Baseball at Fort Spokane

"Take Me Out to the Ballgame"

Enjoying a barbecue and a nice, cold beer with friends and family?  Flicking out a fishing line into the lake for a fish to take a bite?  Are you planning on camping in a RV on the grounds of the old Kettle Falls townsite?  Perhaps are you taking the boat out to soak in the mid-summer sun?  Recreation is the heart of what entices over a million and a half people to come to Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.  But on the picnic grounds below the old Fort Spokane, recreation was enjoyed in an entirely different manner, playing baseball.

The game of baseball, an American version of cricket, became a sensation in the late nineteenth century. Designed as a bat and ball game, the thrill of baseball excited both the fielders who played on the diamond and the fans who watched from the stands.  The batter swung a wooden bat at a ball made of a rubberized or cork core, wrapped in leather, stitched by yarn, and hoped to get a hit to get on base, or better yet, a home run.  For the pitcher, it was to throw the ball in a variety of ways to strike the batter out or to throw the perfect game.  The fans enjoyed the moments in between pitches and innings to talk about how the game was playing out or anything they wanted.  Of course, fans sung the 7th inning stretch to celebrate the game.

Professional teams were primarily located in the Midwest and New England but towns and cities throughout the United States had amateur and semi-professional teams.  Professional baseball came to Washington State and Spokane in 1891 when the Pacific Northwest League formed to include cities from Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland, OR.  Teams had their own uniforms made and their names often after the color of their socks (i.e. Cincinnati Reds/Red Stockings, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox).  Spokane's original team name and predecessor to the Spokane Indians, the Bunch Grassers.

Fort Spokane served as a military post to oversee the Spokane and Colville Indian Reservation from 1880 to 1898.  A soldier's day consisted of training and other aspects of soldiering but military life also had periodic times of boredom.  For commanders of posts, monotony and boredom created low morale for enlisted soldiers who often resorted to drinking, gambling, and sex with prostitutes. Baseball became a recreational alternative.  Companies formed teams and because of the rigid class structure between officers and enlisted soldiers, baseball was one of the few activities where the two could co-mingle socially on off-duty hours.  These teams also travelled to nearby farming communities where the sport helped to foster relations between the military and civilian population.

However by 1898, Fort Spokane was closed and its soldiers left to go fight in the Spanish-American War.  Two years later, the fort and its buildings was converted into an Indian boarding school headed by the Colville Indian Agency.  The concept behind the Boarding school was to teach native children skills such as farming, domestic housework, the English language, and Christianity in order to assimilate into white American society and become servants.  The boys were also taught how to play baseball.  Like the soldiers before them, they had their own uniforms with the lettering F.S. symbolizing Fort Spokane.  The team also played against other farming teams and played very well despite racial and social prejudice, including winning all but three games in a two year span.

Baseball continued on the fort until 1909 when much of the fort was converted into a tuberculosis sanitarium and ultimately the baseball diamond was never used again.  Overgrowth of bush and wild grass obscured the baseball field until 1960 when the National Park Service took over Fort Spokane as part of the greater Lake Roosevelt National Recreation area.