than a pastime for the S’Klallam | Noo-Kayet, Our
Condensed by Native Village
“The Strong People: A History of the Port Gamble
S’Klallam Tribe” is a collection of historical accounts
and personal stories written by elders and members of
the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. One topic in particular
surprises readers: the S’Klallam connection to baseball.
Port Gamble S'Klallam love affair with baseball
began in the late 1800s. S’Klallam children learned the
sport while attending boarding schools. Their parents
who worked at the Puget Mills were encouraged to play
for the company team.
“It was not long before the S’Klallams were embracing
baseball so enthusiastically that it seemed as if they
were the inventors of the game,"
wrote author, elder
and former chairman Ron Charles.
But why was baseball
so popular, and why does it remain the sport of choice
among S'Klallam today? Charles thinks it's because
Native Americans had a passion for competitive games
long before Europeans invaded. Baseball may have seemed
quite similar to some games they were familiar with.
Baseball also served as a natural extension to S'Klallam
“S’Klallam youth naturally gravitated toward outdoor
activities, as early in life they began to learn their
tribe’s hunting, fishing, and gathering practices, and
in doing so, they ran, jumped, swam, and sometimes
invented their own
competitive games, which served them
well when they were old enough to help harvest the
subsistence foods that fed their families,” Charles
writes. “Years of participating in these physical
activities tended to produce fast, strong, and agile
athletes with very good hand-eye coordination.
All of these skills were quite important to the game of
Tribal life has always included strong connections
between family and friends. Baseball games provided an
outlet for get-togethers. Rose Purcer recalls that
during the 1940s and ’50s, S'Klallam families looked
forward to game day, especially when they played other
reservation teams. The whole day became a social event.
wives from the home teams would prepare a picnic lunch,
and after the guys would finish playing, both sides
would get together and eat," she wrote. "I
just loved those times when we would get together to
catch up on news from relatives and friends.’ ”
Baseball’s popularity in Indian country increased
as rapidly as it did across America. Some Indian
players toured the country and world with their teams.
In the 1950s and ’60s, all-Indian baseball leagues were
being considered. But it was the
home teams that brought out the most passionate fans.
“The S’Klallam community was well known for its rabid
baseball fans, and on game days they turned out loudly
to cheer on their guys. They were experts at ‘getting
under the skin’ of opposing players. These fans were
greatly pleased when their antics could elicit responses
from opposing players, causing them to ‘lose their
“Even through the toughest of economic times, players
could always find ways to collect enough balls, bats,
and equipment, and on a bright summer day nothing could
be more therapeutic than a baseball game. Baseball was
also a good way to take one’s mind off the problems of
the day, especially from some of the indignities
S’Klallams suffered at the hands of a dominant society
not yet prepared to treat Native Americans as equals ...
“Baseball, however, was more than just a sport for the
S’Klallam community, and when their players performed
well on the field, they were not simply showing how
talented they were, they were showing pride in using the
game of baseball to express S’Klallam cultural values
In 2009, the Tribe began recognizing elders who played
baseball for Port Gamble S'Klallam teamss. The
tradition continues today. Veteran players receive a jacket
identifying them as a member of the Little Boston
Baseball Ring of Honor. The elders wear these jackets with great pride.
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