Poetry Supplement Summer 1999, Volume 17.0
Todd Fuller is a recent PhD graduate of Oklahoma State University. Other works have been published, or are forthcoming, in the Hawai'i Review, Puerto del Sol, South Dakota Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Third Coast.
The Way Mose YellowHorse Learned How to Throw
Along Black Bear Creek in Pawnee, Oklahoma before he Discovered the Meaning of a Fast Ball or Whistling
there's a hint of myth in the air,
blowing maple limbs
turn their curved leaves
into faces, like
the exact profiles of crows
in flight. And farmyards
are the cartography
in Indian Territory
who is eight-years-old
will quietly cross
his dad's (allotted) land with his hands full
of round stones: he
has heard enough stories
to imagine himself into a hunter,
enough of the old
to know how to track
a rabbit, squirrel, or snake.
will move slowly
through the woods
with some kind of warrior
image twirling around his mind.
with an evening meal
of two rabbits & a crow
and tell his parents just how
he did it:
was a hundred feet away
sitting on a fence post,
and his parents
now wash the dishes.
will learn how to whistle
from listening to rocks
fly out of his hand.
Something Pastoral (in 1917)
Baseball, a dancing red spine
divides the atmosphere in two.
This is Chilocco Indian School
on a sloping spring day, and horses
grazing out beyond the fences.
It's a kid named YellowHorse
and a fast ball 60 feet, 6 inches
and other distances from home.
His pitches mystify three batters
per inning. One at a time
they walk away from home
plate shaking their heads, because
he's on his way to a perfect 17
and 0 season. The locals around
school call him The Pulverizing
Pawnee, and they say there's magic
in his right arm. It's an afternoon
of the Chilocco nine versus Henry
Kendall College and the sky four
shades of blue. YellowHorse tosses
one fast ball after another, and his
teammates grow bored with strikes
one-two-and-three. They don't
know that his mind might be fixed
on the sounds of his mother's stories,
her voice echoing as he follows
through on his fourteenth strike
out of the game. Her voice says
something like Your names come
from two different worlds, as he
shakes off one curve ball after
another. That's how performing
goes, the mind wanders during
the deepest states of concentration.
He might begin to think about
the slapping water of Black Bear
Creek, the songs of Mocking Birds,
or the stories that seem twenty
generations removed from certain
possibilities of baseball or World
Chilocco Beats Kendall
Yellow Horse, Indian Twirler Was a Complete Puzzle
Arkansas City, April 18—Henry Kendall College of Tulsa, Okla. was shut out by 5 to 0 by the nine of the Chilocco Indians at Chilocco today. Yel-low Horse's pitching featured.
—The Daily Oklahoman, April 19, 1917
What it Means to Wear #50 (for the Pittsburgh Pirates)
This moment begins in the dim light
Of a locker room, and Mose Yellow-
Horse struggling against his uniform
Buttons. It's just y'r nerves the boys
Tell him, but he knows it's butterflies
And the sparkle of Opening Day.
Soon enough he'll take in the field,
The crowd of twenty-five thousand,
See mustard dripping from the chins
Of enchanted fathers.
This will be the first time they've seen
An Indian in Pittsburgh. And some
Whoop and holler; mumble & inquire.
Some will cheer. They watch the Reds
And Pirates battle deep into the tussle;
Nip and tuck from the start.
It's April 21, and Mose YellowHorse
Doesn't know that kids are peeking
Through cracks in the outfield wall.
He can't hear them asking Who's that
Number 50? Instead, he's got his eyes
On the curve of a catcher's mitt, his
Face covered in the shade of his cap.
And he doesn't know that the pop
Of his fast ball has an echo that reaches
When he enters the game in the top
Of the sixth, it's tied at six apiece.
And some numerists might've said
That means something ominous, but
YellowHorse listens to the cheers of
All the clubhouse joes, something like
Go get `em Chief.
He jogs from the bullpen to
the mound, where the twist
And turn of his body resembles
A dance. After his first pitch, he will
Smile at the sound of stee-rike one.
His mates in the field yell Atta boy.
And the headlines on April 22 read
Indian Twirler Works Medicine on Reds.
Baseball writers say YellowHorse is
The latest idol of the Smoky City fans.
History says he is the first Pirate
Rookie to win a home opener.
After the game is over his teammates
Say have another Mosey ol' boy. He'll
Walk home at 3 a.m. with the faces
Of twenty-five thousand on his mind,
And he doesn't care about the climb
To his apartment, or the hum of hall-
way lights. It's eggs over-easy. One,
Two, three strikes you're out. A perfect
Career record. And "P" is for Pawnee.
The Pigeon Affair
"What this country needs is some more ballplayers like Moses Yellowhorse and his roommate, the Rabbit [Walter Maranville]."
