…Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, that is, Kansas City Monarchs Hall of Fame pitcher/outfielder. His early career was spent mostly in the Army, playing at Hawaii’s Schofield Barracks for the 25th Infantry’s famous “Wreckers,” until the 25th was transferred to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, on the Mexican border, during the First World War. When he got out of the Army in late June or early July 1920, J. L. Wilkinson of the Monarchs brought Rogan and his Army teammate Walter “Dobie” Moore back to the Midwest (Rogan grew up in Kansas City, and had briefly pitched for Wilkinson’s All-Nations Club while on furlough in 1917).
Dave Wyatt of the Chicago Defender tells the story of Rogan’s first appearance in Chicago (Defender, July 10, 1920):
“…Manager Wilkinson signed him early last spring; the boy made a three nights’ ride and jumped out with strange support, facing one of the best teams in the country and gave an exhibition of hurling that had 10,000 fans yelping and the American Giants standing on their heads.”
The game was on July 5; Rogan beat the American Giants 4-2 on one hit, striking out 11. Wyatt doesn’t exactly say this was Rogan’s Negro National League debut, but he does strongly imply that he was fresh off a train from the far west (though the reference to an early spring signing is a little confusing; presumably Wilkinson signed him, then had to wait until he was free of his military obligations).
However, I’ve run across a couple of interesting things that tell us a little more about Rogan’s transition from the Army to the Negro Leagues. First, there’s this box score, from the July 4, 1920, St. Louis Globe-Democrat:
This is in fact the first Negro National League game that Dobie Moore (“A. Moore”) and Bullet Rogan (called “Rugout” here) played for the Kansas City Monarchs, two days before the July 5 game in Chicago.
So Rogan and Moore actually started their NNL careers in St. Louis, not Chicago. A small thing, perhaps. But consider this: while working on a long-term project involving Negro League players in the 1920 census, I found Wilber Rogan. But he wasn’t in Arizona, where the 25th Infantry (and several other black units) were still stationed at that time. Instead, he was at the Army’s Jefferson Barracks—in St. Louis. There’s really no doubt this is Bullet Rogan: he’s listed as having been born in Oklahoma, and his age is given as 30, matching Bullet’s accepted age for many years (though he was really, according to Phil Dixon, 26 at this time, having added four years to his age when he joined the Army back in 1911). His census entry gives his rank as private, and his occupation as a “machinist helper.” He is also one of only three black men on the whole post, as far as I could tell.
The census was taken in January—Rogan was counted on January 6, to be precise. It’s possible he was temporarily assigned to Jefferson Barracks, then returned to Arizona, only to rush back to the Midwest in early summer to join the Monarchs. But it’s certainly an interesting coincidence that in January he was assigned to the very same city where he would make his NNL debut in July. Dobie Moore, by the way, was in Arizona in January; “Walter Moore” (24, born in Georgia) can be found in the census at Camp Stephen D. Little, Nogales, Arizona—on the same census page as Branch Russell and William Linder, other 25th Infantry veterans and eventual Monarchs.
Only mildly interesting so far, perhaps (though Rogan’s “three nights’ ride” from the west may not have occurred quite the way Wyatt seems to imply it did). But there’s more to the story, which I’ll pick up tomorrow.
THANKS (11.1.06, 10:13 a.m.) to Phil Dixon for supplying the full name of Camp Stephen D. Little (the census records truncate it to “Camp Stephen”).