Historical speculation leads a chosen few to consider that base ball could have existed as early as 1000 A.D. This particular date is a speculation within speculation but factually reflects a smack dab in the middle time frame recognized as the Toltec period of 700 A.D. through the year of 1,200 A.D.
Hypothesized evidence is derived from within this somewhat ancient time frame. Three Toltec terra-cotta figurines portraying primeval characteristics of the game of base ball being played have been discovered.
Ironically, near five and a half centuries post terra-cotta players and in the year of 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado expedited towards what was to become the United States of America from the town of Compostela, Mexico. Compostela is geographically located only one hundred fifty seven miles north of Colima. For some, that is close enough to "speculate" as "near" enough, and furthermore, consider that maybe the game of base ball made it's way with Coronado to what is now known as Oklahoma in the year of 1541. This as the famous explorer and his band of wealth seekers were leisurely finding their way back to Mexico after an adventurous but unsuccessful search for gold and silver.
Speculation is described as the formation of a theory about a subject without firm evidence. Moving away from speculation, founded only upon personal and humorrhetical thought processing, and more towards real time documented events in search of the genesis of base ball in Oklahoma City, the following is presented with due diligence of research and writing accompanied with enthusiastic effort to capture the true arrival and evolution of professional base ball within the city limits of what is now known as Oklahoma City in the state of what is now known as Oklahoma.
In the bi-g-Inning, there was native ball of the Choctaw captured from within the territory by Catlin on a canvas to be seen by all. To follow, a tattered and torn leather sphere charged west with the spirit of Major-General Abner Doubleday's pre civil war innovation. Hereafter, this primitive and spirited leather sphere found it's way across the mighty Mississippi, the wide Missouri and the muddy waters of the Arkansas river during times of civil unrest. The courageous crossings leading survival minded soldiers and pioneers to play this game of nine upon the north and east territorial prairies of past times.
From those days forth and from territories south and east, a boot dusted coal mining muleskinner metamorphed into the patriarch of ukla humma base ball. Narrowly escaping a blast in Krebs coal hole number eleven, fate favored the original "Iron Man" as Father Joseph McGinnity's future halls were filled with fame by this mystical westward moving sphere empowered to ordain. Concomitantly, this transforming sphere possessing infinite and entertaining spirit journeyed into Oklahoma Territory and towards a new borne township known as Oklahoma Station. It found a welcome base of home within this new township freshly staked with run of the land claims to ukla humma's red dirt plains and to base ball's predestination as "America's Game."
A select and rare few humans with interest, along with some early twentieth century teammates and players, possess solid evidence of one Eugene Albert Barnes as deserving the hallowed ground and grand title "Father" of Oklahoma City Base Ball." This being a true and fair assessment based upon the many great and early day contributions made towards Oklahoma City's game of base ball by this prominent Oklahoma City trailblazer with preference to be recognized as "Gene" and not Eugene.
Gene "The Kid" Barnes, Kansas born in 1873, is noted for his youthful participation within Oklahoma City's sandlot pastures soon after the first land run of settlers staked out their sections of Oklahoma Territory in 1889. Barnes certainly earned what is now antiquated recognition of being a rarity within himself. A teenaged organizer and young pitcher who stepped off a south bound Sante Fe from Kansas while sauntering into what had to have been a raw but magnificent realm of territorial town team base ball. A majestic prenatal realm that included Barnes' young Oklahoma City Browns, Bob Overstreet's older "Dudes," Will Barrett's "Prints," the Oklahoma City Hoo-Hoos and the Oklahoma City Lightning.
A sixteen year old Gene Barnes helped erect Oklahoma City's first base ball grandstand. It was constructed near what is now the nationally historic Oklahoma City Municipal Building site (aka City Hall) and adjacent to what used to be First Street and Walker Avenue. In 1889, the specific location was recognized as "Old Doc Higgins" quarter. With empty beer kegs from a nearby corner saloon a couple of blocks east at First and Harvey, and, with 2 x 12's donated by a new to business and nearby lumber yard, Barnes and a conglomerate of land run pioneers scrapped together what he personally identified as a "pretentious, portable structure." This to oblige the anticipated enthusiasm of Oklahoma Station's literal and original "89er" base ball fans.
Barnes said the portable grandstand was constructed on Higgins' quarter to specifically accommodate a series with Guthrie. The park had no actual fence with no streets nearby and only a barbed wire fence at the section line. "We played Guthrie a game there and played two games at Guthrie winning all three," said Barnes. Although not remembering the scores, Barnes remembered the Overbay brothers playing for Guthrie and specifically John Overbay umpiring the games up in Guthrie. "We had to travel by train as it was too far for horse and shay," remembered Barnes.
The most original "89er" players to exist include pioneering men of many talents. Tom Potts was a feed man; Jim Armour, telegrapher; Red Bradford, printer; Byron D. Shear, attorney; future Texas Leaguer Bert Dunn, carpenter; Ed Boismier, plumber; Perry Howe, telegrapher; Frank Morey and Tom Dyer were both lathers; Ed Johnston, printer and recognized as a "great" pitcher; Usher Carson, real estate agent; Cliff Scott, nephew of Oklahoma City Journal publisher A.C. Scott; and Roy Allen who was "not' related to "Snake" Allen of the futuristic Oklahoma City Indians ball club to come. Only a select few and best of these players would form the foundation of transformation into the Oklahoma City Pirates in the summer of 1891.
It was an eighteen year old Gene Barnes, later to become emergency interim manager in 1904 and a part owner/majority team stockholder in 1905, who personally journeyed with Walter Jennison and his bushwhacking 1891 Pirates on an excursion of proficiently scheduled base ball contests that concluded in the grass roots dust on your boots prairie town of Wellington, Kansas. Some fifty years following such an impressionable time, Barnes, sharing from his personal eye witness experience with and of the Pirates, their methodical organization and bountiful success in Kansas, publicly recognized the Jennison brothers as "the real pioneers of base ball in Oklahoma City."