—Pat Harmon, The Cincinnati Post & Times Star, April 24, 1964
The Pirates' 1922 season, like the year before, held promises of success. Many sports writers in their spring training reports tabbed Pittsburgh as a top team in the National League. And Pittsburgh manager George Gibson had every reason to believe the club would build on the previous year's experience and finish the season stronger than in `21. Gibson hoped a few changes in the Pirate lineup might improve the team's offense. Since the Pirates finished 1921 batting .285, fourth worst in the league, Gibson figured to remedy the problem with some stronger batters. Changes were made at second and third bases, in right field, and at catcher. Most prominent of these substitutions was Pie Traynor's taking over third base in place of Clyde Barnhart who batted .258 in 1921. Traynor hit at a .282 clip and drove in eighty-one runs—a solid rookie year for the future Hall-of-Famer—and brought much more offensive production to third base. Other switches included the insertion of Cotton Tierney for George Cutshaw at second base, Reb Russell for Possom Whitted in right field, and Johnny Gooch at catcher for Wally Schmidt. With changes to four of the eight day-to-day regulars, National League pitchers were unfamiliar with certain batters' tendencies. As a result, the 1922 Pirates led the league in hitting with a .308 average.
Unfortunately, the pitchers didn't hold up their end of the bargain, and the hitters' bats didn't start igniting until the end of June. The Pirate twirlers as a staff, which gave up a stingy 3.17 runs in 1921, gave up 3.98 runs in `22. As a result, Pittsburgh stumbled out of the gate to a 32-33 record, which cost George Gibson his job. He resigned in June, and Bill "Deacon" McKechnie took over the managerial duties. Team owner Barney Dreyfuss demanded that McKechnie get control of the players, as the pervading perception was that Gibson treated his players softly and let them break certain team policies without penalty. Dreyfuss specifically pointed out two players—YellowHorse and Maranville—as the primary offenders. McKechnie's solution to the problem was to room with YellowHorse and Maranville when the team was on the road. McKechnie would learn how foolish a thing this was.
"Yeah," YellowHorse returned.
"What do you want do?" he said to Maranville.
Rabbit turned to the sports page of the newspaper and looked at it more than reading it. "We need some fun around here," he blurted out.YellowHorse nodded and watched passers-by walk through the hotel lobby. "Some fun," he seemed to mumble to himself.
At six-thirty on a late-June night in uptown Manhattan the streets are busy with people. And finding some popcorn is an easy task, as street vendors sell the stuff at three cents a bag. This time of the summer is full of promise, as kids are ending their school years and keeping late hours with the longer sunlight.
Mose YellowHorse and Rabbit Maranville headed back to their hotel room with a bag of popcorn and a pint of (illegal) whiskey.
"What the hell are we doing?" YellowHorse asked Maranville as they walked quickly down a side street, disturbing flocks of pigeons here and there, Maranville turning occasionally to swipe his right foot at a bird.
"You'll see," Maranville said.
"C'mon," YellowHorse said back as he smacked Maranville lightly on the arm. "What do you have in mind."
"Look `Chief,' we're ball players, so we're gonna play. Compete and play. You and me, a little competition."
An Otis elevator lifted them to their sixteenth-story room. YellowHorse grew impatient. "Look, Rabbit, I'm asking a simple question. Just give me a simple answer." Maranville threw one of his mischievous smiles at YellowHorse. "You'll see," he said and raised his right index finger and pressed it to his mouth. YellowHorse, who could never play the role of stoic around Maranville for very long, glanced at the Pirate shortstop and returned the smile.
"Here," YellowHorse yelled, half of his body hanging out one of the windows of their hotel room. "Take the damn thing!" he said. He reached back behind himself and waited for Maranville to take the pigeon. "I've got it," he said and grabbed the bird from YellowHorse. "You have three minutes left" he told Mose. Maranville looked at the pigeon's black eye. "You'll be safe in here," he said and took another sip of whiskey.
An hour later, by eight o'clock, both men were sleeping. No one else on the floor seemed to hear what they were up to. Tipsy as they were, after finishing off the pint, YellowHorse and Maranville had no problems going to sleep.
Meanwhile, Bill "The Deacon" McKechnie was eating at a nearby steak house. He got his nickname because of a proclivity to abide by the rules.
At ten o'clock on a summer night in Manhattan, the streets are still full. Skies are narrow between man-made landscapes, even in 1922, and both cars and an occasional horse move along the street side by side. Music and aromas drifting in tandem from restaurants reach the senses at the same time.
When McKechnie unlocks the door to the hotel room, Maranville and YellowHorse remain asleep. He is surprised to find the two men in such a state, as they have never gone to bed before he has at any time during the team's two weeks on the road. They're always up and talking, or reading, or down the hall in other players' rooms.
