A SEASON OF BRILLANCE (Part
by Catherine Davids
(written in 1997)
Burke Act authorizes Secretary of the Interior to
remove restrictions on allotted Indian lands.
A Philadelphia newspaper headline (Sunday August 4, 1912) read: "Sockalexis, Fat and Lazy Takes Ease in His
Tribe." The writer noted that Sockalexis "is just a fat, smokey, lazy Indian, who lives with the tribe on the Indian land
reservation of the Penobscots which is virtually a part of the city of Old Town, being but a few rods rom the mainland.
He doesn't work much because he doesn't have to. He couldn't die in poverty because poverty is unknown in the
tribe. While there are times when the people are not living in luxury, the tribe is, in a way, the ward of the state of
Maine, and has tribal income enough to provide for the necessities. As for being a ghost he weighs close to 200
pounds. When he takes a notion he picks up odd jobs and sometimes works or a ferryman, but for the most part
spends his time reading the sporting news of which he never misses a line, and devours every big league game with
great gusto" (Cooperstown).
This newspaper article was a catalyst for 1912 becoming Sockalexis's living nightmare. Obviously, being called fat and
lazy in the newspaper account, and being described as a ward of the state, along with all the Penobscot, must have been
deeply wounding to Sockalexis who maintained his lithe baseball weight of 200 pounds. The twenty-nine year old man, too
hurt and wounded to return to his family, began to wander and drift aimlessly through the hobo jungles of cities that he had
come to know during his three-year major league career. He turned to begging in the streets for money to buy alcohol.
Anti-allotment Cherokee, Creeks, Choctaws,
& Chickasaws form the Four Mothers Society.
On August 24, 1900 Sockalexis was given a thirty-day jail sentence in Holyoke, Massachusetts. "Patrolman Greany
found Sockalexis sleeping in a tumbledown barn in Ward One. At the police station Sockalexis presented a sorry
appearance. His clothing indicated that it had been worn for weeks without change. His hair was unkempt, his face
gaunt and bristly with several weeks growth of beard, and his shoes so badly broken that his toes were protruding. In
court this morning he attributed his downfall to firewater. He said, `they like me on the baseball field, and I liked
On October 17, twenty-four days after his release from the Holyoke jail, Sockalexis was arrested in Pittsburgh as a
vagrant. He was "brought up before Magistrate Kirby, and was a "sorrowful spectacle....suffering from an extreme
case of nerves."
Sockalexis finally returned to the Penobscot reservation, and began a series of jobs that would last until he died: he
logged the forests, piloted a ferry on the Penobscot River, and worked as a baseball umpire in the minor league teams in
Maine. He also performed at exhibitions where he would demonstrate his skills of throwing and hitting. As the years went on he
could still hit the ball a mile, but he had lost his running speed. He was, contrary to what had been reported in the newspapers,
never fat or lazy, and he found a new career in baseball.Potato barons in Maine shelled out money for their minor league teams,
and the sky was the limit for salaries. It was not just baseball - it was potato baron vs. potato baron, one agricultural business
vs. agricultural business, and it was old money vs. new money.
Edward Curtis makes first motion picture of American Indians:
"In the Land of the War Canoes"
Maine baseball was a capitalistic, social, and cultural war organized under the pretense of baseball, and money was
gambled on every contest. Players were recruited as employees, and in the manner of major league baseball, they jumped
teams when more money was offered by another team/potato corporation. Minor league baseball in Maine was nearly the
equivalent of major league baseball, and players ranks included old timers, college athletes, and home town idols.
Professional umpires from the big leagues were hired to referee the games, but were frequently chased off the diamond,
and into the woods by fans and players alike who violently expressed their displeasure with what they perceived to be unfair
decisions. The games continued at a war-like level until someone suggested bringing in Sockalexis as an umpire. His first
appearance as an umpire in the Northern Maine League (Houlton, Caribou, Presque Isle, and Millinocket) came in a game
between the league's two bitterest rivals. Sockalexis was master of the situation from the moment he stepped onto the
diamond. He won the confidence of both teams for his "unerring judgement on balls and strikes, and was on top of every
base play. He insisted on major league discipline of players saying little but when he had occasion to express himself to
a player he let fly a single bolt of sarcasm that was as withering as it was unanswerable" (Cooperstown).
Sockalexis umpired many games in the Old Town area, and proved himself to be the absolute authority on baseball rules.
