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Finding a Few Good Men
If you haven't read Fields of Friendly Strife, the book tells the story of the 1918 and 1919 Rose Bowl teams. Unlike all other Rose Bowl games, these games were played during or immediately after WWI and the competing teams represented military training camps rather than colleges. Part of telling the story in Fields of Friendly Strife required identifying each player on the four teams and tracing what happened to them during WWI and the years that followed.
A key point to recognize about researching the teams and players from the 1918 and 1919 Rose Bowls is the lack of authoritative sources that identify the players, their backgrounds, and their futures. Better sources were found as the research progressed, but even the best sources were inconsistent with one another and each had errors and omissions.
The research found 178 men who were part of these four teams and the primary challenge came from dealing with incorrect and incomplete information about them. Among the challenges, it was not uncommon that the player’s full name was unknown, spelled incorrectly, they changed their names, or the college they attended or their hometown was not known or listed incorrectly. Each presented an obstacle to finding the service Rose Bowl players since many online search tools are unforgiving of variations in spelling. It is literally the difference between night and Knight.
In any event, it took a lot of work to track down these men since there were proverbial minefields waiting for every misstep. The following provides a sense of the biggest minefields.
Keeping Up with the Joneses
Sportswriters of the era seldom used the players’ first names in their game previews and reports. Similarly, many military sources identify the players by surname and first and middle initials only. As a researcher, that’s not a problem when the player is F. W. Swanekamp of Superior, Wisconsin since he appears to be the only Swanekamp in the U.S. military during the WWI era. Frederick William Swanekamp was easy to track down and his unique name provided confidence that any story or document with his name could be attributed to him. Even the arrival of Frederick William Swanekamp, Jr. didn’t cause much of an attribution challenge. Men whose last name was Collins, O'Brien, or Olsen were more difficult to isolate since they marched in a parade of men with the same surname.
In other cases, having the benefit of the first name and middle initial provided little benefit. It turns out that many parents in the 1890s whose last name was Adams named their sons John Q. Adams. A fellow named John Q. Adams is the only man who played in the 1918 or 1919 Rose Bowls that I have been unable to track down to date.
Just Like It Sounds
Misspelled surnames were found for almost every player somewhere in the process and the misspellings likely resulted from a handful of culprits. Assuming coaches’ interviews and press conferences were anything like today’s, reporters listened to the coaches speak about their teams, took notes, and scurried off to write their articles. Without the aid of video and audio recorders or printed handouts, the reporters had to spell players’ names based on what they’d heard. They prepared articles and called the home office to read the article to a transcriptionist or had the article keyed in by a telegrapher, after which the article was put in the hands of a typesetter to create the newspaper page. Each of these steps provided the opportunity to mishear, misread, or mistype a name. The two players whose names were most commonly butchered were Nate Shanedling (Mare Island 1918) and Hugh Dastillung (Great Lakes). The surnames, Shanedling and Dastillung, are a bit off the beaten path and both easily lose a syllable when spoken. I’ve found ten variations in the spelling of Dastillung, making it relatively challenging to track him through life.
But Wait, There’s Mohr!
The 1918 Mare Island team had a Moore, a Mohr and a Moran, and one needn’t be a moron to get those confused from time to time. The same team has a McGregor and a McGregor. Notice the difference? There isn’t one, so it caused confusion when newspapers and other documents refer to the players by surname only. It’s hard to tell the McGregors apart without a first name or initial. We also had Chester and Lester Barnard, identical twin brothers who played the end position for Great Lakes. The story goes that their coach couldn’t tell them apart, so when he wanted to put one in the game, he yelled, “Barnard!,” and whichever one arrived first was inserted into the action.
Most men born into a society with a Northern European heritage are given three names at birth that remain with them for life: a given first name, a given middle name, and a surname linking them to their paternal line. Legal requirements and accompanying forms reinforce the societal standard for three names. But not everyone follows the rules and previous generations were a bit more flexible in their naming conventions than we are today. As examples, the Great Lakes team had a player who was born Howard Bernard Miller, became Bernard Howard Miller, and went through adult life as B. H. Miller. In other cases, names and spellings that worked in the old country were anglicized upon arrival in this country or by the next generation or two. Emmet O’Keefe became Emmet Keefe. The two-year old Harald Erickson listed on a 1900 U.S. census form became Harold Erickson a bit later. Not a big deal, but it made his personal history more difficult to ascertain.
