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“He’s an Indian…you know what that means.”

March 25, 2009

Louis Sockalexis takes up a healthy segment of Indian baseball articles from the late 19th century, and is probably the Native player most often mentioned by name. He had celebrity status evidently, as shown by the gossip-column coverage seen in the sports sections of the time. The earlier articles, such as this one, rave about his natural abilities, or his Indian exoticness, or what an upstanding citizen he is. The later articles condemn him as an alcoholic.

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Although subtle, this short article sheds light onto one of the most steadfast Indian stereotypes—illusiveness. Sockalexis had to be “scouted,” he was desired by enemies and had to be attained, a failed attempt had already been made, but once he was found, he was captured. Similar language could be used to describe a prisoner-of-war, and indeed, he is described as “The Spiders’ New Warrior” in the subtitle. Whether or not this was an amicable relationship, it is described with conquered/conqueror language. And it ends on an ambiguously-toned sentence—is it a statement of fact, or meant to convey some meaning to the Daily Picayune readers, as in, “he’s an Indian…you know what that means;” his full-bloodedness meant to indicate a degree of severity. Sockalexis is also stripped of any tribal affiliation, becoming a member of that great, nebulous, non-specific identity—“Indian.”

—Lara Mann

Text: “Cleveland, Ohio, March 10.—Manager Tebeau, of the Cleveland team, went to South Bend yesterday on a little scouting expedition, and the result was that he signed Sockalexis, the player whom several teams have been trying to land for some time. Tebeau first noticed Sockalexis last season, when he was on the Holy Cross College team at Worcester, Mass. An effort was made to accure him, but failed at the time, and a close watch has been kept on him ever since. Burkett was recently instructed to sign the player, but failed to get him, and Tebeau finally located him. Sockalexis is said to be a fine outfielder and a wonderful batter. He is a full-blooded Indian.”

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