He had hundreds of decisions by big league umpires in his head. Fans came to the games to see Sockalexis umpire - team
standings became secondary. He was a bigger draw than the players, and could have been a major league umpire if not for the
rheumatism which sapped the strength from his marvelously endowed body.
James Francis Thorpe (Sax) become first Olympic athlete to win gold medals
in both the decathlon (10 track & field events) and the pentathlon (5 track & field
events). King Gustaf V of Sweden calls Thorpe "the world's greatest athlete."
In 1912 Sockalexis gave a newspaper interview, and said, "I was just reading the account of the double-header
between Jimmy Callahan's White Sox and the Boston team. I was sorry to see Jimmy lose the two games. I remember
when I played with Holy Cross we met the Springfield team. At that time Callahan was the pitcher for Springfield, and
my real start in baseball was in that game. I made three two-baggers off his delivery, and Jimmy was some pitcher,
too. I like to read the baseball news. This is about all I do in my idle moments. I think I will try to go to the World's
Series if the Giants and Red Sox win the pennant" (Cooperstown).
Sockalexis continued to work as an umpire, logger, and ferryman until his quiet death on December 24, 1913. Christmas
Eve. He was age 41 - not old at all, and never fat nor lazy.
Several newspaper accounts of his death reached major newspapers in January, 1914. One headline read "Famous
Indian Drops Dead in Logging Camp" (Cooperstown). The story stated that Sockalexis's last years were "marred by
exposure of many months of hardship....a few nights before his death Sockalexis was sitting on the banks of the
Penobscot River reading, by the moonlight, an article about Christy Mathewson. A friend of Sockalexis related an
episode to a newspaper reporter. The friend had come upon Sockalexis and sat with him, and seeing the sports page
article about Mathewson told Sockalexis, 'there are none any greater now than was Sockalexis.' 'Like me,' Sockalexis
replied, 'the sun has gone home to rest. Soon will come to shadows.'" The second story reports that, just one hour before
his death, Sockalexis was talking with the other men in his logging crew when he "suddenly became quiet. Starring off into
space, Sockalexis fell over and lay on the ground - dead from a heart attack." (Cooperstown).
Jim Thorpe's Olympic gold medals are taken from him because he played
semi-professional baseball and he is stripped of his status as an Olympic athlete.
A third newspaper account, under the banner "Redskin Lasted Less Than Year" read "the bright lights put many an
old-time player out of the game so it was not to be expected that an Indian, with none of the white man's age-old
resistance built up in his system, could beat the game" (Cooperstown). Another January 14th newspaper handled
Sockalexis' death by saying that if not "for the bright lights, and the too-free consumption of firewater, the great
enemy of the Indian, soon slowed him up and put him out of it" (Cooperstown). Writing for an Indiana newspaper (March
26, 1975) Wayne Guthrie reported that Sockalexis "died out in the woods by himself. When carried to his home, and his
clothing removed there was a wad of newspaper clippings underneath his shirt; accounts of his major league baseball
Sockalexis was working the winter months in Burlington, Maine as a logger hauling massive pine when death took him
. He was taken home to the Penobscot reservation and buried. A wooden cross was erected on his gravesite. His name was
carved into the cross. Louis Francis Sockalexis was then forgotten until baseball season rolled around every year when a few
sports writers would mention his brilliant 1897 career in comparison to a new comer. In 1934, Thomas Wadsworth, editor of
the weekly Old Town Enterprise, visited Sockalexis's gravesite, and was appalled to find the wooden marker standing amid
knee-deep weeds. Wadsworth, an ardant baseball follower, appealed to readers, and mounted a campaign to raise funds to
erect a proper and dignified monument to Sockalexis. Using his status as a newspaper editor, Wadsworth collected an
impressive and prominent group of sponsors that included Maine businessmen, Holy Cross College, and the Cleveland Indians
(formerly the Spiders) under the direction of General Manager Billy Evans.
Indian Citizenship Act bestows citizenship of theUnited States to all American Indians
The bronze memorial to Sockalexis is topped off with a baseball, and beneath it are two crossed baseball bats. The
unveiling of the monument was attended by the Penobscot people, and others from the Abenaki Confederacy, Maine state
officials, Old Town residents, Holy Cross alumni, baseball players, and sports writers. John A. FitzGerald, who attended Holy
Cross during Sockalexis's career as a Crusader wrote a poem in tribute:
Louis, we've gathered here today
Tribesmen and sportsmen, we all attend
To mark the spot where your mortal clay
Came to our universal end.
