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Photos: Carlisle Football

Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 06:00 PM

Pop Warner coaching at Carlisle Indian School, circa 1899-1903 Pop Warner coaching at Carlisle Indian School, circa 1899-1903 (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

These photos all relate to the epic story of the Carlisle Indian School and its history-making football teams, which we tell in our American Football episode. And check out this related post, a collection of student "Before and After" photos.

In 1893, three dozen students made their way to the Superintendent's office at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Colonel Richard Henry Pratt, the Superintendent and founder of the school, had banned the new-ish, brutal game of football after a student broke his leg playing it. But the boys wanted it back. They made such a strong case, that Pratt relented. And in just a few short years, Carlisle was making headlines, winning games, and becoming one of the favorite teams in the country. 

Carlisle's 1894 team, just one year after Pratt allowed the resumption of football. They look so young! Check out the "nose armor" hanging around the necks of several players on the left:

In the middle row are Delos Lone Wolf (second from left) and Ben American Horse (third from left). Delos was the adopted son and nephew of the Kiowa leader Lone Wolf, who lost a landmark Supreme Court battle in Lone Wolf v. HitchcockDelos helped his uncle on his trips to Washington, DC -- going from a symbolic struggle for territory on the football field, to the very real fight to restore the lands that had been taken from the Kiowa. Ben American Horse was the son of the Sioux Chief American Horse, who after traveling to DC and seeing people "like ants" was one of the first American Indian leaders to send his children to Carlisle.

In 1896, just three seasons after football was reinstated at Carlisle, the school went up against Yale (the most powerful team in the country) in front of a massive audience (one newspaper at the time put the number at 10,000 spectators) at the Polo Grounds in NYC. Carlisle was expected to lose, but almost tied... a bad call by a ref cancelled their final touchdown:

Group photo of 14 members of 1896 football team at Carlisle Indian School

In both the 1894 and 1896 photos, you can see how round the ball still is -- a far cry from the missile-like spheroid of today.

Here's the 1903 team that pulled off the famous hidden-ball trick against Harvard. Charles Dillion (top row, second from left) wore a specially-sewn jersey with extra room in the back and elastic band around the bottom. Jimmie Johnson (front row, holding the ball) secretly stuffed the football in the back of Dillon's sweater after a kickoff... allowing him to run downfield as Harvard scrambled to figure out where the ball went. (Albert Exendine, one of the heroes of our Carlisle story, is also in this shot -- middle row, second from the right. And that's Coach Warner in the back right, wearing a tie.)

Carlisle Indian School's 1903 football team

One of early football's infamous formations, the "flying wedge," was built for sheer brute force. Players formed a point (holding onto each other for reinforcement) and rammed forward aiming to crash through the opposing side:

Early 'flying wedge' formation. Possibly 1904. Carlisle Indian School team, with Pop Warner in back.

From right to left, Carlisle star Albert Exendine, Coach Pop Warner, and Trainer Denny Wallace:

Coach Pop Warner and star end Albert Exendine at Carlisle Indian School

A crush-worthy portrait of Albert Exendine, one of the game's greatest receivers. After Carlisle, he become a lawyer and coach:

A panoramic shot of the big game we describe against the University of Chicago in 1907 -- the stands were packed with 27,000 people:

Marshall Field, Chicago, Carlisle vs. Chicago, Nov. 23, 1907

Here's a gorgeous, eye-crossing (for me at least), game diagram from the November 24th, 1907 edition of the Chicago Tribune (along with some great articles covering the game... scroll down for another great panoramic shot of the crowd and field):

The Chicago History Museum has what maybe is a photo of the out-of-bounds touchdown Exendine makes against the University of Chicago.

