Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Benteen Base Ball Club

 The Benteen Base Ball Club of Ft. Rice and the Actives of Ft. Lincoln played their third game at Lincoln to-day, for the championship.  The two previous games were played in the Black Hills, and were very closely contested, the scores standing 6 to 11 in the first and 11 to 16 in the latter, consequently the final game promises to be an exciting one.
-Bismarck Daily Tribune, September 9, 1874

Edmund Tobias, in his history of St. Louis baseball that was published in The Sporting News, wrote about Frederick Benteen's baseball activities in the West.  Here we find a contemporary source supporting Tobias' work.

Benteen, who played with the Cyclone Club prior to the Civil War, arrived at Ft. Rice in June of 1873 and was serving with the 7th Cavalry, under General Custer.  I've been trying to find the first instances of baseball playing in various western states and it's interesting, but not surprising, that the first baseball clubs in the Dakota Territory appear to have been formed by soldiers.  Benteen, it can be argued, was a baseball pioneer in two states - Missouri, where he was a member of the first baseball club to play the regulation game, and North Dakota, where he helped form one of the first baseball clubs in the state.


Ted Yemm said...

Interesting. Your last two post seem to speak to the importance of St. Louis in the spread of base ball due to the fact that it was the far west's most thriving major metro.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

It's a really difficult question to answer and we're just now beginning to gather the data about how and when, specifically, the regulation game spread to various parts of the country. In general, I think that I'd argue that the game spreads to the larger urban areas first and then out from there to the rural areas. Under that scenario, each urban center would have played a large role in spreading the game out to the immediate rural areas (for example, the game would have spread out from StL to Belleville because of the influence of StL baseball activities and the cultural contacts that people in StL had with Belleville).

The problem with this idea is that it's tough to find evidence supporting it. Just because StL has the game in 1859 and Belleville has it later doesn't prove anything. There are certain instances, like Frederick Benteen in the Dakata Territory, where we can point to specific evidence showing what happened to introduce the game into an area but that's pretty rare. It's easier to show this kind of thing when a geographical area is first developing. We know how bat and ball games were introduced in Central Illinois in the 1820s because prior to that there weren't any urban areas there. The Anglo-Europeans showed up, built towns and brought their ball-playing culture with them. It's easy to get from A to B when you start with a blank slate. It's much, much tougher to do so when you have a more developed culture in place. And, in the end, that's what we're really talking about - how specific aspects of a culture developed and what influenced that development.

There are plenty of theories about how the game spread in the decade between 1855 and 1865, some more plausible than others. I'm not certain how to go about proving or disproving these theories but I do know that we have to improve the data set. We can't prove that baseball spread from StL to Belleville if we don't know the specific facts about the origins of the regulation game in those cities. We have to get more data from more cities and towns; we have to find out when the game first arrived in all (or most of) of the cities and towns in America before we can begin proving or disproving theories. You can't say, conclusively, that the Civil War helped spread the game if you can't point to an example where a given town didn't have baseball before the war, their young men went off to war and were introduced to the game, and then these young men came back and started baseball clubs. To show something like that involves a great deal of research and a lot of information that has to be gathered.

While all of that sounds kind of negative, I'm actually rather hopeful because I know that the work is being done and there are a lot of smart people looking into it. Just looking at this part of the country, we know a great deal more about how and when bat and ball games arrived here then we did two years ago. Our knowledge about how the game spread to the middle part of the country has grown by leaps and bounds and the research is still bearing fruit. I actually think it's a positive thing that we're beginning to identify things that we don't know, specific questions that need to be answered and specific facts that we need to find. We have a much sounder understanding about the spread of the game today then we did a generation ago when it was just accepted that the Civil War spread the game or the influence of New York spread the game or whatever oversimplification they were trotting out. Today, we at least recognize that the issue is a complex one and involves factors ranging from geography to economics to culture to class to race.