FROM BASEBALL TO boxing, golf to polo, Sheridan has long been a sports-oriented community. With the enthusiastic backing of local businesses, newspapermen and community leaders, all types of sports were offered regularly to Sheridan residents during the first third of the century.
One of the most prominent sports in Sheridan - indeed, around the nation - was America's Pastime: baseball. While games resembling it had been played in America since the early 1800s, legend maintains that modern baseball was invented by Army officer Abner Doubleday in 1839. It quickly became all the rage. By the middle of the Civil War, nearly 100 amateur clubs belonged to the National Association of Baseball Players. In 1869, the first professional team was formed – the Cincinnati Red Stockings. By the 1910s and '20s, baseball was firmly seated as America's favorite summer pastime. In newspapers across the country, front page stories were as likely to be about baseball as they were politics. It didn't matter who was President as long as Babe Ruth was King!
In Sheridan County, baseball was a major part of summer. Every community had a team as did many of the fraternal organizations. Competition for the local championship crown was keen. William S. Sopris, sports editor of The Sheridan Post from the late 1910s through the 1920s, filled the paper with detailed stories on almost every game. With an exceptional command of sports vocabulary, he brought the game of baseball to life for his small-town audience:
Pot luck, a couple of bobbles, two costly umpire's decisions, and the inability of the Fort Mackenzie offense to come to the point in time of need and proffer the solitary bingle, brought the Fort contingent the short end of a fast-played 4-2 contest with the Knights of Pythias at Kleenburn field Friday evening. Ten visitors died on the paths. Twice two men waited on the sacks for the redeeming bingle, and once a full house saw a government player whiff.
Writers like Sopris made newspaper readers want to go to the games – if only to see if they were as good as he made them sound! If there was any kind of special event in Sheridan, there was almost always an exhibition baseball game scheduled to go along with it. On Registration Day 1918, when men of age were required to sign up for the draft during World War One, the occasion was marked by a parade down Main Street, a solemn ceremony at the steps of the courthouse - and a baseball game. Not ones to sit by the sidelines, the cowboys working for the Kendrick Cattle Company managed to get together a team of their own. The K Ranch team played against Arvada and other small teams in eastern Sheridan County.
BOXING & WRESTLING
With Sopris' energetic backing, boxing and wrestling were all the rage in Sheridan County during the 1920s. Along with fight manager Cy Mitchell, Sopris worked hard to bring touring athletes to Sheridan to battle local stars, many of them immigrant miners from the Acme and Monarch coal towns. Once again, Sopris' colorful writing made the boxing matches sound like world-class bouts:
It is four days until the leather flinging satellites of local and imported fight talent are welcomed by the June third bout on the cards for the Orpheum theater next Tuesday. Thirty fast rounds of mitt heaving are slated for the bugs' entertainment, and the Forces of Fistiana this time will include such knowns as "Bob" Arndt of Buffalo, Ted "Kid" Brown of Sheridan, the two Woodhead brothers Billy and Clarence; Martin the Billings middleweight, and "Terrible Terry" Mitchell of Sheridan. For preliminary whetting of the appetite for thuds and claret there'll be Barbula of the mines and Jack Sollars of our fair city.
Most bouts were held at the Orpheum and Lotus theaters; others were held on the second floor of the old city hall. Women were sometimes invited to attend, especially at theaters where one-reel movies were shown between fights. Such was the case at the Lotus on New Year's Eve 1924:
Many are planning on the 10:30 "dollar a seat" event, to be the means of assisting Sir '24 out and Hon. '25 in. A feature picture of regular length, appropriate music, a novelty act, the feature handicap wrestling affair, the film comedy, the "eats" and carnival stunt, and last but not least the innovation for dance lovers, dancing on the stage, will prove the "biggest hit of the season for everyone."
Sopris, a frequent contributor to Wrestling News, also brought professional wrestling to Sheridan. Throughout the twenties, he was a proponent of nationally-ranked wrestlers such as John "The Swedish Heavyweight Champion of the World" Freberg, light heavyweight champion Clarence Eklund (a Wyoming resident), Chicago wrestlers George D. Kotsonaros and Marin Plestina, and Canadian heavyweight Jack Taylor. To entice world-class wrestlers to visit Sheridan, Sopris used his many business and sports contacts to come up with large purses to be split between the contestants. To boost interest and attendance, he promoted the matches at no cost in his daily newspaper column, as this 1925 series of headlines indicates:
THE EQUESTRIAN ARTS
Even though Henry Ford was churning out his Model T automobiles as fast as he could, most people in the western United States relied heavily on the horse as their principal means of personal transport. Even after they purchased their first automobiles, most ranching families in Wyoming kept horses both at the ranch and in town.