My father provides an example of naming flexibility despite being a generation younger than the service Rose Bowl players. He has gone through life as ‘Gene’ and managed to serve in the Army and graduated from college before anyone asked to see his birth certificate, which had burned with the rest of the farmstead when he was a boy. He’d always known he had a first and middle name –Eugene and Claire– but wasn’t sure which was which or whether one of the names was spelled "Clare" or "Claire." His first post-college job required him to submit a birth certificate so when he wrote to the authorities in his home county to request a copy of his birth certificate, he opted to spell his name "Claire" since that was the spelling used by Claire Chennault of Flying Tigers fame. He also decided Claire would be his first name because he thought the initials ‘C. E.’ sounded better than "E. C." For all legal documents thereafter, he has been Claire Eugene Brown, but everyone still calls him Gene.
One of the fellows from Camp Lewis who provided a research challenge was Anker Lawrence Christensen. He changed his name to Anker Lawrence Christy after leaving the Army. I don’t know about you, but if I’m changing one of those three names, Christensen isn’t the one I’m targeting. Minnesota and Mare Island’s Aurelius Harry Miszewski waited until the fighting was over to change his nom de guerre to Aurelius Harry Maze.
There were other name and spelling changes –most of which you don’t want to read about– but the point is, each is a roadblock to getting to the story.
And Miles To Go Before I Sleep
Another type of challenge involved those fellows who went by their middle rather than their first name (like my father). As occurs frequently with middle-namers, their decision to switch back to using their first name at some point in adulthood compounds the challenge of tracking them. Such was the case with John H. Miles.
I knew there was a John H. Miles on the 1918 Mare Island Marine team, but I did not know whether he attended college and, if so, which one. I also did not know which state he called home, though playing for Mare Island at least narrowed it down to the states west of the Mississippi. Of course, I knew his middle initial was "H," but that still left a lot of options for a man whose surname is relatively common.
My first clue came late one evening and I committed myself to finding John H. Miles that night. That is, I had Miles to go before I slept. I began a state-by-state search of newspaper articles that included the name, John H. Miles. Luckily, Texas was one of the first states I checked. Sitting there in Taylor, Texas was a John H. Miles. Further digging revealed nothing to indicate he was a Marine or had been an athlete. Then, his middle name showed up in an article, so I searched for him using his first, middle and surname and I hit half a mother lode. "John Hunter Miles" had grown up in Chehalis, Washington before moving to his wife’s hometown in Texas. Newspaper reports showed he was a high school baseball star and attended the University of Washington. I was getting closer, but still did not have a match. I then searched for "Hunter Miles" and Voila, the skies opened and revealed that Hunter Miles served in the Marines Corps at Mare Island and played football there. I had found my man.
Nicknames can be a blessing or a curse. Nicknames are helpful when they become institutionalized, meaning the player becomes widely known and is almost always referred to by his nickname rather than his given name. John Driscoll was born in Chicago of an Irish father, so John became universally known as Paddy Driscoll. He was also a star so his information was easy to locate. Others were known as "Chief," "Dutch," or "Red" due to their ethnic background or hair color and still others for their physique: "Truck," "Jumbo," or "Big Bill." Of course, some nicknames are ironic. Hal Erickson garnered the nickname "Swede," despite both parents being Danish immigrants.
Nicknames cause problems when attached to players on the margin who did not receive much publicity while on the teams. An example is a running back for Camp Lewis that did not play in a game all season until he substituted into the 1918 Rose Bowl. The available sources listed him as Pvt. Lee or Dee. One source indicated Pvt. Lee played for Denver High School and another listed him simply as S. Dee without additional information. I completed every possible, logical search for that man, searching far too many Colorado newspapers more than once, but I could not find him until I ran into my dear friend, Sarah N. Dippity. (Is it Sarah or Sara?)
Sarah N. Dippity
While wholly unreliable and unpredictable, serendipity is one of my favorite experiences in research and life. (By the way, if you don’t know what serendipity means, don't waste your time looking in the dictionary; the definition will come to you in due time.) On many occasions while searching for information about one player, I found information about both the target player and one of his teammates. Such was the case with Pvt. Dee or Lee.
After mountains of failure searching for Dee in Colorado, I was looking for additional details on a player from Montana whose basic path was known. That search led me to a 1943 article about the four Montanans who, to that date, had played in a Rose Bowl game. Three were Mare Island players whose trails were well trod and the fourth player was a guy named Skimmett Dee, who had played for Camp Lewis. Oh, the joy! I soon learned that Emmet Lawrence "Skimmett" Dee played at Butte High School. Denver High School was one of many red herrings I feasted on during the search process. Old Skimmett played one year at Montana State after leaving the service, but the 1943 article clearly showed the good folks in Butte, Montana still celebrated Skimmett for having played in the Rose Bowl and for doing so at a very special time in our country’s history.
