Friday, March 29, 2013

The Soldiers Wiled Away The Long Summer Day

Fredrick Benteen

The Spring 2013 newsletter of SABR's Nineteenth Century Committe showed up in my inbox the other day and in it, there's a great article by Terry Bohn entitled Baseball in the Dakotas - 1870s.  Mentioned in the article is Fredrick Benteen, one of the members of the Cyclones.  While I've written about Benteen's baseball exploits in the West before, I thought I'd pass along some of what Bohn wrote about one of the pioneers of St. Louis baseball:

The earliest baseball in the Dakota Territory was played at the military forts in the region that were established to protect settlers and the workers who were building the Northern Pacific Railroad westward.  Soldiers learned the game as boys growing up in the East or during their service in the Civil War.

Captain Fredrick Benteen was assigned to the newly-formed Seventh Calvary, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer at Fort Rice, thirty miles downriver from Fort Abraham Lincoln (near present day Bismarck, North Dakota) in the Dakota Territory. In 1873, he organized the Benteen Base Ball Club, representing Company H. Another base ball club was formed at Fort Lincoln called the Actives, made up of members of Company L. Between 1873 and 1876 the clubs played against other military squads as well as civilian teams. Benteen's soldiers purchased over a dozen bats and baseballs, and according to their own record, won twelve out of seventeen games with other units. The Benteens beat E Company's picked nine, which was made up of members of the infantry garrison at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory. The local Yankton Press and Dakotaian, stated “Neither club played up to their standard owing to the high wind.” When the Benteens lost a game featuring plenty of betting to the First Infantry, based in Fort Randall, the Yankton Press reported “It is hoped that these two nines will meet again soon, as a large amount of money will probably change hands in such an event.”

While on the Black Hills Expedition in 1874, the Actives defeated the Benteens 11- 6 in a game of base ball on the site of present-day Custer, South Dakota, near Rapid City. Custer did not witness the contest as he and a small party of men were off climbing nearby Harney's Peak on the day of the game. But, Trooper Theodore Ewert, a member of the Seventh Cavalry, wrote this account in his diary “The soldiers wiled away the long summer day with a game of base ball, a genuine Black Hills
first, including a dispute over the umpire's impartiality.” On the same day, July 31, 1874, Brigadier General Joseph Green Tilford wrote in his journal “On the occasion of Custer and the press being absent from camp, the troopers had a ball game.”

The July 31 game was the first of a series of three games between these two teams. The Benteens won the second game, also played in the Black Hills, by a score of 16 to 11, but there is no record of the third and deciding game having taken place. However, there are references to even earlier base ball games on military forts in the Dakota Territory. In May of 1874 the officers at Fort Buford (near present day Williston, North Dakota) put up a purse of $100 for which the post base ball clubs were to play a series of games. There are no written records of the results of these ball games.

Captain Benteen, and Company H under his command, was transferred to New Orleans in 1875. During that summer, two teams calling themselves the “Alerts” and the “Nameless” played base ball at Fort Lincoln. Benteen and Company H returned to the Dakota Territory, and in 1876 Custer led the Seventh Calvary another expedition westward, this time to quell an Indian uprising in Montana.  Benteen was the commander of three columns of soldiers during the Battle of the Little Big Horn, also known as “Custer’s Last Stand” in June of 1876.  Benteen survived the battle but his unit, and members of the post base ball clubs, sustained heavy casualties.

Congratulations to Terry on a great piece and I think it's fantastic to see Benteen get a bit of publicity. 

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