More than one epitaph's been penned
Of the player that never had a peer
But here's your meed, from an old-time friend:
"He was loyal, and brave, and his heart sincere."
We could write: "at the start of the season's play,
When the Bruins brown were all set to rend,
You "stole" six times on that Patriots' Day.
A record that none can tie or mend -
And crashed a homer its way to wend
Thru their chapel window, from out the clear,
But no! Tis a finer tribute to send:
"He was loyal, and brave, and his heart sincere."
As a batter, no pitcher could say you nay,
You straightened whatever they could bend:
And on Giant-Indian opening day,
When the Gotham fans came in crowds to tend -
Rusie will fan him! So they intend,
But, the first ball a homer, into the clear!
What a line! But a greater one, old friend,
Is: "loyal, and brave, and his heart sincere."
Louis, with saddened hearts we send
This tribute to one who had no peer,
To one of the few who met his end
Loyal, and brave, and his heart sincere.
Charles Curtis (Kaw-Osage) is elected Vice-President of the United States.
Herbert Hoover is elected President.
Hughie Jennings (manager of the Detroit Tigers 1907-1921) stated in an interview (undated) that Sockalexis "had the
most brilliant career of any man who ever played the game. At no time has a player crowded so many remarkable
accomplishments into such a short period. He should have been the greatest player of all time - greater than Cobb,
Wagner, Lajoie, Hornsby, and any of the other men who made history for the game of baseball" (Cooperstown).
William "Rough" Carrigan (manager of the Boston Red Sox 1915-1916) when asked about Sockalexis stated "I don't
remember ever seeing a quicker bat or a stronger arm. Among the moderns, possibly the one player worthy of a
comparison is that young man, Joe DiMaggio. He has a trace of Sockalexis's stuff, but I don't believe he can run or
throw with the Indian" (Cooperstown).
Andy Coakley played for the Holy Cross Crusaders in 1901 and 1902 when their baseball coach was Jack Pappaleau,
an American Indian who kept Sockalexis's athletic feats alive in the minds of his players. Coakley eventually became Columbia
University's baseball coach. He remarked that Sockalexis belonged on any "all time, all-star baseball team. He had a
gorgeous left-hand swing. He hit the ball as far as Babe Ruth, and like Ruth, was a left-handed batter. He was faster
than Ty Cobb and as good a base runner. He was as good a fielder as Tris Speaker, and he threw with the speed of
Bob Meuser" (Cooperstown).
Ed Barrow, boss of some of the most illustrious players in the history of theh game, stated that Sockalexis was the
greatest outfielder of all time. This was a surprising statement, in light of the fat that Babe Ruth played for Barrow, and sports
writers questioned Barrow asking if he meant what he said about Sockalexis. "Of course I mean it", said Barrow, "Sockalexis
was the greatest outfielder in history - the best hitter, the best thrower, the best fielder, and also the best drinker, and
he was the most brilliant gardener."
Jim Thorpe is one of the first to be inducted into the National Football Foundation's
Hall of Fame. Burt Lancaster (Caucasian) stars in the movie, "Jim Thorpe: All American."
Jim Thorpe dies at age 65.
One hundred years ago a twenty-six year old man from the Penobscot reservation near Old Towne, Maine, had a
season of baseball that stands today as one of the most thrilling, and yet tragic seasons, in all of baseball history. In 1978 a
Cuyahoga, Ohio Cunty Commissioner, deeply concerned about the Cleveland Indians baseball team, wrote to the Penobscot
people in Maine asking if they had another Sockalexis.
Billy Mills (Lakota) becomes first man from the United States
to win the Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meter race. His finish is a
perennial broadcast highlight.
Marlon Brando rejects Academy Award for best actor in protest of
Hollywood's treatment and portrayals of American Indians.
Jim Thorpe's Olympic gold medals are returned to his family and
his status as an Olympic athlete is reinstated.
When Louis Sockalexis was signed to the Cleveland Spiders
the following poem, (written by C. A. Conrad, March 20, 1897) was published
in a Cleveland newspaper. The name of the newspaper, date published, and
headline were not kept.
