Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
Labor Day weekend has arrived, and with it football has returned, on the high school, the college and the professional fields of this country.
According to OnThisDay.org, Sept. 3, 1895 was when the first pro football game was played, between the Latrobe and the Jeanette Athletics clubs.
According to Wikipedia, The Latrobe Athletic Association was a professional football team located in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, from 1895 until 1909. The team is best known for being the first football club to play a full season while composed entirely of professional players. In 1895, team’s quarterback, John Brallier, also became the first football player to openly turn pro, by accepting $10 and expenses to play for Latrobe against the Jeannette Athletic Club.
In 1895, there was no mention in any of the three newspapers in Great Bend in September of football, either in the high school or colleges in the area. But later in the fall and into the spring, it was mentioned.
The Central Normal College, which used to be located behind where the Dominican Sisters of Peace convent stands today, had a team of their own, “The Western Kickers,” who played regularly against other colleges. And one season at least, it even had a football team made up of young ladies.
In the April 17, 1891, edition of The Great Bend Weekly Tribune, the following entry was brought to our attention by the Barton County Historical Society:
“Some of the lady students of the C.N.C. are organizing a football club. Gentlemen are allowed to contribute to the support of this club; but no gentlemen, with the exception of Messrs McGreevy and Pugh, will be allowed to approach nearer than forty rods of the grounds when a game is in progress.”
In 1899, the Great Bend “Bumpers” were scheduled to go up against the Dodge City High School team in December. In the Dec. 15 edition of the Great Bend Weekly Tribune, it was mentioned “The football game between the high school and the Dodge City football team here tomorrow promises to be a very interesting one. The game is to be played on the C.N.C. Athletic grounds.”
The oldest annual we could track down in Great Bend was at the Barton County Historical Society museum, where they have a copy of The Bee Hive, The Great Bend High School Annual of 1911. It was the first annual created for the high school that resembles today’s traditional yearbook.
The Bee Hive was followed by the Bartonian in 1912, which features a brief history of football-- something that hadn’t been around for very long. It provides an account of Coach McClure’s “war-call” which found several new players join the team. They went on to have an eight game season, during which they won three games, lost four, and one was called due to a blizzard.
The Bartonian includes a poem:
A song of football
Sing a song of football,
Don’t it make you smile!?
Two-and-twenty players struggling in a pile,
When the pile is opened, hear those awful groans;
Boys begin a -creeping, looking for their bones.
Bunches here of noses, patches there of skin;
But if they make a touchdown, for what do they care!?
Contrast that with the next poem, and you’ll have a picture of the sentiments of the day.
Athletics for girls
Athletics for girls is a mighty good thing;
of that no one needs to be told.
There are laurels, and ribbons, and medals galore,
Fine prizes of silver and gold
Awaiting the maid in the champion class
Who’ll enter the sports of the field;
And when she appears on life’s Stadium she
Will find even better revealed.
The seven-mile walk, for example, is fine
For surely a maiden should learn
The art of preserving her powers until
She comes to the very last turn;
And when it comes down to real talent in
This girl who will certainly score
Is she who lands the best record at night
In pacing the nursery floor.
The hundred yard dash is another good thing
For those who are fleet as a deer,
And maybe the maiden who wins it today
Will find it of value next year,
When running at eve from her pretty boudoir
To meet Mr. Man at the gate.
The one who makes records with dashes like that
Will never be quite out of date.
(Ugh! Cough, cough. Ahem. Back to the present day--quickly!)
In Great Bend, Baseball still outranked football in popularity as the team sport of the day. The Barton County Democrat, a weekly paper that was published on Thursdays, reported on the activity of the Great Bend ball team, winners of a game at Minneapolis the previous Thursday, that was on 7 to 4. Another game, Friday, was lost 1 to 3 and Saturday saw the team winning again at 9 to 3. Still, the team suffered against Junction City, prompting the assessment, “If Great Bend expects to be in it with the class of people she is now tackling she must strengthen her team.”
And this low blow was reprinted in a feature called “Ellinwood Editorial”:
“No wonder Great Bend people go wild over their ball team. Nobody will blame them when it is understood that their ball team is the only thing the town ever had that gave it any notoriety.”
Labor Day in 1895 was marked by laboring, according to The Great Bend Evening News. “Yesterday, being Labor Day, most of our citizens labored all day. A large number of course used their mouths for tools, but still all were busy.”
This was only the second observance of Labor Day nationwide. Congress passed legislation making Labor Day a national holiday in 1894.
Reports in the Barton County Democrat paint a picture of a country in which parades were held in every major city of the United States, where picnics and amusements ensued, and where assemblies and rallies were held in parks by labor organizations.
Other stories include the argument over backing the U.S. currency with silver, gold or simply going to a paper currency. And there’s plenty of talk of Democrats versus Republicans versus Populists versus Socialists. This is the era in which education was becoming more accessible, and new ideas and new inventions were confronting people in every part of society. It was an exciting time to be in Barton County.