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A SEASON OF BRILLANCE (Part II)
by Catherine Davids
(written in 1997)

1906
Burke Act authorizes Secretary of the Interior to
remove restrictions on allotted Indian land
s.

 

          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.

  1912
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

firewater'" (Cooperstown).

          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.

 

1912
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.

1912
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).

1913
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

career" (Cooperstown).

          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.

1924
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.


1928
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."

1951
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."

1953
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.

1963
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.

1973
Marlon Brando rejects Academy Award for best actor in protest of
Hollywood's treatment and portrayals of American Indians.

1983
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."

Written by
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

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.