McKechnie sits on his bed and begins to admire the new pocket watch Barney Dreyfuss gave him. The inscription reads: Best Wishes on Your Endeavor. He smiles, and goes to the bathroom to brush his teeth.
McKechnie's stirring woke Maranville. He opened one eye and went "Pst. Pst. Wake up `Chief.' `The Deacon's' here." YellowHorse turned from his back onto his left side. He opened his eyes and winked at Maranville. Maranville smiled. "Make like you're still asleep," he whispered to YellowHorse.
When McKechnie finishes in the bathroom, he's glad to see that YellowHorse and Maranville are still asleep. He thinks he hears something strange in the room. A noise. He thought he heard something when he was in the bathroom. Just water, he thought.
He walks over to the closet and lifts his suit jacket to remove the materials in his pockets: scribbled notes concerning lineup changes, a pencil, a small knife, and a business card from the steak house at which he ate. He stands in front of the closet he shares with Maranville. The noise is louder.
Five seconds later the room is buzzing with the beating wings of eight angry pigeons. And `The Deacon' is curled on the floor, his arms covering his head.
Later, YellowHorse will swear that he heard McKechnie say "Damn." Maranville quickly bursts from his bed and turns on the light. He sees McKechnie on the floor. YellowHorse breaks a smile.
Then Maranville says: "You'd better not open the Chief's closet. He's gonna be real mad if you let his five pigeons loose."
After "The Pigeon Affair," as it came to be known, McKechnie no longer roomed with YellowHorse and Maranville. He kept a room by himself.
The team, which had not been playing well, then put together a sustained winning streak. Good enough to make them competitive for the pennant. As pitcher Babe Adams later remembered, "We all heard that stirring down the hall, and we shot up to see what all the commotion was. On my way to the room I see `The Deacon' walking away real quick. I went in the room and saw pigeons flying all around. Rabbit and `The Chief' are on their beds just rolling and laughing. I mean they're in their pajamas. And Max Carey was in their too. He was smiling and trying to grab the pigeons and let them out the window. He was saying `we need to get these birds outta here.'
"At one point, I think someone said `anyone gotta gun,' and that kept the boys stirring for another twenty minutes. Their room was full until midnight. And we got a real kick out of their prank. After that, `The Deacon' was one of the boys."
Pirates 1922 lineup:
* = new player
A Bean for the Peach—Counting Coup or "the Detroit Incident"
Seventy years later in June of 1992 Pawnee elder Norman Rice spoke to me about this incident. He invited me into his small bungalow in Pawnee, and we talked about YellowHorse's career with the Pirates. Rice, a wiry man whose face and body were toughened by years spent working, spoke his stories with a soft elegance. Though some of his words could be difficult to understand (as he was without some of his teeth), he was as kind, gentle, and willing to share his stories with me as anyone in Pawnee. When speaking of YellowHorse's experience in Detroit, he said:
"Ty Cobb was crowding the plate anyway, he always did. And Mose wasn't going to let him get away with it. Cobb was up there yelling all kinds of Indian prejudice, real mean slurs at Mose, just making him mad anyway. So he shakes off four pitches until the catcher gives him the fast ball sign, and Mose nods his head. I mean everyone in Detroit was whooping and all that silliness. So he winds up and fires the ball as hard as he could, and he knocked Cobb right in the head, right between the eyes. Mose knocked him cold. And a fight nearly broke out at home plate. All the Tigers' players came rushing off the bench. The Pirate players started running toward Mose. But no punches were thrown. They just carried Ty Cobb off the field. And all three of the Pirates' outfielders just stood together in center and laughed. Said they wished they could see it again."
Of these three accounts, the most engaging and descriptive is Norman Rice's, who heard the story from YellowHorse in all likelihood. If Rice didn't hear YellowHorse tell the story, he probably got it from someone who did. And where the two newspaper accounts offer factual and bare-bone information, Norman Rice's story contains an intriguing sub-plot that addresses tensions between Indians and Euroamericans (in the 1920s). In a reversal of the all-too-familiar narrative, it is YellowHorse "the full-blooded Pawnee" who holds the weapon (a ninety-five mile-an-hour fast ball) and inflicts harm. For YellowHorse to level one of the most hated or "the Detroit Incident" (white) ball players in baseball history lends an ironic twist to the story. The empowered Indian dares to make his feelings public and retaliates against Cobb (and his teammates and the Detroit fans) when he disobeys the Pirates' catcher and chooses to throw a fast ball at the ridiculing batter. The fact that YellowHorse's teammates support his actions, as Norman Rice's narrative shows, clearly suggests their loyalty to him as a teammate—at the very least. They rally to his defense in a hostile environment and protect him from revenge-minded Detroit players and fans. In the same way that the 1947 Brooklyn Dodger players (finally) supported Jackie Robinson, the same kind of team-first spirit takes hold in the 1922 Pittsburgh clubhouse. A Hall-of-Fame player like Rabbit Maranville, though no imposing physical specimen, certainly stuck his nose into the fray. In fact, it's not too difficult to imagine Maranville leading the defensive charge. It's not too difficult to imagine him standing protectively in front of the much bigger YellowHorse. And it's not too difficult to imagine lots of people laughing after the fact.