Fullback Pete Hauser in uniform. Hauser threw a massive 40-yard spiral to Exendine (who ran out of bounds, around spectators and players, and back on the field for the catch...) in the 1907 University of Chicago game:

I love this photo -- a big sprawling shot of the full 1907 squad. Pop Warner is in the back left corner in a Carlisle sweater. Frank Mt. Pleasant is in the front center (with his hands clasped on his knee). Albert Exendine is sitting next to him on the right. A young Jim Thorpe sits in the 2nd row, 2nd from left.

One of football's early spiral-throwing masters, Carlisle's Frank Mt. Pleasant, in uniform:

Other teams and coaches -- like St. Louis University under Eddie Cochems -- were also experimenting with forward passes and spiraling the ball in 1906. 

In 1951, Warner wrote a letter in which he said "I do not think anyone can lay claim to having first used the spiral punt or the spiral forward pass. The forward pass was legalized in 1906 and I remember very well that Frank Mt. Pleasant of Carlisle used many spiral passes to defeat the Univ. of Pennsylvania 26 to 6 in 1907. He was also kicking spiral punts that year."

In 1912, Pop Warner wrote a coaching manual in which there are three photos of Frank Mt Pleasant demonstrating how to throw a spiral (check out pages 35-37):

Page from Glenn 'Pop' Warner's 1912 book A Course in Football for Players and Coaches

 In 1908, Pop Warner had football-shaped leather patches sewn onto the front of Carlisle's jerseys. When they wore them against Syracuse in 1908, it created the illusion of a field full of ball carriers. When Carlisle tried to use the sweaters against Harvard later in the season, they countered with crimson-painted game balls which would be invisible against Harvard's crimson jerseys.

Crunch! A 1910 action shot:

Tackling practice, Carlisle Indian School, 1910

Jim Thorpe, one of the greatest athletes of all time, famously dominated track meets and football games during his time at Carlisle. Here he is attacking one of Pop Warner's tackling dummies in 1912:

Jim Thorpe attacking an improvised tackling dummy made of weights and pulley on wire, with Coach Warner looking on, c. 1912.

Carlisle's band was a huge, national sensation too. Band Master Dennison Wheelock -- in the upper left -- made a powerful speech about the role of football at an 1897 athletic banquet in which he said:

Today, the Indian is beyond the Mississippi. The only way I see how he may reoccupy the lands that once were his, is through football, and as football takes brains, takes energy, proves whether civilization can be understood by the Indian or not, we are willing to perpetuate it.

Carlisle Indian School Band, with Band Master Dennison Wheelock

Read more:

Sally Jenkins, The Real All-Americans

David W. Adams, Education for Extinction

Michael Oriad, Reading Football

Tom Benjey, Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Chiefs

Robert Wheeler, Jim Thorpe


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Comments [23]

Mellissa Browning from Georgia, USA

Love these pictures! Thank you!

Feb. 09 2018 06:20 AM
Quentin Gessner from Green

I had the pleasure of receiving my Carlisle High School football sweater from Jim Thorp who had attended our graduation ceremony in 1942.
Quentin Gessner

Dec. 31 2016 02:10 PM
Bright Garlick from Central Victoria, Australia

That was a damnwed fine show, damned fine and I learned a great deal that I hadn't known before.

In Australia, the Aboriginal people invented the game of Marn Grook ( which was a precursor to Australian Football/ Ozzy Rules - kicking possum skinned balls. They were also the best cricketers in the nation and the first to play against England.

The history of native people's demonstrates that sport gave them great resiliance and an opportunity to express themselves. Which was a necessary thing for any people to survive after so much oppression.

Thanks team and thanks Brenna for pulling this story and these photos together. The photos add real depth to the story and do justice to the people of teh Carlisle Indian School. It would be fascinating to talk to the decescendants of these amazing people and to see how they integrated teh stories of their ancestors !

Thanks for an amazing show ! I detest sport but loved this show and love every episode of Radio lab !

