Gridiron Gypsies - Book Review


Gridiron Gypsies

Author: Tom Benjey
Genre: Non Fiction - Historical/Cultural
Publisher: Tuxedo Press
Date Published: November 1, 2022
ISBN-10: 9781936161065
ISBN-13: 9781936161065


Book Review of :  Gridiron Gypsies


Gridiron Gypsies, How the Carlisle Indians Shaped Modern Football, by Tom Benjey, is an extensively researched history of the Carlisle Indian School’s football legacy, Richard Henry Pratt, and the personal stories of many of the other football players. His play-by-play style of reporting games enables the reader to picture the action. The author credits numerous expert contributors to his research and includes newspaper athletic reports, political cartoons, and old photographs to support his historical book. He states that no other existing book includes all this information or serves as a complete history of Carlisle football. He has included football games not recorded previously, corrected scores, and locations of other games. The author credits technology that was not available seventy years ago for his success in accurate reporting.

The introduction to this fascinating historical account sets the stage (or playing field) for the in-depth chronological reporting of games. Early introduction to the Carlisle School and football beginning in 1893 are covered in the first two chapters. Beginning with the 1899 season, each year and football schedule, players, and game scores are reported in individual chapters. The school suffered in 1918, because of the 1st World War. The Epilogue elaborates on the Carlisle Indian School’s history and is an excellent reference source for other historians. 

Highlights of the book include biographical information on Richard Henry Pratt and his belief that American Indians could be acclimated into white society through emersion, education, and athletics. He recognized the Indian’s physical advantages, thought to be genetic, of rapid response time, quick reflexes, strength, grit, and a willingness to endure roughness in the violent game of football. Pratt abhorred the brutality and refused to allow cruelty. Demanding respect, Pratt insisted on fair play. Otherwise, the players would be deemed, savages. Throughout the years the Carlisle Indians held a reputation for being fair and gentlemanly.

The Carlisle Indians began their first year of play against high schools. Pratt recognized that most of his students were more mature physically and mentally than other high schoolers.

Eighteen ninety-four was their first full season and their first game was against a high school. After that, they played colleges with a few games against semi-pro, and adult athletic club teams sprinkled in. High game scores kept the team and individual team members in the news as crowd pleasers. During the 1897 season, the team earned enough funds to finance a new athletic track and field for the school. 1902 found the team in the White House meeting President Theodore Roosevelt who praised the players' determination.

      Short biographies of several outstanding players are included. “Big Jim” Thorpe, the world’s greatest all-around athlete, “Little Pop” Warner, famous Coach “Pop” Warner’s younger brother Bill Warner, and Lewis Tewanima, track and field champion, are among the noted players. 

      The 1917 draft, volunteer enlistments, a losing season, and financial problems led to the demise of the historic football team and of the Carlisle Indian School. Congress returned the school property to the Army for the war effort. Barracks and a hospital replaced the students and faculty. The author, Benjey, is commended for his meticulous research and play-by-play writing style. 


Reviewed by: Carole W

About Tom Benjey


A comment at a talk presented by the local historical society on the Carlisle Indian School regarding Lone Star Dietz's win in the first Rose Bowl in 1916 agitated the woman sitting next to Tom Benjey. "Oh no, Michigan won the first Rose Bowl in 1902 by trouncing Stanford." A little research at home decided the issue. It depends on how you define what was the first Rose Bowl. What little Dr. Benjey found on Dietz piqued his curiosity about this fascinating person. The resulting coast-to-coast research spawned his first book "Keep A-goin": The Life of Lone Star Dietz. His work on Dietz's time at Carlisle Indian School led to him studying the lives of 50 other Carlisle stars and writing: "Doctors, lawyers, Indian Chiefs," Even researching Glorious Times: Adventures of the Craighead Naturalists uncovered connections between the Indian School and the Craighead family. Now, after two decades of study, research, and blog postings, he's completed "Gridiron Gypsies: The Complete History of the Carlisle Indian School Football Team." He and his Michigan wife, Ann, live in a Pennsylvania German limestone farmhouse a few miles from where the Carlisle Indians once lived, practiced, and played.

Visit for more information on Tom Benjey


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