Both as a follow-up to my recent Field of Dreams post and as another example of the uses of digitized databases, I wanted to say a little bit about the Lost Island Giants, the team with the evocative name operated by Robert Gilkerson in northern Iowa in 1917.
Gilkerson’s co-owner on this venture was William “Bingo” Bingham, a longtime outfielder for Chicago teams in the 1910s and early 1920s:
I’ve only been able to find a few mentions of the Lost Island Giants in small Iowa papers, and a solitary box score in the Chicago Defender (June 30, 1917):
As it happens, the first draft registration for World War I occurred almost midway between these two articles, on June 5. But for a long time I never found anything associated with this team; in fact, I really hadn’t noted its existence at all.
Then, a few months back, I was trying fruitlessly to track down a pitcher named Ruby Tyree who had appeared with the American Giants early in 1917. Thinking that “Ruby” was a nickname, and thinking that he would have registered for the draft in Chicago since he was playing there right around that time, I checked out the five men named “Tyree” who registered in Cook County (four of them black). But none of them were listed as ballplayers, and besides, the pitcher was supposed to have been quite young, and the youngest of these men was 31 at the time.
Finally, for some reason I don’t remember, it occurred to me to simply search for “Ruby Tyree,” in no particular state, with the “Soundex” function enabled for the last name. This uses an algorithm to find names that are in some way similar to the one you’re looking for, in case of misspellings or transcription errors. And I came up with one “Ruby Tyress,” residing in Ruthven, Palo Alto County, Iowa, a professional ballplayer working for Robert P. Gilkerson:
As you can see, his name is really “Tyrees”; “Tyress” is an Ancestry.com mistranscription. Given this information I was then able to pin down the ballplayer Ruby P. Tyrees, born 22 July 1891, died 23 November 1965, and buried in Leavenworth National Cemetery.
If one Lost Island Giants player could be found in Palo Alto County, it seemed possible that others could be there as well. A search for black men registered in the county yielded a list of nine names (out of 3,455 total draft registrations). Here’s a screenshot of the Ancestry.com search results:
As it turned out, fully seven of them (including Tyrees) listed themselves as professional ballplayers. This is the single biggest find I’ve made so far in the World War I cards; that is, the biggest haul from one search, one click. I’ve never seen one screen with so many players on it before.
Blackburn appeared briefly for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1920.
Edgar Daniel Burch
I believe this is “Burch,” no first name, who appeared in 1914 with the Indianapolis ABCs (Riley, Biographical Encyclopedia, p. 133).
This, I think, is William Fox Jones, an American Giants’ catcher in the 1910s (Riley, p. 452).
THIS is the major find here, at least for me. I had been looking for Hurley McNair’s WW1 draft card for some time. He’s mistakenly digitized as “Alden McNair,” but the card in fact reads “Allen.” I think he is probably the “Mack” listed in center field in the Defender box score above.
Riley lists B. “Aggie” Turner (p. 794) with the Chicago Union, Chicago Giants, and All Nations in 1916 and 1917.
Now we have a first name for “White” of the Chicago Union Giants (Riley, p. 832).
Robert Gilkerson, incidentally, registered for the draft where he lived, Spring Valley, Illinois, which was also the headquarters for his other team, the Union Giants. Bingham may have registered in Chicago, where one “William Horace Bingham,” born in 1885 and working in the stockyards, can be found in September 1918.
Like a number of other major black teams in the early twentieth century (the Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, the West Baden Sprudels and French Lick Plutos of Indiana, the Breakers and Royal Poincianas of Palm Beach, Florida, and the Havana Red Sox of Watertown, New York) the Lost Island Giants were a resort team, intended to entertain well-to-do vacationers. The mysterious-sounding, Field of Dreams-esque name seems to come from Lost Island Lake, located about four miles north of Ruthven, where these ballplayers all resided. Arnold’s Park, which the Defender named as the location of Gilkerson’s team in mid-May, is a historic resort and amusement park on Lake Okoboji in nearby Dickinson County. Whether or not the team moved around to various locations during the summer, I don’t know.