Jun. 13 2016 08:34 PM
Donald P. Wagner from New Orleans

Many thanks for some fine storytelling, though I'd like to know more about the "dark side" (abuse) of the story & the school. A favor I ask, to the Web Site manager or to any computer-savvy person reading this comment: My access to the Internet is very limited, as are my computer skills. Could someone be so very kind as to send me the above text, including the comments of others found above, via my E-Mail address? I'm pretty sure I could get it printed off on paper and better study it with my going-going eyes. My sincere thanks, and best of luck to all in this New Year. (Donald) E-Mail =

Jan. 12 2016 11:43 PM
jim balaban from Camp Hill, PA

Sorry, I can't accept Sally Jenkins as a reputable journalist with integrity. Her coverage of Lance Armstrong should be a mandatory case study at Journalism Schools of reporting gone wrong.

Sep. 29 2015 08:04 PM
SLN from Edwardsville, IL

This story was so racist, and yet came off unknowingly so. So many children died, and it wasn't only disease -there is a long ugly history of physical and sexual abuse tied to this school. And the way the word 'assimilation' was continually used in this story -to act as if the white people were doing the Indians favors by taking their children by force -it's just plain wrong. There are photos of tipis outside the schools like this, of parents trying to be near their children and get a glimpse of them. This is a whitewashed story, and very disappointing in this day and age to act as if Pratt was acting for the Indians best interest. More disturbing is the tone of this story, which also gives the Indian culture a downgrade, but that they were able to become as good as whites... Wow. Their culture stands on its own -even now. Radiolab -grow up.

Sep. 05 2015 04:26 PM
Leslie Wheelock

Love radiolab. My grandfather, Martin Wheelock, is in the back row of the football team photos pre-1903. He and several other Carlisle footballers formed the core of the football team that became the Green Bay Packers. Thank you for your coverage.

Apr. 04 2015 11:16 PM
Christopher from Arlington, VA

Also of interest, page 4 of the "November 24th, 1907 edition of the Chicago Tribune" above: "Casualties of Football Season 1907"
Has analysis of the death/injury data of the 'second season of "debrutalized" football'.

Feb. 22 2015 01:07 PM

This may be an unoriginal thought but it occurred to me while listening to this that some sort of homage or reference to Carlisle would be an elegant and perfect solution to the Washington Redskins name controversy. What, exactly, eludes me. "Washington Carlisles" isn't very catchy...

Feb. 19 2015 01:41 PM
Aaron Bollman from New York, NY

This podcast was very well done. Thank you!

I would like to add that it left me with only 1 question, why not mention anything about Jim Thorpe? He has a really fascinating story, and he went on from Carlisle to be an Olympian. There is also a rather unusual tidbit with mentioning - that his remains were sold and exhumed/re buried in a small town in Pennsylvania.

Feb. 15 2015 05:44 PM

I would have liked to see the "before whitification" picture described in the podcast

Feb. 14 2015 09:35 AM
tom from United Kingdom

One of the things I enjoy most about Radiolab is that the episodes I am not enthused about listening to, often turn out the most enjoyable. Really enjoyed this episode and the history of a sport I have both no knowledge or interest in!

Feb. 13 2015 04:16 PM

I listen to a lot of podcasts and I found this one to be extremely well done. Great job!

Feb. 11 2015 09:28 AM
Crazy Horse

This was a great show but, for the record, the Lakota did not sign away the Black Hills. The tribe owned them under a treaty with the US government that was broken by gold-hungry settlers and the US Army that was sent in to protect them.

Feb. 10 2015 01:40 AM
Philip Czternastek from United States

RaidoLab is amazing and everyone there does a crazy great job. This one showed me sides of a game I have become estranged to and the Carlisle Indian School part absolutely tugged at the core of my being.

As a fellow upstater additional props to Ms. Farrell.

Also, I catch up on the podcasts while making the dough for 1000s of bagels at a time, so thanks for making that less boring.

Feb. 09 2015 10:38 AM
Tony from Vancouver

..And that is why some people shouldn't be allowed to have kids...Sad Football mom.