Said Pat Tebeau to the score-card man,
"Tell me, please sir, if you can,
Is there room on our batting list
for my latest find, Sockalexis?"
The score-card man took his pencil out,
In his fertile mind he had no doubt,
That he readily could with becoming grace,
Compress the name in a very small space.
"Let's see: two, four, six, eight, ten,
Pretty near enough letters for two men:
Suppose we cut out just a few,
And then we'll see what I can do."
Hadn't he done such things before?
Guess he could do it at least once more.
Remembering well that he'd some years back
Transformed "McGillicuddy" into plain "Mack."
He scanned the name and mused awhile,
"How is this?" An artless smile.
He has written it "Sock." Pat grinned a grin,
and said, "You'd better try again."
"Won't do? Well now I do declare,
then why not make an even pair?
So I'll add the s. Now that is it."
He had written it "Socks." Quoth Patsy, "nit."
Neither "Alex" or "Aleck" the captain would suit
and Alexis was thrown in to boot,
Said Pat, "It's a blooming, bleeding shame,
But the fellow will have to change his name."
C. A. Conrad
March 20, 1897
About the Author: Catherine Davids (Eastern Cherokee, Irish, Scottish) lives in Flint, Michigan. She has a sister Marie who has three children: Scott, Patricia, and Michael. Catherine is a Big Sister to Jovita Garcia. Ms. Davids is a graduate student at the University of Michigan and is employed at the UM-Flint campus as the Cultural & Diversity Specialist where she develops and implements programs for the American Indian, Latino, and Asian American students, their families, and communities. Catherine belongs to the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media, and in Flint, the Spanish Speaking Information Center, the Greater East Side Community Association. She has been published in Winds of Change magazine, an international human rights magazine, and has presented a research paper at Ball State University's annual Medieval Literature Competition.
Dooley, Dick. For Sockalexis: Year of Football, Bangor Daily News, January 12, 1974
Leavitt, Bud. Louis Francis Sockalexis: One of Baseball's Greatest Legends, Bangord Daily News, December 22, 1979
Thompson, Steven, I. The American Indian in the Major Leagues. The 12th Annual Historical and Statistical Review of the Society for American Baseball Research Journal, Edited by L. Robert Davids, 1983
Ward, Goeffrey, C. Baseball: An Illustrated History, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1994
Newspaper articles were kindly provided by the Baseball Hall of
Fame, Cooperstown, New York
In many cases information regarding the names of newspapers and reporters was not kept. The people at Cooperstown were
very generous in making copies and sending them to me.
April 9, 1898, article title, author, newspaper, and date not cited.
Barrow Roots for Sockalexis, author, newspaper and date not cited.
County to Hail Father of the Tribe, John Nussbaum, 1978, newspaper not cited.
Firewater Ruined Great Played - Louis Sockalexis, author, newspaper and date not cited.
Sockalexis: Ball Player, John Frederick, newspaper and date not cited.
Greatest of Naturals was Sockalexis, November 4, 1926, author and newspaper not cited.
(The) Greatest Indian: Sockalexis, the Strong and Fleet Player Now a Ferryman in Maine, author, newspaper and date not cited.
Firewater Ends Baseball Career, Wayne Guthrie, March 26, 1975, newspaper not cited.
(The) Hot Box, A column by Mike Miller, newspaper and date not cited.
Indian Sockalexis Dies of Heart Disease, December 24, 1913, author and newspaper not cited.
John A. FitzGerald of Utica Pens Poem About Famous Indian Player, author, newspaper and date not cited.
Louis Francis Sockalexis, Dan Hotaling, newspaper and date not cited.
Good Drawing Card, Charles W. Mears, April 24, 1897, newspaper not cited.
The Umpire, H.G. Salsinger, newspaper and date not cited.
Sockalexis Dies of Heart Disease, Bangor Maine, January, 1914, author and newspaper not cited.
Sockalexis Had Meteroric Career: Redskin Lasted Less Than Year, January 1914, author and newspaper not cited.
Sockalexis Ancestors, January 8, 1898, author and newspaper not cited.
Sockalexis In Court As Vagrant, author, newspaper, and date not cited.
Sockalexis Fat and Lazy: Takes Ease in His Tribe, August 4, 1912, Philadelphia, author and newspaper not cited.
Tragedy Halted Career of Fabulous Sockalexis, Harry Grayson, newspaper and date not cited.