Posts Tagged ‘Writer’s Digest’

More on the Writer’s Digest review

March 24, 2010

This time we’ll discuss other parts of the Writer’s Digest review of Oklahoma’s Carlisle Indian School Immortals, beginning with “The U. S. tendency to treat Native Americans like animals means that their biographies reflect the glory of sports—and the sorrow of poverty and bigotry.”

For starters, biographies of these men must “reflect the glory of sports” because, in their youth, these men were famous across the country as a result of their athletic abilities. Sure, newspaper coverage was often racist but it was respectful of their abilities and accomplishments. Sports opened doors to them that were not open to most young whites of that period. College was largely reserved for the elite. Few from the working class darkened the doors of these hallowed institutions. However, several Carlisle Indians were enrolled in major universities. These same schools complained about Carlisle not conforming to the same eligibility rules that they gave lip service to while recruiting the Indians to leave Carlisle and come play for them.

Others leveraged their Carlisle fame into jobs away from the reservations where opportunities were few. Not many of them became rich, but sports were not a route to wealth for all but a few in those days. Amos Alonzo Stagg was probably the highest paid man in sports because he was making $6,000 a year as a tenured professor with the University of Chicago. Jim Thorpe’s contract with the New York Giants paid him as much but only for five years. It wasn’t until Red Grange and Babe Ruth arrived on the scene that athletes became rich. By then, the Carlisle Indians who hadn’t retired from competition were in the twilight of their athletic careers.

Most of the Carlisle football players I have researched rose from poverty into the middle class. Many of them worked with their hands in occupations that some consider menial today. But most Americans worked in “menial” jobs those days and very few went to college. The grandchildren of these men who have contacted me have gone to college and living middle-class lives. Ironically, their family histories parallel those of immigrant groups given that Indians are the only non-immigrants in the country.

Review of Oklahoma’s Carlisle Indian School Immortals

March 19, 2010

Writer’s Digest just sent me a review of Oklahoma’s Carlisle Indian School Immortals that included something interesting. Before we get to that, you can read the short review in its entirety:

I knew Jim Thorpe would be in this book, and he is; but I didn’t know how many honors he had earned. Didn’t the Olympic Committee restore his medals, also? Well, besides Thorpe and his athletic prowess, this fine little book offers stories about a number of other fine students, All-Americans and later coaches. The U. S. tendency to treat Native Americans like animals means that their biographies reflect the glory of sports—and the sorrow of poverty and bigotry. If those students had cried all the tears they earned, Oklahoma would be a swamp. I wish the author had had time to write a book about each of the men.

I take the comments that “this fine little book” and the wish that I had “time to write a book about each of the men” as compliments. However, I feel that I should address some of what was said in the review lest the reader be misled. Of course the reviewer is correct in stating that I don’t have time to write book-length biographies for all these men. But time isn’t the reason I didn’t and don’t expect to be able to do that. Availability of information is the determining factor. The men about whom I write typically left few papers behind and none wrote memoirs. Occasionally, I locate one of their children but most of them are now deceased. Grandchildren are often interested in their grandfathers’ lives but most have little information about them. It is wonderful when they do.

These men, like most Americans of all races, generally worked at their jobs, paid their taxes, supported their families, survived the depression as best they could and sent sons off to fight in WWII. After being famous in their youths, they lived quiet, productive lives typical of their generation. Unfortunately, that usually doesn’t create enough material for a book.

A grandchild of one such man wrote me recently to inform me that she had read the chapter about her grandfather and told me that she was amazed at the amount of material I had found about him. Granted, his name found its way into his local newspapers much more than most but he left far too little information behind for a book.

Some of the reviewer’s other statements deserve comment and will be addressed next time.