Posts Tagged ‘West Point’

Joe Bergie

April 27, 2016

Bergie, Joe from 1912 line photoI often learn things while giving book talks. Yesterday was no different. One of the attendees (whom I didn’t ask permission to use his name) informed me that, when doing some work at Fort Peck Reservation in northeastern Montana in the 1960s, he met Joe Bergie. The first thing I learned is Joe pronounced his last name with a hard G not a soft G as I had assumed. That’s one of the problems of only reading someone’s name; you don’t know how it is pronounced.

The gentleman had talked at length with Bergie out in Montana. Bergie shared with him that, after the 1912 game at West Point, the team had a three-hour layover at Grand Central Station in New York City. Warner let them use the time to see as much of the city as they could before it was time for their train to leave. For boys mostly from reservations, Carlisle was a big town with modern conveniences such as electricity and trolleycars. New York was something else again. Without going into the specifics of their exploits, Joe thought it was a miracle all found their way back to catch their train on time.

Joe told a story major newspapers didn’t include in their coverage of the 1912 Carlisle-Army game. Winded after having his kick-off return for a touchdown called back for having stepped out of bounds, Jim Thorpe returned the re-kick well but ran out of steam and was tackled at the 3-yard line. Bergie, who was the back up fullback, was given the ball instead of the tired Thorpe. Joe punched the ball over the goal line but landed on the ball, something that can be painful any time. This time, he had half of each team on top of him and the officials were slow in pulling players off the pile. He thought he was going to suffocate under the weight. The national papers didn’t notice that he was the ball carrier and gave credit for the score to Jim Thorpe.

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100th Anniversary of 1912 Carlisle-Army Game

November 9, 2012

Follows is the short article I was asked to write for The Torch, the monthly magazine of the U. S. Army War College, to commemmorate the 100th Anniversary of the 1912 Carlisle-Army football game:

The Cadets of West Point took the field on The Plain November 9, 1912, aiming to avenge their 1905 loss to Carlisle Indian School in the two schools’ only previous battle, also on The Plain. Missing from the second battle were the players and coaches from both 1905 teams and Major William A. Mercer, Carlisle Superintendent and Calvary officer, who had arranged that game by gaining permission from the War Department. Also AWOL in 1912 were the large crowd, dignitaries, and media interest the first game attracted. Present in 1912 were Jim Thorpe, Gus Welch, Joe Guyon, Pop Warner, Leland Devore, Dwight Eisenhower, Babe Weyand (in the bleachers), and Pot Graves, a cast surely destined for a movie.

Ominous clouds filled the sky and a cold wind blew across the field, making passing and punting risky businesses. Both sides’ emotions ran high as the combatants craved a victory. Carlisle arrived undefeated, the only blemish on their record a scoreless tie with Washington and Jefferson College, a month earlier. Army was 3-1 with a 6-0 loss to Yale. Holding the Eli of Yale to only four first downs and a low score gave the Cadets hope for success over the Indians.

Newspaper accounts after the game never considered its outcome in doubt, but those looking only at the scoreboard, at least for the first half, may have thought otherwise. The Indians bested the Cadets for most of the first half but didn’t score due to errant forward passes in the end zone. The turning point of the second quarter came when Carlisle fullback Stancil “Possum” Powell was expelled from the game for punching Army quarterback Vern “Nig” Pritchard. The 27-yard penalty combined with Powell’s ejection dampened the Indians’ spirits. Army then moved the ball forward the remaining 27 yards with fullback Geoffrey Keyes pushing the ball across the goal line. Pritchard missed the kick after the touchdown.

Momentum shifted in the Indians’ favor on the kickoff opening the second half when All-America tackle and team captain Leland Devore jumped on Joe Guyon, who had been getting the better of him all day, getting himself thrown out of the game. Army defensive backs Dwight Eisenhower and Charles Benedict knocked each other out of the game for the rest of the quarter in a failed attempt to sideline Thorpe. The Indians scored 27 unanswered points to lick Army worse than any opponent had beaten them in many years.

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.

Jenkins and Anderson Omit 1905 Army Game

May 26, 2009

The May 2009 College Football Historical Society newsletter includes an article that debunks the basic premise for the 2007 books by Sally Jenkins and Lars Anderson, The Real All Americans: the team that changed a game, a people, a nation and Carlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the forgotten story of football’s greatest battle, respectively. In “Jude and the Prince,” James G. Sweeney, a lawyer, former prosecutor and, most importantly, an Army fan for 50+ years, describes the epic Carlisle-Army game in detail. The difference between his article and their books is that Sweeney writes about the first time Carlisle met Army on a football field where Jenkins and Sweeney write about the second meeting – without acknowledging the first game. Their omission could be overlooked if the 1905 meeting was played by scrubs or special rules or something of the kind. In fact, the November 11, 1905 Carlisle-Army game was, as Sweeney put it, “was ‘the’ game of the day.” Sweeney also quoted The New York Tribune: “Never before has a football game at West Point been witnessed by a more distinguished gathering. Seated on the grandstand was Prince Louis of Brattenberg, surrounded by army officers, both British and American. The gold lace and trappings of military men, mingled with the gay dresses and flags of pretty girls, made a sight worth seeing.”

