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Carlisle Indians found victory on football field

Columnist recounts Native American ties to the famous sport

Posted: Friday, June 08, 2007

PHILADELPHIA - Chippewa and Iroquois, Cherokee and Cheyenne, they were pulled from the reservations to take part in a brutal experiment in education at the hands of an Army captain who strove to blot out their cultural identity.

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But on the football field, they were fleet and innovative, able to compete with and defeat the white man at his own game.

In her new book, "The Real All Americans: The Team that Changed a Game, a People, a Nation," Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins recounts in rich detail the triumphant - and often overlooked - history of the Carlisle Indians, a series of ragtag teams of Native Americans from a tiny school in central Pennsylvania that regularly bested the moneyed powerhouses of football's formative years.

The book opens as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School prepares for a showdown with Army in 1912 - 22 years after Wounded Knee. Jenkins recounts a speech given by Glenn S. "Pop" Warner, Carlisle's coach for 13 seasons, in which he tells his players to "just go to your rooms and read your history books."

And what follows is a history, not just of Carlisle's great teams but also of the latter years of the country's great western expansion. Jenkins uses the Carlisle teams to open a window onto the conflicts that eventually subdued American Indians following the Civil War and the attempts to integrate them into white society toward the start of World War I.

"There's a big gap in the literature on Carlisle," Jenkins said. "There's basically children's literature and then academic literature. But there wasn't a good, straightforward nonfiction narrative on the Carlisle Indians and what they contributed to American football."

But Jenkins hopes readers come away with more than that.

"I wanted to use the story as a way into Native American assimilation," Jenkins said. "I thought that the narrative story of that was really fascinating."

John Glover, director of The Center for Indian Studies at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., said Jenkins might have found a good way to reach a sometimes forgotten era of American history.

"It may be a nice platform for the sports enthusiast to learn a little about American history that they hadn't thought about before," said Glover, who had just received a copy of the book and looked forward to reading it.



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