Archive for Tuesday, November 24, 1992

HASKELL STADIUM

November 24, 1992

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This is the stadium the Indians built.

Haskell Stadium opened in 1926, just two years after it went on the drawing board. Native Americans from across the country paid the entire $250,000 for its construction.

This is the man who raised the funds to pay for the stadium the Indians built.

Frank McDonald spent 13 years at Haskell, as a coach and, eventually, athletic director. As chairman of the stadium committee, McDonald sought to build a field worthy of the outstanding Haskell teams of the time.

This is the son of the man who raised the funds to pay for the stadium the Indians built.

Cliff McDonald was a year old when Haskell Stadium was dedicated, but he literally grew up in its shadow. Years later, at Lawrence High, he starred on that same field.

PERHAPS NO field in Kansas has as much history as Haskell Stadium.

The early Haskell Institute teams benefitting from loosely formed and loosely applied eligibility rules rose to national prominence, playing against the likes of Notre Dame, Michigan State, Kansas and Baker. Their field didn't match their success.

". . .the Indians had played their home football games on a gumbo gridiron, hard as flint," reported the school newspaper, the Indian Leader. "The crowds, such as they were, sat in a little wooden grandstand, far from the playing field."

The school's first field had stands capable of holding just 600 people. The wooden stands were rotting when Haskell was forced to cancel its home game with Notre Dame.

"He started raising money because the facilities weren't adequate for the athletics then," Cliff McDonald recalled. "My daddy said, `We have too good a program without having any facilities.' ''

IN 1924, superintendent H.B. Peairs approached Frank McDonald with an idea. At first, the idea was to raise about $50,000 and make a new field with concrete seats on the sloping area west of campus. After about two months, McDonald decided instead to buy the tract of land north of campus and build a stadium.

At that time, the athletic department was not funded by the school. All its activities were privately funded, and so it was with Haskell Stadium.

"Every dime came from Indians," McDonald later wrote. "We did not need to borrow any money or float any bonds."

Charles Curtis, then a U.S. senator from Topeka before becoming vice president under Herbert Hoover in 1928, made the first contribution.

On June 20, 1924, eight boys walked from their homes in Oklahoma to donate their train fare to Haskell Stadium.

"My father would always say, `It was made entirely by Indians and it's paid for,' '' Cliff McDonald said. "Everything was paid for. That was impressive to him. He had to go out and get money in various ways."

One of those ways was playing a clandestine and illegal game against a professional team.

The story goes like this:

JUST AFTER the 1924 season, Frank McDonald wanted to make contacts in Oklahoma among the Native Americans. About that time, oil and minerals were found on the Indian reservations in the area. The tribes were given rights fees in return for permission to extract the goods.

Hoping to solict funds along the way, McDonald scheduled an exhibition game at Muskogee with Oklahoma Baptist. While he was there, McDonald met Pete Big Horse, an Osage, who told McDonald of his tribe's upcoming football game with Fairfax, Okla.

Big Horse told McDonald that Fairfax had hired the Kansas City Cowboys, a professional team, as ringers. Despite the possibility they could lose their eligibility, the Indians suited up as ringers for the Osage's Hominy Giants.

"What followed was, without a doubt, the roughest game of football ever played," McDonald wrote.

It was billed years afterward, of course, since it was hushed up to protect Haskell's players from eligibility loss as a modern-day Cowboys and Indians. Standout John Levi scored the winning touchdown.

AFTER THE GAME, John Abbott, an Osage spokesman, told McDonald: "We Osages be mighty proud to help you with your studio."

Abbott meant, of course, Haskell's stadium, and the Osage immediately made a $500 contribution.

The Osage and neighboring Quapaw tribes, among those made suddenly wealthy by oil and mineral rights fees, became the stadium's biggest supporters. The Quapaw eventually contributed $62,000. The Osage gave $40,000.

The entrance arch was financed by two former students, Agnes Quapaw Hoffman and Alice Beaver Hallam. Both were mineral-rich Quapaws.

The stadium was dedicated Oct. 30, 1926, about two years after McDonald started his campaign.

A four-day powwow was scheduled in conjuction with the dedication. More than 6,000 Native Americans visited, and some accounts estimated more than 100,000 people attended the events.

Festivities included a papoose show and beauty contest, a parade, Indian dancing and a buffalo cookout.

"THE OCCASION brought about one of the most colorful collections of Indians every (sic) seen in this section of the country and brought the most visitors, Indian and white, that the city of Lawrence has ever know, no matter what the occasion," the Indian Leader reported.

"I don't remember the dedication because I was only 1," Cliff McDonald said. "I do know there was one special train just for the Blackfeet way up in Montana. The Sioux came. Remember just 40 years earlier, the Sioux were shooting at Custer."

Those Sioux were among the 70 tribes that attended the powwow.

At the dedication, Haskell student William Jacobs, a Sioux from South Dakota, accepted for the students, saying: "The Indians are on the warpath today. The greatest powwow in the history of the American Indian is in progress, and the greatest drama of Indian life is being acted before your eyes today."

One visitor to the powwow was Two Gun White Calf, a Blackfoot. His likeness is on the buffalo nickel.

HASKELL DEFEATED Bucknell, 36-0, in its first homecoming on Oct. 30. At the time, Haskell Stadium was the third-largest in the state. In 1929, Haskell became the first stadium in the state with lights.

That gave rise to another Haskell tradition.

Before night games, a spotlighted Indian atop the arch would raise the flag to the playing of the national anthem. As the song ended, all the lights were turned out and the Indian on the arch would loose a war cry into the darkness.

"It was a Cheyenne, in full regalia," Cliff McDonald recalled. "They'd cut the lights off, and he'd let out this war hoop. The student body came back with a reply. It would just chill you."

Not long after the dedication, Haskell's organizers decided to cut back on athletics. That explains, in part, why Haskell Stadium was never finished.

"At about the time they became really good and organized, they de-emphasized athletics," Cliff McDonald said. "They never completed it they way they wanted to complete it. They were going to build a walkway over the top. They could have gone on, probably, but I think my dad saw the writing on the wall."

Frank McDonald's final year at Haskell was 1932.

YEARS LATER, the younger McDonald went home again, back to the field his father was so instrumental in building. Cliff McDonald became an all-state football quarterback at Lawrence High, which, as it does now, played its home games at Haskell Stadium.

Cliff McDonald played at LHS from 1940-43. He went on to play at Kansas, where he lettered as running back from 1947-49.

But his start came on the field the Indians built.

"As a kid, I played there so much," he said. "I lived within 200 yards of the stadium. I'd always go over there to try to kick a football. I knew every inch of that field. At that time, I felt at home. I felt good about it, sure as the devil."

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