By the way, Carlisle won the game 6-5 to settle the score with the “long knives” seven years before the meeting Jenkins and Anderson touted in their books. In Anderson’s case, it may be a matter of ignorance. At the talk he gave in Carlisle, Lars Anderson mentioned that, in order to get his book in print at the same time as Jenkins, he employed a researcher. The researcher probably didn’t look at anything outside the narrow scope he was given. Sally Jenkins, on the other hand, appears to have been aware of the 1905 game. About the 1905 season, she wrote, “The Indians were a predictable disappointment under [Advisory Coach George] Woodruff….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.” John S. Steckbeck, The Arrow and CFbDatawarehouse.com all reported a 10-4 record for the 1905 Indians, with losses to Penn, Harvard, Massillon A. C. and Canton A. C. Jenkins ends what game coverage she had for the 1905 season with the loss to Harvard on a soft field. She apparently doesn’t consider the wins over Penn State, Virginia, Army, Cincinnati, Washington and Jefferson, and Georgetown as significant. Nor does she consider beating Army, thumping Cincinnati 34-5, beating Washington and Jefferson 11-0, or embarrassing Georgetown 76-0 to be fun.

On page two of her book, Jenkins implies that she knew the 1905 game had taken place without mentioning the game or sport when she wrote, “…this was only the second time government authorities had allowed the two parties to meet on an athletic field.” Perhaps Ms. Jenkins will explain why Carlisle’s 1905 victory over Army was neither significant nor worthy of mention.

Prince Louis Battenberg, 1905

Prince Louis Battenberg, 1905

The Plain, The Plain

May 17, 2008

I just received a copy of Michie by James G. Sweeney. Michie is of course West Point’s venerable Michie Stadium, site of many historic football contests. Sweeney’s description is enough to make one want to spend an October Saturday along the Hudson taking in fall foliage, tradition, spectacle and even a football game all at once. Having served in the Air Force rather than wait for greetings from my friends and neighbors to don an army uniform, I know nothing about West Point. It seems that Army’s football tradition and history is as important to their alumni and supporters as is The Big House to my wife. However, it is not Michie Stadium that caught my attention, it was its predecessor, The Plain.

Before Michie Stadium was inaugurated in 1924, the cadets battled their opponents on The Plain, a large drill field that figures prominently on campus. The Plain was also the site of some historic football games, more historic in my estimation than those played at Michie, but then I’m not a West Pointer. It was on The Plain that the soldiers first met the Indians in hand-to-hand combat in 1905 and the Indians emerged victorious. The Indians of which I speak are the Carlisle Indians who wrestled with future officers for the pigskin three times in their glorious history. The Indians won the first two games, 1905 and 1912, but were routed in 1917, the last year Carlisle fielded a team. After athletics were deemphasized in 1914, Carlisle was no longer competitive and many of the athletes who would have been present in 1917 were in France fighting a shooting war. So, that game doesn’t count for much.

The 1905 and 1912 games were truly historic. Jim Sweeney tells me he is writing something about them. Hearing things from the other side’s perspective will be interesting. Another historic game was played on The Plain in 1913 when a team from a little-known Jesuit college in Indiana was booked to fill an open spot in Army’s schedule.

Pop Warner letter for sale

May 9, 2008

I have become aware that a historically significant letter written by Pop Warner is up for sale on an Internet site: http://www.historyforsale.com/html/prodetails.asp?documentid=227287&start=2&page=48

The letter was written on October 8, 1951 on Warner’s personal stationery as he was retired by that time and living in Palo Alto, California, where he had earlier coached Stanford University. The letter to Col. Alexander M. “Babe” Weyand contains Warner’s recollections as to when he invented various things and his opinions as to which Carlisle victories were the most significant.

This letter is important because it helps clarify issues currently being debated, some of which I am to blame for raising the issue. Due to Alison Danzig’s writing it had long been thought that Warner had developed the single- and double-wing formations later than Warner states in this letter. I based my 2006 documentary celebrating the centennial of the birth of modern football on statements Warner made in his landmark 1927 book on football and some other sources. This letter supports my position. In their recent books on Jim Thorpe, Sally Jenkins and Lars Anderson generally support the position that Carlisle pioneered modern football when the rules changed drastically in 1906. But Warner’s letter partially debunks their positions that the double-wingback was first unleashed against Army in 1912. He also lists what he considered Carlisle’s most important victories. The 1912 Army game was not among them. More on that in a future post.

The question I have is: why is this important letter up for sale and not in an archive? Two repositories come quickly to mind; Cumberland County Historical Society (CCHS) or West Point – CCHS because it holds numerous records and artifacts from the Carlisle Indian School and West Point because it holds Weyand’s papers. I don’t know if West Point buys papers for its collection but CCHS certainly does. It recently purchased 28 letters written by Jim Thorpe in the 1920s that had nothing to do with Carlisle. The asking price for the Warner letter is about twice what CCHS paid for each of the Thorpe letters. One of the reasons historical documents are so expensive is that there are autograph collectors who are willing to pay large sums just for signatures of famous people. But Warner’s letter to Weyand is valuable for the information it contains.