Filling a Voight
The folks that control our road signage are kind enough to post "Dead End" signs at the entrance to certain roads, warning us that if our destination is not on said road, it is best not to enter. My search for the service Rose Bowl players did not include warnings about the dead ends that lie ahead.
One of the players I searched for was a fellow named Voight. Several newspaper articles reported that Voight substituted into Great Lakes' game with the Naval Academy in 1918. His surname in those box scores was the only reference to Voight I had come across after six months of research. No first name or initial. No background information regarding his college or his hometown. However, since his surname bore no apparent similarity to the surname of his teammates, I couldn’t dismiss Voight as a simple mistake or typo. I had to fill the void that was Voight.
Having had no luck generating the smallest lead, I approached Mr. Voight from a slightly different direction one Saturday and was able to identify a lineman named Voight who played for the Fort Wayne World War Vets, a professional team whose roster was filled by service veterans in 1919. That led me to another article informing me that Voight was from the Chicago area and I soon learned the Vets' Voight starred in the early 1910s at Oak Park High School, a powerhouse of the first order at the time. I do mean powerhouse. In both 1911 and 1912, Oak Park High School claimed the national high school football championship after winning the Chicago high school league and traveling to Boston to beat what were purported to be the best Eastern high school teams.
Oak Park's coach was Bob Zuppke, who left Oak Park following the 1912 season -Voight's senior year- to become the first paid head coach at Illinois. Moving from the amateur coach model to the professional model was a big decision at the time, though Zuppke's four national championships and seven Big Ten championships over the next 39 years made it a reasonable investment in hindsight. On another side note, Zuppke's departure from Oak Park meant he just missed the opportunity to coach, Ernest Hemingway, an Oak Park freshman football player in 1913 who later made a name for himself writing about his experiences as an ambulance corps driver during WWI.
A bit more searching determined that Oak Park's Voight was Walter A. Voigt (no H) and, having tracked down his census information, I knew the names of his parents and siblings to help confirm or cross reference him later. I returned to previous search patterns with the new spelling of his last name and immediately found a link to a Walter A. Voigt on the passenger manifest of a troopship headed to France. Since I had reviewed similar manifests for other players, I knew the manifests included each soldier's emergency contact and the emergency contact’s address; the emergency contact being the individual that received the telegram if the soldier was killed or wounded.
Without thinking much about the type of document I found, my heart beat a tad faster as I clicked on the link. I found Walter A. Voigt on the list and saw the emergency contact was his father in Oak Park, Illinois. That information matched the census information I'd found earlier, so the man I visualized boarding the troopship was the same man I'd been tracking. I heard angels softly strumming harp strings as a sense of bliss fell over me.
Knowing the top of the form, which I hadn't reviewed initially, would tell me his military unit, I scrolled to the top and saw that Walter Voigt shipped to France with the 302th Field Artillery. Now that may not mean much to you, but it told me that Walter A. Voigt of Oak Park was shipping to France with an Army unit, while the Voight or Voigt or Voit I hoped to find was a Navy man. Walter A. Voigt of Oak Park could not possibly be the man I was hunting. I would have to continue the hunt.
You may wonder why I spent seven paragraphs detailing the pursuit of Walter A. Voigt. Perhaps you find it frustrating that you spent a few minutes reading about a guy you now know was not part of a service Rose Bowl team. Maybe you think I've wasted your time. If so, that's fine. Now you have a sense of how I felt.
I should also tell you that a few months later when doing more research on the Great Lakes-Naval Academy game, I came across an article listing the Great Lakes players that travelled to Annapolis. Our friend, Mr. Voight was not on the list but another center named Charlie Knight was on the list. Only then did I realize that the box scores that sent me on the Voight journey were wrong. Voight was not Voight. Voight was Knight, which means my earlier comment about the difference between night and Knight applies to the difference between Knight and Voight as well.
Mind the Gap
Despite the challenges encountered searching for these players, the vast majority were found and successfully profiled. Still, a handful of men who were on the teams remain unidentified, creating a gap in our knowledge of these teams. The players who remain unidentified are discussed in a separate post, The Tome of the Unknown Player. Feel free to read that post and, if you have information about one of the players, please offer suggestions on their identity.
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