BASEBALL IN THE MID-NINETEENTH CENTURY
In response to the need for a U.S. Army presence in the West after the Civil War, several units of Negro soldiers were formed. The units drew both Negro Union army veterans and ex-slaves willing to put in long, harsh hours for $13 per month. Most notable were the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and the 24th Infantry Regiment. They ended up being called “Buffalo” soldiers by the Indians, who thought their kinky hair reminiscent of the powerful beasts of the plains, which they revered. The Negro soldiers always took it as an honorific. To this day, people celebrate reenactments in chapters all over the country.
Base-ball (as it was first spelled) grew out of various stick-and-ball games like “rounders” and “townball.” It was largely played in gentlemanly fashion by social clubs in the East, and soon became popular enough that basic rules and field dimensions were codified. The game was likely played in St. Louis by the late 1850s but underwent a huge boost during the Civil War, as it was popular with both sides. Negroes in America were relegated to their own leagues until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier when he entered the Major Leagues in 1947.
Comanche Indians chasing Buffalo With Lances and Bows, George Catlin
Eastern New Mexico and west-central Texas is a vast, flat, almost featureless territory called the Llano Estacado or Staked Plains. It slopes slowly to the southeast, then drops sharply as an escarpment cut by canyons and rivers. The Comanches knew it and traversed it and valued its flora and fauna, but to whites in the 19th century it was an unfathomable ocean of waist-high grasses. Their cannily-bred ponies allowed them to become the most agile riders and warriors ever known. Most conspicuous on the land were the buffalo, numbering perhaps 10,000,000 at the time. The raven had special significance to the Comanches as a spirit guide and in finding buffalo.
1860 baseball replica and handbook. Photo: Loren Woodson
THE LAND OF THE COMANCHES
The story of Tom and Stefan needed to emerge from accurate historical settings. For me, the elements were the plight of Comanche Indians in the Great Plains, the African-American fighting forces called Buffalo Soldiers, and the early history of baseball.
Re-enactors of Buffalo Soldiers in West Texas. Photo: Loren Woodson.