Bob Stoops is not the first head coach from Ohio to venture into Oklahoma's sporting arena and claim success on its fields of guts and glory. One hundred eight years previous (108), originating Pirate's player/coach, Walter R. Jennison, transplanted some actual professional minor league management and playing experience in Oklahoma City from Springfield, Ohio. Jennison served as a player and one of three managers of the Springfield base ball club during Oklahoma's land run year of 1889. Springfield compiled a record of 61-48 to finish second to the Canton Nadjys in Ohio's Tri-State League.
Migrating from the north and east and into the territory along with people, religion, education, agriculture, music and most everything else was the game of base ball and Walter R. Jennison. Arriving in Oklahoma Territory on a mid summer train engineered by an engineer of the Atchison, Topeka & Sante Fe Railroad in the year of 1890, Jennison was found playing second base for a competitive Norman town team with his brother Harry handling the catching duties from behind the plate. The two brothers arrived in time to anchor a Norman base ball club finishing up a skeleton but undefeated four game season with their final two against the Purcell Black Stockings.
Gameday highlights with the Jennison brothers include a July 4, 1890, morning ride south with the Norman nine on that same Sante Fe Railway. The Black Stockings of Purcell cordially greeted the team from Norman as they stepped off this now antiquated train. The boys with black sox proceeded to escort Norman's nine to the Hotel Clifton where a "sumptuous" dinner awaited all players. After disposing of the "sumptuous" cuisine, both clubs headed for the picnic grounds south of Purcell for a Friday afternoon game that was called to "play ball" by an umpire named Johnson at exactly 2:30 o'clock.
From the top of it's first inning, evidence revealed the Black Stockings from Purcell to be no match for the nine from Norman. Before a soon to be dispirited "home team crowd en-masse," Norman reeled off 5 runs in the first inning of play and never looked back in a high scoring affair that found Purcell on the short end of a 20-12 final score.
Walter Jennison led off and played second base for the Norman nine. With three of a team total twenty-two base hits, Jennison accounted for four of the twenty runs scored by the nameless Norman base ball club. With a win over the "Chickasaw" boys from Purcell, a magnificent purse of $20.00 was celebrated in grand style by the victorious base ball club from Norman.
Much like today's norm of home and home series, Norman, in turn, hosted a redemption opportunity match for the same Black Stockings from Purcell. This happening near one month later on August 5, 1890, before a "very good" crowd in attendance. Much like the norm of those days, Norman jumped out to a first inning lead with no need to look back on their way to a 21-8 victory. With a second victory over the hapless Black Stockings, Norman's press labeled their nine as the best ball team in the 1890 Territory with advice for the Purcell team to "get a new club." Norman's "Cotton Gin Men," Walter and Harry Jennison, combined for three hits and six runs in this game called to "play ball" at exactly 2:20 o'clock on a hot August afternoon.
Despite Norman's first ever 20-19 base ball victory against the Noble Plow Boys. Despite a 16-12 win against Moore's ball club. Despite the two wins featuring the recently arrived Jennison brothers against Purcell. Despite hometown press recognition as being a professional ball team. Despite a published challenge to take on any and all clubs of the territory or adjoining states, Norman's inceptive season quietly faded into history as the Jennison Brothers & Company went to work constructing the territory's first cotton gin. A pioneering facility to serve area farmers with ability to not only harvest, compress and sell their fall cotton crops but to also ship their cotton towards higher prices via the adjacent Sante Fe.
From Norman, the Jennison Brothers catch an 1891 ride on that same Sante Fe north to expand their cotton ginning business while originating their own base ball buccaneers and fabricating the genesis of Oklahoma City's venture towards professionalism. What more identifies a base ball club than uniform uniforms. The same black pants, same black jersey, same black socks and same black caps could and would make men from two centuries previous feel extra special and feel like they were part of a nonfictional team. Embracing the persona of a Pirate combined with being paid to play with travel, hotel and fine cuisine amenities considered bonus would, could and did transform Oklahoma City base ballist into admired and well respected professionals. The black dressed Pirates and their maiden voyage on a mythical iron horse of a ship sailing north to Guthrie for a game of ball fossilized Walter Jennison's "father" status within Oklahoma City's base ball history.
It must have been a great moment in time to suit up and represent Oklahoma City as professionals on such a magnificent yet unpolished diamond of base ball. With historical mentions of opposing players, winning or losing, enjoying their particular time spent in Oklahoma City, the game of base ball was recognized as a great advertising medium for such a young, struggling, yet, growing community. Sounds similar to the type of market branding and representation offered by the current Oklahoma City Dodgers organization. The Dodger's representing a more mature city and modern window of progressive times, but, their seeds of organizational existence and harvest of success was planted along with some of central Oklahoma's most vibrant cotton crops back in the year of 1891.
As Walter Jennison vigorously labored to create a competitively organized base ball team, the first "real" ball park in Oklahoma City was under construction and completed by June of 1891. According to the reflective 1940 remembrance of former Pirate outfielder Tom Dyer of Blanchard, the new grandstand of this first and real ball park "was not just pieced together with beer kegs and boards." Dyer's near fifty year old eye witness descriptive of the park includes his personal and vivid memories of "having a covered grandstand with a 'tight' eight foot board fence. It had a quarter-mile race track. It was constructed within the military reservation just evacuated by Captain D.F. Stiles and his troops," shared Dyer. It was located just two blocks east of the Sante Fe depot about where Irving School stood (4th & Walnut)."
Dyer enthusiastically shared a finishing touch ball park moment as O.A. Mitcher & Company popped off the back stop with what had to be Oklahoma City base ball's first ever billboard sponsorship. Mr. O.A. Mitcher owned and operated the company that provided pioneering female consumers with a "Choice Stock of Ladies' Dress Goods; A Full Line of Standard Patterns in Stock; A Specialty of Good Shoes; Specialty in Clothing Department, Carpets and Curtains." It was standard for all ladies to be admitted to the base ball games for free, but, quite possibly their complimentary ticket was already subliminally covered with the sponsorship dollars of O.A. Mitcher & Company. Mitcher's young son Mark would later join the military and eventually earned command of the U.S. Navy's very first aircraft carrier, the "Langley."
