Unlike blacks, American Indians good enough to earn a spot on Major League Baseball rosters early in the 20th century weren’t told they couldn’t play. That’s the good news. The bad news is that despite an unofficial policy that worked something like “don’t ask, don’t tell,” American Indians were often targets of the same racially based vitriol that marked Jackie Robinson’s entry into the game in 1947. Keeping a low profile may have worked for some, but for men like Louis Francis Sockalexis, prejudice was very much a part of the game and their lives.
The Seneca Stars, one of three baseball teams at the Allegheny Reservation in New York’s Southern Tier, pose for a photographer before a game in 1934. The team photograph is one of the many pictures on display in “Baseball’s League of Nations: A Tribute to Native American Baseball Players,” an exhibit at the Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave.
Joe Tarbell, a Native American who went to Carlisle Indian School, is shown in his Boiling Springs uniform, a summer team in Pennsylvania made up primarily of white players. Tarbell is the great-uncle of Iroquois Museum educator Mike Tarbell.
Mike Tarbell, a descendent of the Mohawk tribe, is an educator at the Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave.
Adelbert John, a member of the Allegheny Reservation baseball team near Salamanca in New York’s Southern Tier, poses for the camera.