season. Not their best ever, mind you, but a successful one at that.

These selections, along with George Orton’s observations that were posted in the June 27, 2011 message, show that Jenkins’s assessment of the type of play and success of the 1905 Carlisle Indian football team is at odds with the opinions of the experts of the day who actually saw the teams play.

1905 Carlisle Indian School football team from Spalding’s Official Football Guide for 1906

More Evidence That Sally Jenkins Was Wrong

June 27, 2011

While looking up the rules regarding the quarterback sneak in Spalding’s Official Football Guide for 1906, I came across more evidence to support the position James Sweeney took in There Were No Oysters, his critique of Sally Jenkins’ assertions in her 2007 book about Carlisle Indian School football. In his piece, Football in the Middle States, George Orton of the University of Pennsylvania wrote:

Carlisle fell a little below the high standard of former years, though the brilliant games they put up against Pennsylvania, Harvard and West Point proved that the Indians were yet very much to be feared in any company. They played the same style of game as in previous years in spite of their new coach; good punting, end running and tricky open play being their main source of strength.

Orton completely contradicts Jenkins’ claim that Carlisle abandoned its open style of play under Coach George Woodruff in 1905. It might have been that Woodruff preferred old-style play but that isn’t what the team actually did on the field games as documented by this observer. Orton even thought the Indians played brilliantly on the soft field against Harvard where Jenkins lambasted Woodruff for unimaginative play. She covered the 1905 season more extensively than most—through the Harvard game—but made no mention of the game with Army the following week or the late-season road trip west. This is most curious because, as Sweeney documented so well, the Indians beat Army in the two teams’ first meeting ever in a game that received wide coverage, particularly because of the large number of dignitaries present for the contest.

A writer with Jenkins’ pedigree and credentials could hardly have been unaware of the 1905 game given the research she did for her book. One wonders how she could have had so much wrong about the 1905 Carlisle Indians. After all, these were the young men who finally got to settle the score, metaphorically speaking, with the “long knives” on a field of battle. The 1912 Carlisle Indians were a great team, but it was their 1905 predecessors who actually did the deed.

Errata Sheet Necessary

August 23, 2010

While looking for a photograph of William O. “Wild Bill” Hickok, the Yale star who coached Carlisle in 1896, I noticed an error in the Wikipedia file about him. Wikipedia had his record as 6-4 for that year. From prior research, I knew that was incorrect.

In 1896, the Carlisle Indians played the Big Four, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Penn, on successive Saturdays away from Carlisle, sometimes on the big team’s home field, other times in a big city. The Indians lost all of these games but would have tied Yale were it not for a bad call and they would probably have beaten Harvard if they hadn’t misplayed a punt. Those games account for four of their losses that year. Those losses against six wins would be the record Wikipedia showed. However, they lost another game. The Indians played Brown University on Thanksgiving Day on Manhattan Field in New York City, the site of the Yale game played earlier in the season. Brown won the game 24-12. That loss ran the total up to five for the season out of the ten games played. Going .500 over a brutal schedule like the one the Indians played that year is quite an achievement, so great in fact that Walter Camp wrote that Carlisle should be considered among the first rank of teams after that.

How did Wikipedia come to have that error? The only reference listed on the site was Sally Jenkins’s book, so the error must have come from there. Sure enough, on page 155, Jenkins stated, “The Carlisle players were weary but jubilant; the victory [over Wisconsin] completed their first winning record at 6-4.” As it turns out, Carlisle didn’t have a winning record in 1896, they went .500 as they had done in 1895 when they went 4-4. Why did Jenkins get this wrong? My guess is that she accepted Steckbeck as being accurate. I made that same mistake myself and have to insert errata sheets in books that include that error. This is what happens when one accepts someone else’s research without checking it.

 

George Woodruff’s Coaching Record

June 8, 2010

Recently, biographer David O. Stewart asked “Who’s Checking the Facts?” in his blog at: http://207.56.179.67/david_stewart/2010/05/whos-checking-the-facts.html. In that blog, Stewart pointed out a gross error in a book that “just received a respectful review from NPR.” The book in question described Aaron Burr as “tall, elegantly dressed…” when it is widely known that Burr was short and that he was called “little Burr.” Stewart wonders “Why don’t book reviewers catch such howlers? Laziness? Ignorance? You tell me…” I have asked myself similar questions with regard to the 2007 books on Jim Thorpe by Sally Jenkins and Lars Anderson. Stewart’s question caused me to revisit Jenkins’s glaring omission of the 1905 Carlisle-Army game.