The Mitcher's back stop in 1891 was considered "vitally" necessary and stood eighty to ninety feet behind home plate. According to Gene Barnes, the actual distance was ninety feet. From Tom Dyer's point of view, it was eighty feet behind home plate. Whether it was eighty or ninety feet, the backstop was a most visible billboard and a most influential part of how a catcher approached the defensive part of his game.
As Oklahoma City's first professional catcher, Harry Jennison wore a scantily-padded four finger catcher's mitt. Jennison's mitt had the fingers cut off on is catching hand and a smaller thinner glove barely covering the palms of his throwing hand. Jennison would let the ball bounce off the backstop on the first two strikes while retrieving it hastily. He would then move up into a position to take the third strike "hot off the bat" if he was game enough as old Tom Dyer put it. "Strikes were hard to get. Foul's did not count as strikes and many batsmen were good at ticking the ball," explained Dyer. Jennison would have been the only Pirate player to wear a glove as Dyer said "catchers were the only ones who did back then."
This particular year of 1891 turns out to be a most important turn around moment in time relative to Oklahoma City and what is now known as it's future. Following a disaster filled Fourth of July celebration soon after the land run of 1889, anything recognized as good representation for the city was most important as the struggle to recover from such recent and major calamity was difficult to say the least.
The New York Evening World reported that two hundred Oklahoma City people were injured by the fall of a stand with one child killed and others expected not to live. "Without warning two thousand men, women and children were precipitated to the ground and covered with beams and boards with one hundred of the injured possibly to die" was published in what was branded as a "special to the world" by the Evening World.
Datelined Oklahoma, I.T., July 4 - "During the Fourth of July celebration, at 3 o'clock this afternoon, just at the close of the ball game, the crowd started for the stand to see the races, which were announced to take place in twenty minutes. The rush was rapid and seats were most instantly filled, there being at least 2,000 people on the stand when, without a preliminary crack or sound, the whole fabric went to the ground. Most of the occupants were women and children. There was one wild whirl, a horrible crash, and scats, roof and timber came down, burying the throng in a mass of splintered timbers. Investigation showed that though fully two hundred were injured by falling timbers, only one fifteen-months-old child (actually eleven months old) of Dr. Ryan, of this city, was killed outright, though several others may die."
The Evening World individually listed sixty-four of the injured men, women and children while closing their worldwide report on Oklahoma City's tragedy. "The grand stand was hastily constructed a few days ago and was then pronounced unsafe, but the officials thought they would not have to build another. The military in this city took charge of the grounds and nobody was allowed to enter this district where the wounded were except the surgeons and the friends of the injured. Army ambulances were furnished and all the injured were brought to this city on mattresses. It is said that one hundred of the injured will die," concluded the Evening World.
A native 89er eyewitness shares his most vivid memories of the tragic event during Oklahoma City's first Fourth of July celebration attempt. One of the city's first hardware store owners, W.J. Pettee, said "Cheyenne and Arapaho indians were brought here to participate in the celebration." Mr. Pettee had already staked out his claim and established his hardware store in Oklahoma City's township just one day after the land run of April 22, 1889. "Various persons entered their horses in the races. Cold drink stands, wheels of fortune and other concessions were housed under the grand stand," stated Pettee.
Previous to opening a full service medical practice in Oklahoma City, Dr. James A. Ryan, a graduate of the Kentucky School of Medicine, served the community of Leon, Indian Territory, with what was considered a "saddle bag" practice that he initiated in 1877. It was most fortunate that Dr. Ryan's medical skills were available and needed immediately on the catastrophic event site. It was also most unfortunate as the couple's eleven month old son, James Alvin Ryan, "fell off" the grand stand and was killed during the infamous collapse tragically and forever blemishing Oklahoma City's first attempt at celebrating our nation's freedom.
"It (Fourth Of July, 1889) was advertised far and near, and the trains brought in good crowds. The citizens attended en masse. A large grand stand was erected on the military reservation bordering on what was later Maywood. There were horse races, roping contests, Indian dances, and some athletic stunts. Public speakers were provided, in fact, the plans contemplated a first class celebration," shared agent Dunham of the Sante Fe Railway.
"The grand stand was crowded to the limit. As the crowd had just gotten comfortably seated, the whole structure collapsed without warning. A good many were hurt. Dr. Ryan's child was killed. All three of us were covered with wreckage. I suffered no injury, but had my coat badly torn, the one next to me wearing a Derby hat, had the top cut off, causing his black bushy hair to show through the top of the hat. The other was one of the boys from my office. He was injured so badly that we carried him to a dray. I took him to my home where his injuries were examined by the doctor; recovery, however was rapid, as no bones were broken. The next day several of the injured were taken out on the train. One poor fellow occupying a cot, was put in a baggage car. He had both legs broken."
The grand stand collapse itself would be considered quite a large set back for any new born community, its people, its base ball teams and horse racing entities. This while oppressing any positive outlook in general for inhabitants of such a tragic filled environment. Equally disturbing and happening on the same day was a violent act of criminal assault (rape) towards a young thirteen year old girl figuratively and literally buried beneath the dreadful rubble and world wide broadcast of news relative to the grand stand collapse.
Charles M. Lane, formerly of Gainesville, Texas, was, at the time, recognized as business manager for the Oklahoma City Daily Journal. As well, Lane was publicly recognized as "corresponding secretary of the committee on arrangements on the Fourth of July Celebration." Charles Lane was arrested during the late evening hours of July 5, 1889. Accusations against him included enticing the girl to his room located within the Overholser block, and "under threats of killing her," as the young girl declared, "succeeded in accomplishing his design." This horrendous act upon a child taking place on the very same day of and after the July 4, 1889, grand stand collapse.
Lane was escorted to the U.S. jail in Wichita, Kansas, by Deputy United States Marshal George E. Thornton. Actual charges were filed on September 6 of 1889. Despite rumors that Lane escaped while being taken to Wichita for imprisonment, Oklahoma City's Marshal Thornton assured the press and general public that "Lane made no attempt to escape and could not have got away had he tried ever so much."