Feb. 04 2015 06:00 PM
Kane from Melbourne Australia

I have only started listening to Radiolab during my 1hr commute to work and you guys do an awesome job cutting together engaging and educational audio. Im not a big follower of NFL but caught the last part of the Superbowl on Monday (our time) so had a listen to this cast to get some perspective on the game. The story about Carlisle was fascinating and inspiring. I will be recommending this podcast to others.

We have our own brand of football down here (Australian Rules Football) which must have some interesting roots that I'd love to learn more about. I dont know what percentage of indigenous players feature in the NFL but in AFL the Australian Indigenous players make up about 10% and the players are guns!

Like NFL, AFL has its critics because it is a full contact sport and can be fanatical but it is also a great platform for uniting people and cultures together.

One final note Parker 'the tank'. That story and interview was brilliant. I have this image of this kid who is being raised to be big, mean and tough and then you hear his voice...and in that instant I think 'he's just a little kid... and he sounds like he's a really nice kid'.

It was really moving to hear him talk about his experience and what the 'dirt eating moment' meant to him. His views on what fun is and 'winning' were extremely refreshing.

I reckon he deserves a 6ft trophy to recognise his courage, conviction and humanity.

As a parent myself, I take my hat off to Parker's mum his family. They have done everything they can to provide an opportunity for Parker to play a sport and be successful and at same time managed to raise a child who is very emotionally intelligent. Well done!

The family needs the Super Bowl player but the world needs the Synchronized Swimmer :)

Feb. 04 2015 05:01 PM
Ella Farmer from Carlisle, Pennsylvania

As a resident of Carlisle, Pennsylvania I found this story extremely interesting. I have worked out in the old Indian school gym and have probably seen that field (or even walked on it) but I had no idea that my home town had helped form modern football! I have grown up with hearing of the Indian School history but this was so much more! Thank you!

Feb. 04 2015 03:43 PM
Jeff Bochart from Haines, AK

I have always enjoyed (and learned) from your shows and this podcast on Football was no exception. Our family is better off because of the existence of RadioLab.
However, to talk about Carlisle and not even mention Jim Thorpe!? . . . wow

Feb. 04 2015 02:34 PM
Kit E from Plano, TX

I listened to this podcast more out of curiosity than anything else - Radiolab and football? Really? I'm so glad I did, this was fascinating and gave me new ways to look at the topic.

But that's true of any RL podcast. The standout for this episode was Parker who sounds like a fabulous, wonderful kid. I feel bad for him feeling bad about making the other kid eat dirt (after all, an adult told him to do it - don't blame a 4 year old for not understanding figures of speech) but, at the same time ... well, it's touching that he realized it hurt someone else and isn't ashamed to admit it. If that's our next generation then we're in good hands. Keep on being you, Parker, you're amazing.

Feb. 03 2015 06:58 PM
Angiee from TX from Texas

Very cool podcast!

Feb. 02 2015 02:12 PM
Tripper Allen from United States

Brilliant story, as always. Thanks for covering.

Feb. 01 2015 02:03 PM
Gayle Early from San Diego, CA

I soooo would have skipped this podcast if it weren't a RadioLab production. Football?!

Well done! I learned so much. As expected. For once I'll have something to say at tomorrow's Super Bowl game. And that little kid--Ross Bartell? What a precious and strong little Buddha. He really made me smile. I also had been feeling bad about the kid eating dirt. Kudos to his mom, a force unto herself, for letting him be himself. Unlike the case for a whole generation of young Carlisle kids, I'd imagine (they look so sad in the pictures, even given the serious business of sitting in those days); or of anyone bucking family tradition.

This podcast makes me rethink some of my previous disdain for these Indian interment schools. That maybe there was some good, along the lines that Mrs. Bartell spoke in terms of her own father's life success via playing the game.

Jan. 31 2015 07:38 PM

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