While trying to determine where Jenkins came up with a 10-5 record for the Carlisle Indians (she apparently included the Second Team’s loss to Susquehanna University on the same day the Varsity lost to Harvard), I noticed that Advisory Coach George Woodruff is generally credited by usually accurate sources, such as the College Football Hall of Fame and cfbdatawarehouse.com, with Carlisle’s 10 wins and 4 losses that year. This error is understandable because head coaches normally lead their teams for the entire season. That was not the case for George Woodruff and the 1905 Carlisle Indians.

After the Indians beat the Cadets at West Point on November 11, 1905 (the first time the Indians played Army), Woodruff left the team and headed to Washington, DC for a government job. Thus, his record for 1905 was 7-2. The remaining 5 games should have been awarded to Woodruff’s assistant, Ralph Kinney. Woodruff’s old friend, Gifford Pinchot, had taken the helm of the newly formed U. S. Forest Service and needed legal counsel. Woodruff accepted the position as the first Chief Legal Officer for the Forest Service.

Eliminating the 3 wins and 2 losses for games played after he was no longer coaching Carlisle does not dilute Woodruff’s worthiness for induction in the College Football Hall of Fame in the least. It’s just that records should be accurate.

Source of Sweetcorn Misinformation

April 8, 2010

A July 1970 article about the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe’s alcohol program that was written by Homer Bigart for the New York Times News Service appears to be the source of much of the misinformation about Asa Sweetcorn that Sally Jenkins used in her book about Carlisle Indian School. One paragraph from this unsourced article is the major culprit:

The most illustrious member of the tribe was Asa Sweetcorn, an all-time football hero who played with Jim Thorpe at Carlisle. Asa was a giant who reputedly wore a size 21 collar and could ram his head through wooden doors.

A quick look through Carlisle Indian School newspapers uncovered no mention of Asa Sweetcorn in any year other than 1910. The Washington Post listed him as the starting left guard for the game against Virginia. This supports Gus Welch’s assertion that Sweetcorn was a “running guard.” School newspaper coverage of some other 1910 games mentioned his play. No mention of him being in a Carlisle game before or after 1910 was found. Steckbeck only lists him as being on the varsity squad in 1910. However, his rosters were often incomplete. Asa may have been on the varsity before 1910 but wasn’t a starter. But no evidence has been found to support that.

So, Sweetcorn was not a star on the 1910 team, or any other year. So, he definitely wasn’t “an all-time football hero.” He didn’t play on the varsity with Jim Thorpe, as Thorpe only played on the varsity in 1907, 1908, 1911 and 1912. He was not at Carlisle in 1910 when Sweetcorn played. So, the two didn’t play on the same team unless, when younger, they played on a shop team together.

Sweetcorn may have bulked up after leaving Carlisle, but Welch’s description of him and his photograph in uniform differ from that. He was anything but a giant when at Carlisle. It is possible that he gained so much weight later that he needed a size 21 collar, but he surely didn’t when he was at the Indian School.

Sweetcorn Fools Sally Jenkins

March 30, 2010

Last time, Asa Sweetcorn explained his strategy for getting more attention from sportswriters to Gus Welch. As it turns out, the wily Indian continued to fool sportswriters long after his death. Welch described his former teammate: “This Sweetcorn was a very rugged Indian, although he only weighed about 160 pounds and probably nowadays [1933] would just be turned over to the intramural department.”

On page 258 of The Real All Americans, Sally Jenkins describes Sweetcorn: “He was an enormous, brawling, swilling man who wore size twenty-one collars and was able to ram his head through a wooden door in a liquored-up stupor.” Welch definitely didn’t describe Sweetcorn as being enormous. To the contrary, at about 160 pounds he was far from large as a football player in his day. Two decades later, he would not be given a chance to make the varsity in Welch’s opinion.

A photo of Sweetcorn in his Carlisle Indian School football uniform supports Welch’s description. He appears to be no larger than average size and without a thick neck. If Asa ballooned up to the size Jenkins described, it must have been after he left Carlisle.

The condition of Sweetcorn’s jersey in the photo supports Welch’s assertion that he received quite a beating in some games. Why he was wearing that particular jersey is unknown. What is known is that new jerseys were in limited supply. Each year, the varsity players got new jerseys and handed their old ones down to the second team who handed them down to the third team or the junior varsity who in turn handed their old ones down to the shop teams. It’s likely that his old jersey was in better shape than this one, but he may have worn this one as a badge of honor to reflect his toughness.