Assistant District Attorney J.S. Johnson of Oklahoma presented the accusers case before the appointed jury members of the September 13, 1889, trial held in the U.S. District Court of Wichita. Johnson asserted that "on the day of the crime, Lane procured a carriage and was driving about the city and seeing Miss Skeed on the street, he invited her to ride with him to the place where the Fourth of July celebration was held. Returning to the city, he placed the carriage in the livery stable. He then walked back to the city in company with Miss Skeed. In the course of their walk, they passed a block of buildings (Overholser Row) wherein there was a dental office. He made an excuse, upon reaching the stairway leading to his room, that he had business in the dentists office and he prevailed upon the child to accompany him up the stairway. On arriving on the second floor, she found herself in the room of the defendant and the crime was then committed by force."
After Lane's defense attorney's pleaded a "not guilty" case with cross examinations of witnesses and sporadic over rulings of statements here and there, the jury summoned to decide the fate of the accused did just that in less than five minutes. "We the jury in the above-entitled cause, duly impaneled and sworn, upon our oaths find the defendant guilty of carnal and unlawful knowledge of Frances M. Skeed, a female under the age of sixteen years, as charged in the indictment." Jury members included G.W. Friend, W.A. Ackerman, James McClain, Thomas J. Kirker, R.A. Dowell, J.E. Lucas, F.R. McKinley, O.C. Ingmire, J. Gillespie, J.W. Richardson and Samuel Rodgers.
After a motion for a new trial and an arrest of judgment was made, heard, and overruled, the following sentence from Judge Foster's U.S. District Court in Wichita was pronounced. "Thereupon, it is now by the court here considered, ordered, and adjudged that said defendant be imprisoned in the Kansas penitentiary for the period of five years. It is further ordered that the marshal deliver, or cause to be delivered, the body of said Charles Lane to the warden of said penitentiary within ten days from this date."
With the catastrophic loss of one young child and the horrific life altering victimization of another, nothing but dark clouds could hang over a new born community struggling to survive on the open range known as Oklahoma Territory. If knowing history helps to keep it from repeating itself, citizens in and around Perry, I.T., must have not heard of the world wide news flash of Oklahoma City's 1889 grandstand collapse. Just five years following in 1894, the little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Asa C. Potter lost her life when a grandstand holding five-hundred fans went down in a heap. This tragic event taking place during a base ball contest between an Indian nine and a local Perry nine. In much the same unfortunate fashion of Oklahoma City's tragedy, many were injured and one child was sadly lost leaving another set of parents in shock and heartbroken to the extreme.
Such tragic loss of life and child abuse in Oklahoma City gives all the more reason to recognize the prolific and well timed arrival of Mr. Walter R. Jennison and his vision for the future Pirate base ball as an entertaining and exciting pastime for pioneers. Even more important was Jennison's vision of stabilizing the cotton industry and the growth of agriculture which would help anchor a struggling territorial city walking within its tragic filled baby steps of historical existence. As the Jennison Brothers and Company began serving the Oklahoma City area with farm equipment, they also laid plans to sell base ball to the new territory on a big scale. This, while recognizing the need to rid their game of rowdy elements that dominated the amateur efforts previous to their arrival.
With enthusiasm and a no fail attitude founded upon a persistent "play it by ear" basis, Walter R. Jennison strategically labored on an 1891 schedule of games against other teams with railroad accessibility from Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. From these pioneer efforts to birth a successful organization called the Pirates with great effort to create a season of reputable schedule for a youthful Oklahoma City, the summer of 1891 was eventually highlighted with Jennison's businesslike organization of ticketed games against territorial teams from Purcell, Guthrie, Fort Reno, Frisco and Stillwater as well as teams from Gainesville (TX), Winfield (KS) and Wellington (KS).
The chosen few and fine historians of Oklahoma sports have correctly pointed towards 1904 as being the foremost consistent year of professional base ball competition to take the field in Oklahoma City. The Gene Barnes purchased and imported Iola, Kansas, team was quite competitive and recognized by the Oklahoma City press as champions of the Southwestern League. Despite the potential of error in championship accolades, 1904 was a solid and deserving year, but, not the true iron-willed genesis attempt at launching a progressively trained and efficiently organized base ball club that merits its own entombed, lost in time, acknowledgment. A remarkable success lost between its own phenomenon in 1891 and the many failed attempts leading up to the more solidified foundation season of Oklahoma City base ball in 1904.
Being one of curious mind over matters that contributed to the solid foundation of Oklahoma City's start-up in pro base ball, I set out to exhume the embryo of this infrastructure and found there were years previous to 1904 that included some well organized, properly scheduled and travel ready entities existing and representing Oklahoma City on diamonds of red dirt and rough grass throughout the Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas prairies. Following the aargh of the Pirates, actual genealogy of Oklahoma City's team names transcend into Statehoods, Metropolitans, Senators, Boosters, Indians, 89ers, Redhawks and current day Dodgers.
At first, my imperfect and slow curved mind thought 1902 was the Genesis effort headed up by a con artist and former 1890's minor league player Frank Quigg. Quigg was found conducting the same type of base ball business for Oklahoma City as Walter Jennison in 1901 and 1902, yet, his motives and rhetoric reflected a more for the money approach relative to is actual abilities to manage a team. Quigg mysteriously exited Oklahoma City in the early part of the 1902 season. This leaving potential and solid base ball affairs with prominent civic leaders providing support in scramble mode which, unfortunately, was not uncommon in territorial townships of the early twentieth century.
The first true "incorporated" venture to field a professional team came about in 1902 with the idiosyncratic Frank Quigg stirring up pre-season expectations of "great ball" to be played at the professional level in and by Oklahoma City. Although an eccentric part of a continued transition towards better base ball in 1904 and 1905, Quigg's demise was quick as his quirky antics did not hold up with astute pioneer businessmen and initial stockholders such as Charles F. Colcord, F.H. Shelly, Gene Barnes, Harry Robare and others. As Oklahoma City base ball progressively moved forward, Quigg eventually found himself fan mobbed as an umpire and then shot to death by U.S. Marshals in a 1909 attempt to rob the Harrah State Bank.
With application on file to umpire for the Central Base Ball Association in 1910, Quigg and four outlaw cohorts fabricated plans to rob three banks and the post office in Harrah, Oklahoma. The villainous plans were set for New Year's Eve of 1909. During the attempt on December 31, a trap inclined and pre-informed posse led by U.S. Marshal Jack Abernathy surprised the robbers upon their arrival at the bank. The robbers scattered and ran as deputies opened fire. Quigg was quickly shot and killed on site.
