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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Old Cowtown Museum seeks photographs of vintage Kansas baseball teams

By Beccy Tanner
The Wichita Eagle

“The baseball mania has reached us. What with the Indian scare, the drought, the chinch bugs and the grasshopper, truly we are badly afflicted; but as a supplement to this grand drama of misery our callow youths have inaugurated the “National Game” in the midst of us. What shall we do to circumvent their match-inations? Answer Eldorado Club, ditto Sedgwick Club-ergo Senegambian Club, or any club-footed grangers”

—Wichita City Eagle, Sept. 2, 1874

After nearly a century and a half, it is still all about the crowd and the crack of a bat hitting the ball.

The old-fashioned game harks back to the days when “base ball” was two words and players caught fly balls with their bare hands and prided themselves on being gentlemen.

It was a time when the game was one of the biggest social events a town could offer.

Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita is hoping to re-create that feel with its two vintage baseball teams, the Wichita Bulldozers and the Wichita Red Stockings.

But they need your help, especially if you are descended from an old Kansas family.

The Cowtown Vintage Base Ball Club is in search of vintage photographs, particularly from the 1870s and 1880s, showing Kansas baseball teams — photos that might be tucked away in closets or attics, and saved as family heirlooms.

“This type of photographic history is what we’d really love to have in order to fully re-create the Wichita teams and properly re-enact,” said Gary Lee, the event coordinator with the Cowtown Vintage Base Ball Club. “We have no photographic history of any 1870 or 1880 Wichita baseball team. That’s what we are trying to complete — that part of the puzzle.”

In Wichita, some of those old base ball players had family names such as Blackman, Grinsmore, Lauck, Everts and Parshall. Others were Marsh, Smoyer, Barnard, Donahue, Clark, Ozane, Myers and Ford.

“There are a lot of old families still around Wichita. If someone knew we were looking for information, they might come forward,” Lee said. “The history is there. Once people realize we are talking the 1870s time period, it sparks an interest.”

Currently, there are about 200 vintage base ball teams in the nation. Kansas has several — the two from Cowtown, two at Emporia, one at Jetmore and one in Chase County, Lee said.

In 1879, The Wichita Beacon and The Wichita Eagle ran stories of challenge games involving the Wichita Bulldozers and Wichita Red Stockings. It also reported on games the teams played with other towns.

“Towns took a lot of pride in their teams,” Lee said.

In August 1879, The Beacon reported the results of a game between the Westerns of Topeka and the Bulldozers of Wichita, so named because of the hope they could bully and intimidate their opponents. They did not. The Westerns won 4-1

Nearly every small town had a base ball team, mostly to show town pride and affluence. One of those was T.E. Nash’s Team of Rice County.

Nash and his wife, Lydia, moved to Rice County in the 1870s and homesteaded south of Sterling. He was a Union Civil War veteran who became a fairly prominent businessman. He was a clothier and tailor and, as was common at the time, paid ball players to compete on his team.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com

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