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Sports In Days Gone By


David Wilkie


Sports and other recreational activities played an importantpart in lives of the Red River Valley people. It played a significant rolein the forming the community "together" it also was a time forrelaxation. People are still hearing how that years ago it was all workand no play, but that was not true. There were many activities and all ofthem were considered big events, in which everyone was involved.

Sports in the Red River Valley have not seen much of achange since the days of our pioneers. The greatest difference was thatmany more people participated in the activities. Baseball, skating, bicycleriding, horseback riding, track, and shinny were the most popular.

Baseball was considered the most popular of all them. Itjust so happens that there could have been a professional ballplayer inour local area. That someone is Eli Gooselaw, 80 years old, living in thesmall village of St. Vincent. He still remembers well all of his baseballdays. Most of his memories are concentrated in the Red River Valley sincehe played for many different teams. But his big chance came while playingfor Emerson, Manitoba.

June of 1912 proved to be one of his most exciting momentsduring his life as he was offered, at the age of 19, to try out for theSt. Paul franchise which was part of the old American League. HappyChancelor, baseball commissioner at the time was very interested and justcouldn't believe how such a good ball player had been raised in the coldcountry. After being persuaded to take a look at this young pitcher he wasvery satisfied. He made many more trips from his home in Kentucky to thecold north just to see Eli play. There is even a baseball park named afterhim in Grafton, North Dakota.

A piece saved from the Grand Forks Herald in l967 readas follows: "I would say no man ever walked in shoe leather that couldthrow a baseball with more speed and control than Eli Gooselaw." ButEli's skills were not only in pitching for he was a very good hitter andcould play any position.

Good advice is sometimes very rewarding. Eli now wisheshe would have taken the advice of a fellow soldier in Shangai, China andthat was to make baseball his career.

Eli wasn't the only Gooselaw with sports in mind. St. Vincentprobably had one of the most unusual baseball teams ever heard of. Eightbrothers and one cousin made up this team of Gooselaws which was consideredone of the most dangerous and explosive teams for miles around. Althoughthis was many years ago it is still talked about. As years go by many changeshave taken place in this sport. Rules have changed and the one time St.Vincent ballpark is now buried under a dike.

Baseball wasn't the only sport. Horse racing was also abig favorite. St. Vincent also had a small half mile race track where allthe local boys raced their mighty steeds. Alex Wilkie was considered oneof the best horsemen around. People have said that he had his horses trainedso well that when he stopped walking the horses would do the same.

Football was also played to a certain extent but it wasas popular as most of the others. This would seem to have been a much morerugged sport as all they wore for protection were helmets and these werejust made out of cardboard. A team organized in the old St. Vincent schoolproved to be very exciting to all the students although they only won onegame during their short season. Jim Gooselaw proved to be one of the bestplayers. In one game he rushed for 256 yards which doesn't happen oftentoday. Football fields during their time haven't been changed at all, butof course, many more rules have been added and some change.

Basketball games during the early years in our area hadto be one of the most unusual games played, maybe not to them at the time,but it surely would be to us now. This wasn't because of the way they playedbut some of the places they had to play in. Karlstad had a distinct advantageover visiting teams as they knew where the baskets were located. A longnarrow hallway with baskets up in the far corners was considered the playingarea. Neche, North Dakota's court with its high ceiling and deep squarefloor seemed smaller by the eyes of visiting teams and thus many of theirshots fell short.

Has anyone heard of chocolate bars, ice cream, and a fewcigarettes during halftime of a game. This was also done but didn't holdup too well in the eyes of the coach after blowing a considerable lead.Another peculiar characteristic of this sport was the scoring. The combinedscores hardly ever totaled more than 50 points whereas now either team mayhave that.

Girls basketball teams also played and they proved to bevery interesting, especially to the boys. At that time, the rules were thesame as in boys basketball.

Rules also were a bit different concerning the scoringas an overhand shot only counted as a single point. Basketball has had aconsiderable amount of change since the early days in the Valley.

Track was also a popular event and there were many Countymeets held in the Red River Valley area. 100 yard dash, 220 yard run, discussthrow, 12 pound shotput, half mile run; javelin throw, running broad jump,and high jump were a few of the events in track at this time. The only thingthat has changed in this sport is the judging. Many new methods of measuringand timing have been made more accurate.

Activities that included everyone was that of shinny. Itwas a big favorite and led to many an exciting game. This was much likethe game of hockey except the puck was usually a tin can and the hockeystick an old board.

Another favorite sort of sport was that of roping calvesand seeing who could ride them the longest. This game was usuallyplayed with the Indians. This seemed like a miniature rodeo to them andit helped pass many hours together.

Bicycle riding and archery were also included as past times.Bikes were not built too sturdy and never lasted long but they were enjoyedby everyone. Although this sport proved to be disastrous at times as racingdown the streets caused many a skinned knee. Archery wasn't one of the mostpopular sports but it was something to do. A can was out on a fence postand shot at with their home-made bow and arrows.

Hunting, one of our favorite sports, wasn't really considereda sport at this time. It was considered more of a means of getting food.Much of their hunting equipment was not as trustworthy and accurate as theweapons of today.

Fishing was also done to a certain extent, but like hunting,it was more of a way of getting food. Fishing poles were homemade and itrequired a lot of skill to bring in your catch. The Red River was oneof the favorite places to fish as well as the many lakes located in ourarea.

Swimming in the nearby pond was also enjoyed by many people.Sometimes races were held but it was meant for more of a means of relaxation.A nice cool dip refreshed many a person during the hot summer days.

But as the hot summer days turned into cold windy winter,the skates were brought out and all the people young and old raced to thenearby pond. Skates at this time consisted of a much longer blade and werecalled racers. Of course, there weren't many rinks at the time, so manyunsupervised hockey games were played, resulting in a few minor injuries.When hockey pucks weren't available almost anything was used to serve itspurpose.

Sports today are considered as the number one family pasttime. That is one of the many problems facing us today, because so muchmore enjoyment is in the watching and not the participating. In the earlydays of the Valley, almost everyone was included and much more excitementwas the result. Sports not only resulted in a time for relaxation and enjoymentfor many but it also showed that there was a time for play. Although manythings have been altered in the field of sports, memories still lurk inthe minds of the people who did have that extra time to play.


Gooselaw, Eli (Interview) January 14, 1972


1924 St. Vincent Annual


Krietz, Louis (Interview) January 15, 1972



1924 St. Vincent Annual


Krietz, Louis (Interview) January 15, 1972