Just a few weeks previous to the Harrah attempt, Quigg and his outlaw companions had robbed $300 from the U.S. Post Office in Golden, Colorado. Six months previous to being shot to instant death in Harrah, Quigg was displaced as umpire in a series of games contested between Fort Worth and his former home team of Oklahoma City. This by Texas League President W.P. Allen after Quigg was mobbed by Metropolitan fans for obvious and errant umpiring decisions made behind the plate.
Members of the first incorporated attempt at base ball in 1902 Oklahoma City include (front row l to r) Ollie Conn, Mt. Zion, Ill., 2nd base; R. Wayne Reynolds, Lincoln, Neb., Pitcher/RF; Harry Robare, OKC, O.T., Interim Manager; Otto Meyers, Kansas City, MO., Catcher; Charles Parks, Vinita, I.T., Catcher/IF; (back row l to r) Max Gibbs, Sherman, TX, SS/3rd base; A.B. Snodgrass, OKC, O.T., CF/SS; John Desmond, St. Louis, MO, Pitcher/OF; Hardin Thurman, Chickasha, I.T., Pitcher/IF; and Charles Barry, Cairo, Ill., 1st base.
With em•bry•o being described as "an unborn or unhatched offspring in the process of development," it is my belief I and a few others have discovered just that in regard to Oklahoma City's transformation from enthusiastic and fun town ball reality into a higher realm of professional base ball existence.
Choosing to implement full focus on more than just the mere mention of the name Walter R. Jennison, I do believe the genesis of pro ball in Oklahoma City wraps around his existence and efforts in 1891. Although town ball teams, and later sandlot teams, continued to increase in popularity and numbers across Indian and Oklahoma Territories well into the early twentieth century, diligently researched documentation points toward Walter R. Jennison being the pioneer of Oklahoma's gateway to professional base ball in his guts to glory year of 1891.
Previous to 1891, sporadic documentation and images of base ball being played throughout the territories exists as nucleus evidence of a game being bred for a higher level of play. Along with these scattered mentions of amateur contests, mostly jokes of a base ball nature were published for the enjoyment of nineteen century newspaper audiences.
The May, 12, 1889, edition of the Omaha Daily Bee reported "the Oklahoma base ball club has not yet been organized. R. E. Volver has put in a ball or two with a swiftness and accuracy which would indicate who was to be the pitcher." Recognizing this comedic approach of reference to "R.E. Volver" as being (revolver) just twenty-five days post the rampant Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. Despite the humor, the thought of base ball in Oklahoma did exist outside our territorial boundaries. Although not that well known at the time, it also existed in real life within Indian Territory boundaries.
By July 4 of 1885, the Darlington Agency boys had received their "base-ball set" and had been practicing to win a match game with the "Reno" boys aka Fort Reno. With base ball and horse racing noted as the "only" Fourth of July amusement of that particular day in 1885, the matchup between Fort Reno and the Darlington Agency was a close and exciting ball game. A nine inning tie sent the contest into extra innings with the Darlington Agency squeaking out a win against the soldiers from Fort Reno. Darlington was an Indian Agency established to assist the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes existing to the wilder west of Oklahoma Territory. Fort Reno was a federal military facility initially established to provide security and support for native Americans, the agency and new pioneers traveling in and through the territory.
With amateur level ball being the highlight of many villages and towns within Indian and Oklahoma Territories, games were played and bets were made, but, from this historians research and opinion, a true professional attempt did not exist until 1891. This leaving the year of 1890 and others as a continuation of a mixed bag of amateur strategy targeting the Walter R. Jennison led birth of Oklahoma City's first true professional venture towards organized play in 1891. Not to sell previous efforts short, but to recognize them as birthing pains to what the future held for Oklahoma City base ball.
Historians flourish with pride from being able to share real time cutting edge new verifications but nothing to date exists to offer anything other than town ball guestimation for the year of 1890. One can only feel flourish from making up the word guestimation, but, newspaper documentation for a real attempt season organized and played in a professional manner in 1891 offers enthusiasm for those few interested in the true genesis year and storyline of Oklahoma City base ball.
With some thoughts of the Pirate's genesis and first game being played against the Purcell "Chickasaws" at home on June 19, 1891, the first actual reference to Oklahoma City's red dirt buccaneers competing for a base ball victory was delivered to subscribers of the June 12, 1891, edition of the Oklahoma Daily Journal. Within this very same issue, Walter Jennison is again recognized as "ordering up suits for the base ball boys." Jennison is also found extending a directive for all who wish to travel to Guthrie "tomorrow" needing to provide notification so Jennison could secure excursion rates for avid Pirate fans who would actually witness Oklahoma City's genesis of professional base ball on the summer Saturday of June 13, 1891, in Guthrie, O.T.
Relative to a futuristic struggle to locate Oklahoma's state capital, Oklahoma City's first professionally organized base ball game against Guthrie could ironically be considered as controversial. With a seventh inning score of 4-3 favoring Guthrie's nine, the Pirates were at bat with a man on third and nobody out. Trouble arose over what was described as "some rank decision" by an umpire named Berger. It seems that if things were all square in a fair deal, Oklahoma City would have won their initial base ball campaign of competition. But, with claims of Guthrie stealing what was described as a fine game from start to finish, the Pirates were evidently forced by Berger to walk the plank, so to speak, all the way back to Oklahoma City with a one run loss.
Following the bitterly disputed first loss on the road to the Guthrie nine, the second published reference of an Oklahoma City Pirate base ball game is found in the June 19, 1891, edition of the Oklahoma Daily Journal. Headlines read OKLAHOMA CITY VS PURCELL with a subliner of "A Great Game of Base Ball This Afternoon Between the Chickasaws of Purcell and the Oklahoma City "Pirates." The game was held in Oklahoma City "on the reservation" being called to "play ball" promptly at 2:30 o'clock with admission free and a special invitation for "the ladies" to attend.
