I’ve been following up on Kevin Johnson’s discovery of Rube Foster as one of many subjects interviewed in a sociological study of Chicago’s African American population after the Chicago race riot of 1919. Foster apparently named La Grange, Texas, as his birthplace, rather than Calvert, where he grew up, and where everyone says he was born. As I said, this would seem to be a highly credible source, and La Grange is a perfectly reasonable alternative to Calvert.
Let’s trace Rube back through a few official records. Here is his World War I draft card, showing the commonly accepted birth date of September 17, 1879, though no birth place is given, unfortunately.
Here is a record in the 1900 census, showing the Foster family living in Calvert, Robertson County, Texas. The father, Andrew Foster, is listed as a “Preacher.” The younger Andrew’s birthdate is September, 1879. His mother’s name is Evaline (pace James Riley, who mistakenly calls Rube’s mother “Sarah,” which was actually his wife’s name)—she is listed as having had six children, only four of them living. Also living with the family is an older sister, “Christana,” born in January 1878, and a younger brother, Johnson, born in January 1884. The children and father were born in Texas, the mother in Mississippi. The parents had been married for 27 years (since 1873).
In the 1880 census, which was taken when Rube Foster was an infant, I can’t find the Fosters in Robertson County. However, there is this family, living in Winchester, Texas, a small, unincorporated town in Fayette County, probably 15 miles or less from La Grange*:
We have Andy Foster, 29, living with wife Eveline (both are listed as born in Mississippi) and children Willie (not the Hall of Famer, Rube’s half-brother, of course, who would not be born for another 23 years), 5, Gertrude, 4, Christina, 2, and—“Bishop,” eight months old, born in September, 1879. The family was enumerated on June 10, 1880, so if this child was born on September 17, Rube Foster’s birthday, the age is precise--he would not turn nine months old until June 17.
So, was Rube Foster born “Bishop Foster”? Maybe. It could be some sort of mistake by the census taker, but it seems like an unlikely mistake, being a rather unusual name. Of course, it could be that there were really four children, and the enumerator erroneously put down only three, sloppily combining an older child’s name with a younger child’s birth date.
Or—“Bishop Foster” could be Rube Foster. He might have been renamed while still an infant, which happened with some frequency in the nineteenth century. Or perhaps Bishop was his middle name, which the family stopped using after a while, and which Foster himself replaced with his nickname, Rube, as an adult.
With the information we have, we can’t know for sure. But the 1900 family is surely Rube Foster’s, and the 1880 family both resembles the 1900 one in every particular, and happens to be located very near La Grange, which Charles Spurgeon Johnson reports as Rube Foster’s birthplace.
These are pretty small things—perhaps a different birth place than we thought, perhaps a twist regarding his name we didn’t know about. They don’t change anything we already understand about Foster’s life, achievements, character, etc. But there are those of us who like to cross the t’s and dot the i’s.
*--Zoom out to see the distance between Winchester and La Grange.