Meskwaki Anthology

HISTORICAL PRESERVATION OFFICE NOTES

From the desk of Johnathan L. Buffalo

(Note: From an article that ran in the April 19, 2002 issue of the Meskwaki Tribal Newsletter)

Baseball

Most cultures had some sort of stick and ball games. American Indian tribes played stickball games such as Lacrosse and Shinny. Just as white Americans adopted Lacrosse from the Indians, American Indian tribes adopted baseball. Nobody knows when the first Meskwaki thought, “I can do THAT” or when the first Meskwaki picked up a bat and took a swing. History does not tell us if the ball was even hit that first time. But we’ll just guess it was.

Baseball began to be played in the United States as a combination of English Cricket and Rounders. In the 1840’s, small towns formed teams and larger cities formed baseball clubs. The baseball rules used today were generally formalized in 1845. Soldiers played baseball during the Civil War as a means of keeping busy between battles. After the way, baseball grew in popularity as a spectator sport and most cities began to compete against other cities with teams. Then, in 1871, professional baseball leagues began and continue through today.

In the meanwhile, as baseball was being born and developed, the Meskwaki were living a life as free Indians. But when baseball rules were being formed in 1845, the Sauk and Meskwaki were being removed to a reservation in Kansas. So if any Meskwaki saw baseball being played at its early stages it must have been a curiosity. Meskwaki had their own ball games of strength and skill – like lacrosse and doubleball – that are still played today here on the Settlement. When baseball leagues were being formed in the 1870’s, the Meskwaki were well settled back in their Iowa home after a harrowing experience in Kansas for some.

At the beginning of the new century, the Meskwaki had adapted baseball to their use. The First Annual Indian Field Meet (eventually becoming the “Annual Pow Wow”) was held in 1905. The 1905 poster advertising the even reads as follows (sic):

“FIRST ANNUAL INDIAN FIELD MEET. The Tama Indians will hold their first annual field meet on the reservation three miles west of Tama at the Indian Village on the Lincoln Highway. Four Days, September 14 – 17. Come and see the Indians in their favorite sports and pastimes in a great variety of games and contests, including: War Dances, ‘Bronco Busting’, Ropeing, Horse Racing; Foot Racing; Jumping; Shooting Matches, using Bow and Arrow; LaCrosse Game between Indian teams; Base Ball, Indians Vs. Some semi-professional ‘pale face’ team. Music by the Indians. Big Parade on Grounds Each Day. Indians in full regalia will parade before the games. NOTICE: There will be no intoxicating liquor allowed on the reservation. There will be an Indian wickiup where relics, beadwork and other Indian handiwork will be on sale. Refreshment stand privileges for sale. Great Time Guaranteed.”

Indian Teams formed and played White baseball teams. Meskwaki baseball teams have never been “novelty” acts, but instead were well respected by their non-Indian competitors for skill in the game. Some stereotypical news articles inevitably occurred such as in the 1950’s where a report reads: “The Indians went on the warpath as they scalped Neils 15 to 4.” In 1953, the Meskwaki team won a charity game held at Tama. The newspaper account is “The two charities and the people of Tama thank the Indian men for helping make the attraction a success.”

From the past century on up to this century, Meskwaki men and women have played the game of baseball or softball and appear to be very enthusiastic about it … as well as good at it. So let’s PLAY BALL!