In what has been thought by some to be the actual first documented game, the Oklahoma City Pirates roster against Purcell included three previously mentioned and original 89er town team sandlot stars Johnston, Morey and Carson. Oklahoma City's pre-game lineup for their first actual home game in team history read as follows: Ed Johnston, Pitcher; Harry Jennison, Catcher; Harry Hanley, First Base; W.R. Jennison, Second Base; Frank Butts, Third Base, John Hall, Short Stop; Usher Carson, Left Field; Frank Morey, Center Field; and George Boss, Right Field. Walter R. Jennison was recognized as the manager and captain of this 1891 Oklahoma City Pirates base ball club.
To date, no discovery of the actual results against what was thought to be the Chickasaws from Purcell had been documented. To date, it is now known that pitching in the beginning was rough around both the inside and outside edges, the Chickasaws were actually named the Black Stockings and Oklahoma City won their inaugural home game of the season by a score of 23-13. Before a number of "ardent admirers" from Purcell who had caught the train to Oklahoma City with hopes of seeing a good game, the umpire mercifully closed the game at the end of the sixth inning with the Black Stockings trailing the Pirates by ten runs.
The Pirates ball players were recognized as gentlemen of Oklahoma City who extended a courteous and friendly reception toward the Black Stockings and their fans from the Chickasaw Nation. Purcell pitcher Will Blanchard, "the artistic twirler," was targeted as a reason for the Black Stockings loss for lacking his standard pitching skills on this Friday afternoon in 1891 Oklahoma City.
Although not the actual genesis game, the Purcell contest was big in regard to Oklahoma City going "wild" over base ball. One territorial farmer rigged up his team of oxen not with plow but specifically to make a twenty mile trip to Oklahoma City just to see the base ball game. With the highest professional levels in the east struggling with union organized disruptions, the 1891 launch and success of the game in Oklahoma City has been historically noted as "remarkable." The Post Office Book Store advertised and carried actual Major League Baseballs for $1.50 each; Ash Bats for $1.50; Willow Bats for $1.00; and Bass Wood Bats for $0.75. The younger generation looking up to new Oklahoma City players such Walter Jennison, Ed Johnston and Frank Morey were peddling papers and shining shoes with effort to earn money for the purchase of base ball equipment.
With the game of base ball stirring up immediate and "wild" enthusiasm in Oklahoma City, Jennison, serving on the Fourth Of July 1891 Celebration's base ball committee along with Ledru Guthrie and Usher Carson, set out to accomplish their part of atonement for the disastrous Fourth of July celebration just two years earlier. The "mammoth" celebration featured Oklahoma City vs. Fort Reno with an exclamation mark as one of the events headliners. "A magnificent game of base ball between champions of the Territory will be played" was read by readers of newspapers and of the "dodgers" (aka leaflets) being distributed around town.
With great effort to clarify Oklahoma City's stance in regard to cleaning up the game, the targeted newspaper ads and "dodgers" being scattered about town directly communicated Jennison's "Rules of the Game." Jennison created a specific list of the following eight rules including number seven where no "ONE" is allowed to kill the umpire.
1st. Games will be called at 3:30 p.m. Gates open at 2:30 p.m.
2nd. No intoxicating liquors allowed on the grounds.
3rd. No intoxicated or unpleasantly notorious persons will be admitted.
4th. Any person using profane language will be ejected and money returned.
5th. Betting on grounds strictly prohibited.
6th. Carriages will be admitted free and required to be tied to hitching posts.
7th. No ONE will be allowed to kill the umpire. Everybody must take a hand.
8th. Admission, adults 25 cents children 15 cents, grand stand 10 cents extra.
The Oklahoma City Pirates admirable captain and second baseman boldly identified with his rules concluding them with a typeset signature "W.R. Jennison, Manager.
The Fourth of July parade itself was grand in style and size. The 10 o'clock parade procession order included Grand Marshal, Captain D.F. Stiles; Aides James H. Wheeler, Gardner Given, E.T. Overholser and E.C. Bartows; Fifth Calvary Band, U.S. Army; Batallion U.S. Regulars; City and County officials; Cramer Post, G.A.R.; Oklahoma's Camp Sons of Veterans; Civic societies; Assistant Grand Marshal, Charles W. Meacham; Aides L.A. Gilbert, Frank Butts, W.W. Sanford and Frank Scott; Oklahoma City Band; Fort Reno Base Ball Club; Oklahoma City Base Ball Club; Oklahoma City Bicycle Club; Citizens in carriages; and Shawnee, Cheyenne and Araphoe Indians.
The grand parade's procession began on California Avenue. It then proceeded north on Broadway to Grand Avenue. Then flowed west on Grand Avenue to Robinson. Went north on Robinson to main and then east on Main to Broadway. From there, north on Broadway to Third and moved east on Third towards the former military reservation grounds.
The schedule of events on the grounds began with a band playing at 11 o'clock. Reverend A.G. Murray shared the opening invocation. Addressing and welcoming the crowd was A.C. Scott, Master of Ceremonies. The band shared more celebratory music. Judge J.H. Woods and the Honorable D.H. Hammons addressed the crowd. The band continued playing up and through 12 o'clock when a break for dinner took place.
At 2 o'clock, "suitable and liberal prizes" were up for grabs as the Horse, Pony, Bicycle and other miscellaneous races were held. Breaking Jennison's Rule #1 calling for games to start at 3:30 o'clock, it was actually 4 o'clock when the base ball game between Fort Reno and Oklahoma City was called for "play ball!" Following the base ball game at 8:30 o'clock in the evening and for 25 cents extra, the crowd was entertained with a promenade concert performed by the Overholser Opera House concluding with a grand finale Fifth Calvary band and orchestra performance.
After the parade and random races and with strict rules in place, base ball became a family focused affair on this wonderful Fourth of July in 1891. The Pirates continued to create "wild" enthusiasm with a 13-8 victory over the veteran and more experienced Fort Reno soldiers. With victory came confidence and the import of improved players along with challenges to any game takers within a broader section of the territory, southern Kansas and northern Texas. Taking advantage of the holiday momentum, Jennison reached out to cities throughout the territory and southern Kansas with daring provocation of match games. The first to accept was a nine from the soon to be ghost town of Frisco located 16.7 miles west of Oklahoma City. It was agreed by both parties to play this game in Oklahoma City on July 18 of 1891.
