Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Town Ball In Ste. Genevieve During The Civil War

The acting Coroner of this county was called upon, on Friday last, to hold an inquest upon the body of Eli La Rose, who was most cruelly murdered on the day before by John Criswell of this county. The circumstances as appears by the weight of testimony before the inquest were about these: Young La Rose was engaged playing a game of town ball, on an old field in the town of New Bourbon, with nearly all the men and boys of the town. Having run until he was somewhat exhausted, threw himself down on the grass to rest. Lying upon his right side, he placed his elbow upon the ground and rested his head upon the palm of his hand. In this position, Criswell approached him from the rear and commenced his blow with a stick, with such rapidity, that three blows had been struck before he could be reached by those nearest to them. The blows fell upon the left temple, first of which most likely done the work; and most strange to say, that the skull was neither broken, nor the head moved from the position on the hand. Death ensued from concussion of the brain...He lived about fourteen hours.  
It seems that on two former occasions there had been difficulties between the them. The last time it came to blows, when the deceased knocked Criswell down, both being somewhat intoxicated. When the death blows were struck, the other day, Criswell rather exultingly said, "you are the fellow I have been after this long while. Let that learn you know how to strike a drunk man with a slug shot."   
The murderer is yet at large. He took with him his only son, a boy about ten or twelve years old.--[Ste. Genevieve Plaindealer.]
-Missouri Republican, June 8, 1862

I was going through my notes and found this rather horrific story about a murder that took place just outside of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, which is about fifty miles south of St. Louis and was the first city founded by Europeans west of the Mississippi.  Obviously, the point of all of this is not the murder but the setting of the murder - a Civil War era town ball game in Ste. Gen.

The continued popularity of town ball during this era is rather interesting.  The regulation game had taken roots in the major urban centers of the West in the years immediately prior to the outbreak of the war but town ball was still being played in St. Louis through the war years.  I spent a lot of time searching through Civil War journals and letters and there were substantially more references to games of town ball than there was to baseball.  This, I think, speaks to the popularity of bat and ball games in the United States in the antebellum era and, also, to the idea that the regulation game had not penetrated much past the major urban areas of the West.  That fact has always led me to think that the war disrupted the natural evolutionary spread of the regulation game and that baseball would have reached the more rural areas of the West in the early 1860s if the war had not broken out.

Also, this goes to the idea that there was nothing predetermined about the spread of the regulation game - people across the nation had their own bat and ball games that they played and enjoyed and they did not have to give those up for baseball.  That they did so is fascinating and something that demands a great deal more research and study.    

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