Out of the Shadows: African American Baseball from the Cuban Giants to Jackie Robinson

By Bill Kirwin | Go to book overview

SCOTT ROPER


“Another Chink in Jim Crow?”
Race and Baseball on the Northern Plains,
1900–1935

ON THE NORTHERN PLAINS, baseball developed and maintained an integrated status based on race and ethnicity before most other regions in the United States. Even there, most nonwhite players were strongly dissuaded from playing the game at the amateur and semi-professional levels. Newspaper articles from the early twentieth century demonstrate that most African Americans were subjected to shoddy treatment and harsh racism. White baseball players only welcomed the participation of whites and Native Americans, the latter a result of America's attempt to integrate and “civilize” Native Americans into white American culture. This essay demonstrates how these issues were present throughout the Northern Plains states between 1900 and 1935.


An Overview of Baseball in the American West

Miners, homesteaders, and soldiers were the three groups most responsible for baseball's diffusion to the trans-Mississippi frontier. Baseball existed in mining communities around Helena, Montana, at least as early as 1867.1 The chief surgeon at Fort Buford, Dakota Territory, Dr. James P. Kimball, reported that a number of soldiers played baseball on the Northern Plains as early as 1869.2 By 1873, with the arrival of the Seventh Cavalry's Benteen Base Ball Club in Dakota Territory, baseball already was well established along the Missouri River.3 Groups of homesteaders followed, bringing the game with them from the eastern United States.4 On the Northern Plains, most of these players were white; only after 1890 did nonwhites become prominent as baseball players in the region.5

The federal government encouraged Native American involvement in baseball and other sports as part of its program to assimilate Native Americans into American culture and society. Baseball was a mainstay at many government-established boarding schools, where Native Amer-

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