The Real All-Americans: The Team That Changed a Game, a People, a Nation

May 15th, 2008 | By | Category: 19-4: Success by Accountability and Assessment, Media Reviews

Doubleday (2007)

Review by Michael Thompson

Award-winning journalist Sally Jenkins tells the saga of the Carlisle Indian School and its amazing football teams that challenged the powerful Ivy League teams in the early days of the 20th century, a story so remarkable that it is hard to believe that until now it had never been told. Thoroughly documented and researched, the book is large in scope, exploring the life of Carlisle’s controversial founder Lt. Col. Richard Henry Pratt and the events that led to the school’s establishment in 1879, the evolution of the school itself, and especially its remarkable football program.

While clearly writing for a mainstream audience, Jenkins walks a fine line in her representation of Pratt and his lifelong mission to educate young Native Americans, who were taken, often against their will, from tribes all across the country.

She clearly admires the accomplishments of the outstanding Native players who overcame incredible odds to gain the grudging respect of the day’s establishment press. However, she is circumspect in recounting the motives and actions of Pratt and of Pop Warner, the legendary coach who guided the Carlisle Indians through many of their greatest triumphs. Native readers will wince at many words and actions of both men, whose relationships with Native communities and particular players were glaringly problematic.

Yet nothing can take away from the glory earned by Carlisle’s determined young heroes. While the legendary Jim Thorpe is given his well-earned due, lesser known heroes such as Delos Lone Wolf, Gus Welch, Albert Exendine, and others are deservedly honored. This book provides a critical missing chapter in Native American history. I recommend it for everyone.

Michael Thompson (Mvskoke Creek) is the English chair at Bloomfield High School in New Mexico and a speaker on contemporary Native literature.

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