A report in the September 27 (1922) New York Times put it this way:
TY COBB IS INJURED
Tigers' Manager Hit by Pitched Ball
in Exhibition With Pirates
DETROIT, Sept. 26—Ty Cobb was hit by a pitched ball thrown by Yellowhorse and was carried from the field in the fifth inning of today's exhibition game with the Pittsburgh Nationals, which Detroit won, 5 to 4. Cobb was batting for Cole, the ball striking him on the leg. Cole and Ehmke held the Pirates to four hits, all of which were for extra bases.
And still another account in The Bleacher Bum puts it this way:
On September 26, Yellowhorse was called upon to pitch against the Detroit Tigers in an exhibition game at Detroit. In a 5-4 loss he plunked Ty Cobb so severely that the Georgia Peach had to be carried off the field.
—courtesy of Bob Lemke
Moments of Pawnee, Oklahoma
can drift by at ninety-five miles-
an-hour, even in late September,
even when the red hand-sewn
seams of a baseball spin like fancy
Moments of Narrows, Georgia can
stand as firm as trees in an orchard,
even when an Indian hurricane comes
along in late September. And even so,
a sturdy Louisville Slugger can stare
down any fast ball west of the mighty
And moments of Detroit, Michigan
can jeer as loud, say, as a cavalry
stampede, even in 1922, even
when it's Tiger Stadium and a game
that means nothing in the standings.
Sooner rather than later,
the bean (ball) flying from Mose
YellowHorse's hand will catch up
with Ty Cobb's peach.
And all the smart ass in the world
won't protect Cobb's face from
And someone's dad once said:
"You mess with the bull, you
get the horn."
When YellowHorse heard
the whoops and hollers
of Cobb & all Detroit,
he reared back on his right leg
and let all history fly
through his arm. Somewhere
in the atmosphere the moment
of contact still echoes,
is still spiraling into space
with laughter following close
Ironies Named 1947
[Mose] YellowHorse Hitches to Post \ of Ponca City Groundskeeper"
—Al Kaff, The Sporting News, July 16, 1947
It's an hour before game time on April 15,
And a man with a rake is smoothing
Infield dirt. And somewhere in the stands
A father will point him out, and a story
Will follow. The one about a Pawnee Indian
Striking out three future Hall of Famers
With nine undisguised fastballs, or maybe
The one about his beaning Ty Cobb right
Between the eyes. And the son will say
"Babe Ruth, Really?" And the father will
Nod, then say other names like Gehrig
And Lazzeri. He'll tell his son, "Ol' Mose
Threw as hard as Walter `Big Train' Johnson,"
And the boy will know that means
In thirty minutes the Ponca City diamond
Is littered with spit-shined baseballs in flight,
And somewhere in Brooklyn, 26,000 fans
Watch Jackie Robinson break the color barrier
With an 0-for premiere. And headlines in
Pittsburgh will be composed with Justice
In mind: Triumph Of Whole Race Seen
In Jackie's Debut. And parents will name
Their newborns after him. And the citizens
Of Cairo, Georgia are not surprised that
Little Jack Robinson's running like a damn
Gazelle around the bases. And half the fans
Jammed into Ebbets Field have a tear
For the moment. And someone's yelling
"Yonkel, Yonkel!" which is Yiddish
Boys in Ponca City, Oklahoma will start
To fall asleep beside their radios, and they'll
Believe they saw a whale of a game
At Conoco Park, that the Oilers turned
Double plays just as slick as Reese to
Stanky to Robinson. And some announcer's
Voice will lull them into unconsciousness
With hyperbolic renditions of flying saucers
And alien landings. And Mose YellowHorse
Will return home four hours after the game
Is finished and settle his eyes onto an evening
Paper. There is talk of recently discovered
Biblical texts in Khirbet Qumran. In sports
The Pirates and Dodgers win. In weather
The hi-temp reaches 56. Out on the porch
The wind's carrying smells of rain; the swing's
Creaking like an old tree branch.
Early this season, [YellowHorse] found himself shaking hands with Brooklyn Scout Andy High who played against the Indian in the Southern Association and the Na-tional League. "If he hadn't been pointed out, I wouldn't have recognized the Chief," the one-time St. Louis infielder said later, "but I'll never forget what it meant to face that Indian with a bat in your hand."
—Al Kaff, The Sporting News, July 16, 1947