Jennison not only strategized the fueling of more base ball excitement with another home game against the Frisco nine, he also created a calculated opportunity to "try out" a new pitcher with hopes of finding much needed mound support for Pirate ace Ed Johnston. This done with thoughts of his Pirates being able to step up to the next level and play a series of games instead of individual match games.
The upcoming Frisco game was promoted as "undoubtedly one of the best games ever" to be played in the city. With it only being the third home game to date, and, with Frisco recruiting soldiers from Fort Reno as well as players from Kingfisher, truth in advertising would seem to be as safe as the last runner who scored against Fort Reno in the Pirates most recent victory on the Fourth of July.
On July 18, 1891, former Texas Leaguer George Kittle proved to be worthy enough as a pitcher to allow the creation of a two man rotation that would anchor the Pirates and their upcoming run of competitive games to be scheduled. Kittle's Texas League experience immediately improved the Pirates persona of professional. Kittle's addition proved most valuable as he could also handle the position of catcher and play outfield as well. His pitching record was 25-15 with Austin of the Texas League in 1889. He was 9-8 with Waco of the Texas League the following year in 1890. He previously played for both the Dallas and Fort Worth teams in 1888.
For base ball fans in general who bought into the "best game ever played" prophecy, disenchantment walked away from this game right beside them. For Pirate fans who had been somewhat teased into such "wild" enthusiasm for the game with a couple of home victories, it was certainly escalated to an even higher level with a third home victory. The Pirates not only won but won big as they defeated Frisco 22-3. A great offensive effort produced those twenty-two runs with seventeen hits in this blowout victory. New Pirate pitcher George Kittle, featuring a marvelous drop ball, scattered eight hits while giving up only three runs. His game that day was even better than what was documented on paper as the Pirates defense committed four errors behind him which inflated the number of runs scored by Frisco nine offense on this particular game day.
With two Frisco players failing to appear because they thought it would rain, their team overall had no chance with two less and two more players. In front of a turnstile counted crowd of about 350 fans, the Pirates hit well and hit often while the Frisco nine struggled against Kittle and his drop ball. Despite committing four errors, the press evaluated Oklahoma City's defense as "brilliant." With Kittle on the mound and Harry Jennison catching, their efforts were recognized as "first class." To support his great pitching effort, Kittle highlighted this particular game with a bases loaded double.
With George Kittle proving to be a pitcher worthy of team confidence, Jennison and his 3-1 Pirates did step up and into their first attempt at series play soon after their landslide victory over the Frisco nine. Jennison's quest for transformation from individual match games to series play was a big step for Oklahoma City and its base ball future. Playing one game is challenging and fun. Playing a series of three games is a sign of growth in both sustained player numbers and skill levels and ability to compete within a similar echelon of long established professional teams from the United States east.
Pirate fans and readers of the July 25, 1891, edition of the Oklahoma Daily Times-Journal were somewhat stimulated by the following. "The Wellington Mail of Thursday says that 'Walter Frantz of this city (Wellington, Kansas) and Lee Phillips of Winfield (KS) will constitute the battery for Stillwater, O.T., base ball club in the games with the Oklahoma City club on Tuesday (July 28), Wednesday (July 29), and Thursday (July 30) of next week. With such a strong battery, Stillwater's chances of winning are good.' The indications, therefore, are good for an excellent game. Our boys will have to put up their best licks."
The Stillwater recruit and Wellington Maroon catcher Walter Frantz was the baby brother of six Frantz boys who eventually moved to Medford, O.T., in 1893. Walter's older brother Frank not only a Revolutionary War Roosevelt Rough Rider, he historically served as the last of seven territorial Governors before Oklahoma was ordained with statehood in 1907. Frank was a rough and tumble older brother, athlete and friend of our nations president Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt. Some highly competitive boxing matches are discovered within his friendship with our president during visits to the White House. Frank Frantz actually knocked out Roosevelt on three different occasions of their mixing it up in the ring.
Loaded with the catching talents of Walter Frantz, the pitching skills and experience of Lee Phillips and the secret addition defensive boost from short stop Walter Forsythe, Stillwater fans were favoring the betting odds of their Hawks beating the Pirates on their home ship in Oklahoma City. Despite the Daily Times-Journal publishing games to be played on July 28, 29 and 30, only one game between the Hawks and Pirates actually came to fruition. Researched evidence (no mention anywhere) indicates the July 28 game was either not scheduled or possibly rained out, the July 29 game did take place and the July 30 game was rained out.
With progressive intentions of series play, the Pirates were relegated, by weather conditions, back to a standard one, fun and done scenario against the beefed up Stillwater Hawks. With transformation somewhat on hold, the Hawks and Pirates contested team talents on the red dirt reservation grounds now vacated by the U.S. military. The field of play on July 29 was described as being in fine condition with no dust and only a few soft spots leading researching historians to believe the July 28 game may have been rained out.
According to local press, in the first five innings of nine between the Pirates and the Hawks, "both teams played like professionals." Players on both sides were recognized as being in good shape "slim, trim and ready to win." The starting umpire was not considered up to par with the games players though. After some disgruntled objections to the calls of Umpire Roll, Frank Dale took over. Dale's hawkeye calls from the third inning on received no complaints from either side.
The Hawks from Stillwater surprised the Pirates in the first inning by jumping out to a 2-1 lead. It was a bit of a rough start for Pirate pitcher George Kittle in the top of the first but he would settle in to give up only five hits while striking out twelve batters in his nine innings of solid work. The recruited Lee Phillips pitched almost as well giving up only seven hits while striking out seven Pirates. They key to victory in this game was defense and both teams were consistent in the field with four errors each. Timing of errors favored one team over the other. With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Phillips tossed a wild pitch which allowed two Pirates to score. Combined with some unfortunate errors by the Hawks defense, the Pirates scored three more for a total of five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. That was enough for Kittle as he continued striking out Hawks and only allowed one more run to cross the plate in the top of the ninth before closing the door of defeat for the Hawks. According to local press, "the Pirates played like professionals" while improving their season record to 4-1. This with a 7-3 well earned victory over a competitive Stillwater team stocked with Kansas players.