In Sheridan, horseback riding was not just a means of transport, but a significant source of entertainment as well. Wild horse races and chariot races were featured at the annual County Fair and Rodeo, while polo was a very popular sport with the wealthy set residing south of Sheridan in the community of Big Horn. According to local author Bucky King, "The period from 1900 through the end of World War I saw a great deal of activity on the Moncreiffe Field and in surrounding states for the team from Big Horn." In her book Big Horn Polo: The History of Polo in the Big Horn, Wyoming Area, King states that the breeding of polo ponies was also a big part of the local scene, particularly on ranches in Big Horn and Beckton, Wyoming, as well as nearby Birney, Montana.
Perhaps the "equestrian art" most identified with Sheridan is rodeo. Although the Sheridan-Wyo Rodeo itself wasn't organized until 1931, plenty of rodeo action could be found in earlier years. Just about every ranch worth its salt had a cowboy or two on the payroll that could ride, rope or race well enough to take part in the ranch rodeos that took place throughout the spring, summer and fall. Most local rodeos were low-key events that drew in folks from the neighboring ranches, but didn't cause much of a ripple otherwise. One event, however, far exceeded expectations in terms of attendance. The 1929 incarnation of the PK Ranch rodeo, held on a ranch west of Sheridan, drew a crowd of 20,000 from every state in the union, plus a few foreign countries.
Tennis, croquet, swimming and golf were among the favorite outdoor activities during the first third of the century. Rosa-Maye and Manville Kendrick often invited friends to play tennis on the grass court located next to Trail End's carriage house. Croquet was popular, too, even on the ranches. When the Kendricks visited their friends at the Quarter Circle U Guest Ranch in Birney, Montana, croquet was nearly always on the list of activities.
As for golf, Rosa-Maye practiced her swing on Trail End's south lawn. She was occasionally joined there by her mother and father. Senator Kendrick golfed when he had time and even donated the land for the Sheridan Municipal Golf Course (now called the Kendrick Golf Course). When the gift was made in 1930, The Sheridan Press noted, "With a plentiful supply of water, it is expected that the new golf course will have grass greens, which, added to its beautiful location, will make it one of the finest courses in the west."
Manville, too, enjoyed golf. In 1932, he spoke with his father about the success of the new Sheridan course. In his usual way, the Senator responded with his suggestions as to why Manville's use of the public course would be a good thing:
I was rather pleased to note your interest in the municipal golf course. Personally, I would much prefer to have you take an interest in this golf course, which is for any respectable person to use. In this way you would be in contact with the people of the town, which I would prefer rather than to have you identify yourself more closely with the Country Club.
More than golf, Manville and his wife Diana excelled at shooting sports. Diana was a crack shot on her high school rifle team, and both enjoyed target practice, pheasant shooting and reloading activities. The Sheridan Sportsmen's Club offered a safe environment for the Kendricks and other Sheridan residents who wanted to participate in target shooting.
If Manville and Rosa-Maye Kendrick were having friends over during periods of bad weather when it wasn't possible to entertain outdoors, they might work on jigsaw puzzles or play games such as checkers, Mah Jongg, charades or cards. When they were younger, the card games might have been Old Maid or Hearts. By the time they were teenagers, Bridge had become the most popular card game. Though the younger Kendricks were very good Bridge players, their mother preferred not to play at all. Eula Kendrick once remarked that she only liked to do the things that she excelled at and since she was only a mediocre Bridge player, she felt it best to avoid the game altogether.
Another popular pastime was the crossword puzzle. These puzzles had been around since 1913, appearing in magazines and newspapers. But when Simon & Schuster published their first book of puzzles in 1924, it sold nearly a million copies. Each book came with a sharpened pencil, making it the perfect portable brain teaser.
A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
April 1999 - December 2001
Detail from movie poster, 1916 (Private Collection)
State Historic Site
Big Horn polo players, 1920s (SCHS Collection, TESHS)