Indigenous Baseball Teams

Wichita Urban Native History Tour

Indigenous Baseball Teams

Wichita, Kansas 67203, United States

Created By: Wichita History Walk


For over 130 years, the site and surrounding area now occupied by Riverfront Stadium has been a pivotal venue for baseball in Wichita, with a rich history of hosting Native American players. This enduring legacy emphasizes the significant role of Native athletes in the city's baseball narrative, marking their contributions to the sport from the very beginning.

Native Americans have been integral to the fabric of America's pastime for over a century. As early as 1890, imprisoned Natives, including the notable Apache Chief Geronimo, played baseball at Fort Sill. In 1897, Louis Sockalexis (Penobscot) broke barriers as the first Native American to play in Major League Baseball, joining the Cleveland Spiders in the American League.

The "Ponca 9," a team from the Ponca Indian Reservation, made a significant mark in 1894. Their exceptional skills earned them a nationwide tour, showcasing their talent in exhibition games. Their first notable appearance in Wichita was at the fairgrounds on Ackerman Island managed by W.C. Ramsey of Ponca City. The team, arriving in Wichita in traditional regalia and riding horseback (see photo), played against the Henderson Pets, drawing a crowd of over 1,200 spectators in 1895, becoming a turn-of-the-century sensation.

Ackerman Island was demolished in 1933-1934 to facilitate river widening. The following year, construction began on a new baseball stadium by the river, funded by the Works Progress Administration and named Lawrence Stadium in honor of former Wichita Mayor Charles S. Lawrence.

State Tournaments:

The stadium witnessed the prowess of Native athletes, including John Levi's All-Native baseball team, which featured players from the Lawrence area. Noteworthy performances included the Arkansas City Dubbs, assisted by Chilocco Indian School's Milton Perry, and the McPherson team featuring Native American pitcher Lefty "Chief" Burgess, who was made the state tournament’s honor roll for pitching.

To help draw people to the new stadium, baseball promoter Ray “Hap” Dumont hosted a national semi-professional baseball tournament at Lawrence stadium in 1935. The National Baseball Congress (NBC) tournament would host 36 teams in late August of 1935. A surprising feature for the time was racial integration and inclusion of teams from diverse backgrounds, including Satchel Paige's Bismarcks. The Stanolind Indian Oilers, victors of an all-Indian baseball tournament in Wewoka, participated but were eliminated early in the competition.

Indian boarding school baseball teams, including those from Chilocco and Haskell, were major attractions in the 1930s and 1940s, drawing significant crowds to the stadium.

From 1944 to 1949, the Planeview Thunderbirds emerged as Wichita’s first All-Indian baseball team, competing in municipal leagues. Later sponsored by the Mt. Hope Nursery, they became "The Mt. Hope Thunderbirds," placing 11th in the 1946 Kansas State Semi-Pro Tournament.

This history underscores the deep connection between Native Americans and baseball, showcasing their enduring legacy and contributions to the sport's rich tapestry.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Wichita Urban Native History Tour


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