Losing the opportunity to see if phenom Pirate pitcher Ed Johnston could follow up Kittle's fine performance with back to back victories over the Hawks, Jennison would have to look forward to such opportunity at a later date. Rain fell on Oklahoma City on July 30th washing away any chance for back to back wins for the Pirates.
Along with a disappointing defeat of the Hawks by the Oklahoma City Pirates, sixteen year old Wellington Maroon catcher Walter Frantz shared his memories of his voyage to Stillwater and on to Oklahoma City for the July 29, 1891, base ball game. "We passed through the wild Cherokee Outlet by train and got off at the first stop in Oklahoma Territory," Frantz recalled. "From there we took a stagecoach to Stillwater. The driver had just whipped up the horses when a rider with two big guns flagged him down and warned the passengers to hide their valuables, the robber varmits were on the loose. I thought it was a prank but Lee Phillips had $50.00 on him and trembled all the way to Stillwater. I have to confess I never saw such wild looking country," shared Frantz.
About the Kansas players joining the Hawks to play against Oklahoma City, Walter Frantz said "the Stillwater team didn't want Oklahoma City to know who we Kansas boys were, so we stayed out of sight as much as we could. One of the Pirates recognized me all right. 'You're Frantz aren't you?' he asked. I couldn't lie, so I didn't say anything. 'He's a Frantz, I played with one of his brothers,' said the Pirate player, 'but he won't hurt us any, he's just a kid.'" Ironically, several Pirates tried to steal second off "the kid" catcher Frantz but he held his own. After about five innings and five attempts with failure, the Pirates were convinced of his youthful ability as a catcher. The "kid" Frantz claimed to have hit a home run off Kittle''s "drop ball," but, the published box score covering the game action reflects Frants went 0 for 4 that day against a strong pitching performance by the Pirates pitcher Kittle.
Disappointed fans and readers of July 31, 1891, edition of the Oklahoma Daily Times-Journal read "It rained all day yesterday (July 30). This would not be a matter of particular note in Oklahoma except for the fact that it prevented the second base ball game between Stillwater and Oklahoma City. There were some expectations that the Hawks would put up such a game that would worry the Pirates to overcome, and a great many were disappointed. The Stillwater boys returned home on the noon train yesterday, well satisfied with the treatment in this city, and will be back later in the season to play a couple more games. It is an excellent team and puts up an excellent game.
Today the Pirates and the Gainesville club will cross bats. The latter club is here and is an excellent one and a good game is expected. The game will be called at 3:45 p.m. sharp. Turn out and help the boys out, besides seeing a good game."
The August 01, 1891, edition of the Wichita Daily Eagle reported "the base ball clubs in Oklahoma are getting into the fact that the visiting club gets the best treatment when it is beaten." Within the same edition is found, "The Oklahoma Pirates have done up the Stillwater Hawks. The base ball complication in Oklahoma is getting almost as interesting as the capital fight."
The August 06, 1891 edition of the Oklahoma Daily Times is headlined with "BASE BALL TODAY." A sub liner reads "THE WINFIELD TEAM VS THE PIRATES THIS EVENING." A secondary sub liner reads "Today the Ladies will be Admitted Free–The Game to be called at 3:45 Sharp."
The Oklahoma Daily Times continues with "The Winfield team arrived on the 12:30 train this morning and are a fine looking set of young men, they are all 'men' and not 'kids' and their last game before coming to Oklahoma was with Wellington (Kansas) and resulted in a victory for Winfield by a score of 4 to 2, thus it will be seen that the Pirates will have to 'play ball' if they win from the boys from the Sunflower state.
The boys here expected to have a hard fight to win from Winfield and have devoted some time in getting themselves in shape to win, and yet there is no victory until it is won.
As per agreement the Winfield club will play three games with the Pirates. Gorsuch and Bennett will occupy the points today for Winfield while Kittle and Jennison will do the battery work for the Pirates.
Today admission to the ground will be free for all the ladies, but everybody is cordially invited to attend. Come out and se one of the best games ever played on the home grounds.
The game will be played at the ball park east of the city. Game is called at 3:45. Following is the names and positions of players for Winfield: Bennett, Catcher; Gorsuch, Pitcher; Kyger, 1st Base; Redmond, 2nd Base; Phillips, 3rd Base, Watson, SS; McCampbell, LF; Eastin, CF; and Garver, RF. For Oklahoma City: H. Jennison, Catcher; G. Kittle, Pitcher; F. Morey, 1st Base; W. Jennison, 2nd Base; Ed Johnston, 3rd Base; R. Hall, SS; C. Scott, LF; Will Ebey, CF; and Moore, RF.
The August 16, 1891, edition of the Fort Worth Gazette reported "the Gainesville base ball club played Oklahoma City their second game today, resulting in a score of twelve to four in favor of Oklahoma City. The Gainesville boys leave for Guthrie in the morning to play Guthrie tomorrow."
The September 09, 1891, edition of the Wichita Daily Eagle reported "the last game between the Guthrie and Oklahoma City base ball clubs came out 13 to 13" while noting "thirteen was an unlucky number for both sides this time."
The September 11, 1891, edition of the Wichita Daily Eagle reported on the September 10 base ball match between Oklahoma City and Wellington, Kansas. "The game today between the Wellington Maroons and the Oklahoma City Pirates resulted in defeat of the boys from the territory by a score of 6 to 3. Kittle, Blackburn and Bennett occupied the points for the Oklahoma City club, while Fournier and Frantz were the Wellington battery.
The September 13, 1891, edition of the Wichita Daily Eagle reported that "the Wellington base ball club 'paid' a Denver pitcher $100 to beat the Oklahoma City Pirates" while indicating "he did it." This referencing the previously mentioned 6 to 3 loss by the Pirates to Wellington on September 10 of 1891.
Author's Note: The general scope of research and visual references include the National Library Of Congress, Oklahoma Historical Society, The Territorial Capital Sports Museum and iMages from the Mark House Collection. Some iMages, moving and still, are utilized specifically to portray the essence of time and events only.