‘To compare the massacre at Little Bighorn to a trivial baseball game is minimizing the tragic events of that day’
Cartwright Not All Right
I have taught an American baseball history class for 21 years at Metropolitan State College of Denver. I enjoyed the June 2011 article “Baseball in the West,” by Gregory Lalire, but there is one gigantic, glaring error: Alexander Cartwright did not spread baseball westward. That assumption is based on a spurious embellishment of his actual diary.
Two years ago my colleague Monica Nucciarone broke the news to the rest of us baseball historians in her book Alexander Cartwright: The Life Behind the Baseball Legend (University of Nebraska Press). She tracked down the original Cartwright diary and found no mention at all of playing baseball on his 1849 trek westward. She located three or four other diaries from the same wagon train that Cartwright traveled in and also found no baseball notations. In Hawaii she discovered that Cartwright’s grandson had produced a typescript of the diary, into which he liberally sprinkled all sorts of baseball references. Supposedly the grandson wanted to strengthen his grandfather’s chances for the Hall of Fame. Nucciarone also found little or no evidence that Cartwright played baseball in San Francisco before shipping out to Hawaii in 1849 and similarly no connection to baseball on those islands. (Your article rightly states we don’t know if Cartwright paid any attention to [Albert Goodwill] Spalding’s 1888 world tour stopover.) Cartwright did have a very interesting career in Hawaii as a merchant and a pro-annexation politician. But apparently he left his baseball back in New York. Nucciarone had unprecedented access to Cartwright family papers and documents; her work is a model of historical detective work.
Indeed, although this has little to do with the West, Cartwright’s reputation for baseball innovations has come under significant challenge in recent years. My colleagues in the Origins Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research maintain that three or four other members of the Knickerbockers played a greater role developing the game than did Cartwright. Yes, he is in the famous photo and some of the written records, but his claim to fame may rest more on better public relations than actuality. John Thorn, recently named official baseball historian for Major League Baseball by Commissioner Bud Selig, makes the clearest argument in his Baseball in the Garden of Eden that much about Cartwright is overblown and downright false. Otherwise, very informative article.
Thomas L. Altherr
Professor of History/American Studies
Metropolitan State College of Denver
Author and Wild West editor Gregory Lalire responds: Thank you for this most valuable information. I had enough doubts about Cartwright not to call him the “Father of Baseball.” The article states he was “among the organizers of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club” and that “he is said to have taught the Knickerbocker (or New York) brand of baseball to a variety of people [in the West].” Monica Nucciarone’s book has shed much light on why there is so little evidence that Cartwright spread baseball in the West like some kind of Johnny Appleseed. At least Cartwright has a better “true” baseball résumé than Abner Doubleday.
Juh’s on First
The Top 10 picks in the August issue were fine, except that you missed the most legendary of all American Indians to play the game of baseball. We even know the position he played. Juh was on first! [The Spanish pronunciation of this Apache Indian’s name is who.]
Sierra Vista, Ariz.
Hurling in the West
I enjoyed reading the article about baseball in the June issue. I took out a subscription to your magazine four years ago, and look forward to each issue. Here in Ireland, hurling is the national sport. Instead of a baseball bat, we use a stick called a hurley and a ball called a sliotar (pronounced slitter). It is a very exciting 15-a-side sport. Cork is the leading county in Ireland. We have won the national championship 30 times!
I’ve been lucky enough to have a few Wild West short stories published in the local paper, Evening Echo, including “The Hurler and the Bounty Hunter”—the fictional tale of young Irishman Jack Hurley, who steals cattle to feed starving Comanches and is pursued by a bounty hunter. An excerpt: “Jack had brought a sliotar and his favorite hurley with him to Texas. He kept his black-taped hurley in his scabbard instead of a rifle. He told the Comanches that Blackrock had the best hurlers in Cork.” I’ve been interested in American history since I was a child (I’m 65 now). Elmer Kelton is my favorite Western writer. He’s magic.
Blackpool, Cork City
Editor’s note: The Western Writers of America voted Elmer Kelton (1926–2009) the best Western writer of all time. Intriguing Irishmen have appeared in Kelton’s tales of west Texas, and, of course, the Irish played a significant role in the American West. Reportedly, some Irishmen in 1850s San Francisco engaged in both hurling games and baseball games. Nobody, as far as I know, has suggested that Alexander Cartwright introduced hurling to California.
Last Stand Box Score
I am disappointed by the remarks in the Editor’s Letter for the June 2011 Wild West. To compare the massacre at Little Bighorn to a trivial baseball game is minimizing the tragic events of that day. To casually dismiss the soldiers that died that day by stating, “Sitting Bull got the win with relief from Crazy Horse,” is insensitive. Would you use baseball as an analogy to describe September 11, Pearl Harbor or the Oklahoma City bombing? I doubt it.
Thom Ross (creator of the box score for the Battle of the Little Bighorn) responds: This famous “massacre” has been used by comedians, cartoonists, late-night talk show hosts, filmmakers, poets and painters in a variety of ways, not all of which have been respectful. The problem here is you think that baseball is trivial. Many do; I do not. Baseball’s “box score” is a classic example of hieroglyphics, in which symbols tell a tale; I was simply using that concept to describe Custer’s defeat. For me, comparing that brutal fight to a baseball game is, in this context, correct; it was, after all, merely a fight. In the movie Field of Dreams it was baseball that provided the pathway to personal redemption and spiritual salvation.
Great article on “Baseball in the West”—so many facts and details woven into a fine story of the Old West. I, too, was raised near Cleveland (in Northfield, Ohio) and have followed the Indians since 1954, when my grandfather took me to a pennant game. Noticed in the same issue the name Louis Sockalexis in your Top 10 picks of Indians who played baseball. He is buried in Erie Cemetery, right across East 9th Street from the ballpark; I have been to his gravesite. No mention, though, that the Cleveland Indians were called the Cleveland Blues between the Spiders and Indians.
I’d been planning on writing a letter of praise since you became part of World History Group. I love the format of your magazine and reread the stories many times. I do the mountain man thing at Fort Bridger, Jackson Hole, etc., and I live and breathe the Old West. [My home] used to be an upscale trading post for celebs and was rented for three movies, and I still have hundreds of pieces left.
The editor responds: For the record, the Cleveland Spiders were a National League club that disbanded after the 1899 season. In 1901 Cleveland had one of the charter American League franchises, the Cleveland Blues. Early nicknames were not so official, and the team was called the Cleveland Broncos in 1902; the Cleveland Naps from 1903–14, in honor of star player Napoléon Lajoie; and the Cleveland Indians from 1915 to present. At this writing the surprising Indians are hovering near first place, but does anyone believe they will still be there in October? The Tribe (with pardons to real American Indians everywhere) last won a World Series in 1948.
Young, Not Laughing Sam
The photograph we ran on P. 19 of the August 2011 “Gunfighters and Lawmen” is actually Harry Young, most famous for tending bar in Deadwood’s Saloon No. 10, and is from the frontispiece of Young’s 1915 memoir Hard Knocks. The editors apologize for incorrectly identifying the image as Laughing Sam Hartman, Young’s enemy.
Author Bill Markley thanks Jerry Bryant, Ken Stewart, Jim McLaird and Ashley Koebelin for helping to track down information about Laughing Sam and his partner Bummer Dan Baum.
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