Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Legends of Pine Village, Indiana: Professional Football Team Undefeated for Thirteen Years

In the early years of the sport of football, a professional team from my hometown of Pine Village, Indiana, made national news. The legendary Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe carried the ball for Pine Village. Do you suppose I exaggerate? You can begin to answer that question by reading this historical marker. Next, see this photograph, one of several illustrations accompanying Phil Richards’ story for, which you can peruse if you are a paid subscriber. Also, see Doris Cottingham’s book entitled Pine Village Football: The Inside “Dope” (2001). Doris, who taught English at Pine Village High School, wrote an excellent summary of her research.

A Few Members of the Famous Football Team
of Pine Village, Indiana: Charlie Rhode and
Charlie’s Cousin Claire Rhode in Front Row,
Charlie’s Brother Seymour A. Rhode
Third from Left in Back Row with Sister Bertha

Richards said, “Pine Village eventually became the Pros and although they never belonged to the NFL, theirs is perhaps the most fascinating story of Indiana’s early football history. By 1914, when Pine Village beat the Mickey Club of Indianapolis 111-0, its legend was growing. By 1915, they … had begun signing the first of many stars from Purdue, Indiana, Notre Dame, Wabash and DePauw. They went 8-0 that season and outscored their opponents 271-0, according to accounts meticulously compiled by Cottingham.” The team was undefeated from 1903 until 1916. No rival scored against the team for 111 games in a row.

The Famous Football Team of Pine Village, Indiana:
Charlie Rhode Second from Left in Second Row from Top
and His Cousin Claire Rhode, Team Manager, at Right

Incidentally, this paragraph from Doris’ article has a contemporary ring: “Coverage of high school and independent football focused more on the drinking and rowdyism of the spectators and the dangers of the game and injuries to the players. Editors pointed out that the bodies of young teenagers were in no condition to withstand the rough playing of the sport. Many said it should be banned in high school. Skimpy uniforms with little padding offered no protection. Parents, especially mothers, were concerned about injuries, and for several years newspapers at the end of the football season would list high school players throughout the country who had died as a result of football injuries. Many small town school authorities ruled out football as a school sport, and it was soon replaced by basketball. Pine Village high school football was discontinued in 1912.” The famous Pine Village team was an independent organization that we would call a pro team today.

The Famous Football Team of Pine Village, Indiana:
Claire Rhode, Team Manager, Fourth from Left in Front Row
and His Cousin Seymour A. Rhode Fifth from Left in Back Row

On December 20th in 1971, I published a story in the Pine Village High School newspaper, which I edited. Entitled “Football Was Alive Here Then,” my article featured my interviews with my great uncle Charles J. Rhode and Eli Fenters, who played for the team. Charles’ cousin Claire Rhode was the manager during the halcyon years. The title of my article was a quotation from Uncle Charlie. A reprint of my article can be viewed here:

I will admit that it challenges my imagination to picture the great football matches that my ancestors played and that drew such widespread attention. What must it have been like to play a game shoulder to shoulder with Jim Thorpe? Richards says the team’s “most famous game was a 1915 Thanksgiving Day showdown with the Purdue All-Stars. Team manager Claire Rhode imported Thorpe, an Olympic gold medalist and Canton Bulldogs star, for a one-game stint at a cost of $250 plus expenses. The investment paid. ‘Jim Thorpe, with a little assistance from the Pine Village team,’ beat the All-Stars 29-0, reported the Lafayette Daily Courier.” An anecdote often repeated when I was growing up might be based on fact. Supposedly, Jim Thorpe complimented Eli Fenters as the best “natural quarterback” Thorpe had ever encountered. When I interviewed Fenters late in his life, he possessed a quiet strength that made me believe the anecdote.     

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Vehicles I Remember: 1963 Chevrolet (Last Installment in This Series)

Around 1966, my parents thought they needed a car with fewer miles than their 1957 Chevrolet had. They turned to the Dowdens, who were selling a 1963 white Chevrolet Bel Air. A generation earlier, Milton Dowden had been a sign painter in town; his son, Milton L., who went by “Milt,” could hang wallpaper better than anyone! Milt’s wife, Elsie, had given my mother a recipe for sour milk drop cookies that my mother included among her favorite desserts. My father and mother respected—and liked—the Dowdens very much. I recall almost no deliberation about the automobile; my parents bought it right away.

The 1963 Chevrolet Bel Air, an IH 560 Tractor,
Brothers Ready for School, and a Fox Terrier

My mother and father enjoyed the 63 Chevy more than I did. The aesthetics of the design did not appeal to me. There was something about the look and feel of the ceiling fabric that turned me off. The color was light aqua. The material felt like plastic, and it had a pattern of tiny circular holes. What can I say? After experiencing the interior of the 57 Chevrolet, the 63 seemed cheap inside. The seat covers also struck me as anything but luxurious. Even the exterior lines of the vehicle made me feel that Chevrolet had lowered its design standards. We were riding in a thin horizontal box with a roof and windows that projected above the box. The lack of chrome and the plain round taillights seemed to proclaim that everything about the car was cheapened to the lowest denominator.

As far as I remember, the car was dependable. It did not languish for long periods of time in Glen Bisel’s shop; rather, it ran and ran in its bland, undistinguished way. My family rode in its cheapness from place to place for many years. The white car reminded me of sour milk: that is, sour milk by itself, not as an ingredient in Elsie Dowden’s delicious cookies!

At the end of its life, the car faded into obscurity, replaced by a 1966 Pontiac Catalina that my parents and I loved. Typical of the Chevrolet was its unremarkable demise; I cannot remember what became of it.

I do fondly recall Elsie Dowden’s cookies, however! Here is her recipe:

Elsie Dowden’s Sour Milk Drop Cookies


1 cup shortening (butter and lard combined)
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour milk (or buttermilk)
1 cup raisins, chopped
½ cup chopped walnuts
4 cups flour
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder (heaping tsp)


Preheat oven to 375°. Cream shortening and sugar. Add beaten eggs. Dissolve baking soda in milk. Sift flour, heaping teaspoon of baking powder, salt, and nutmeg together. Mix all and add floured nuts and raisins. Drop from spoon onto buttered baking sheet. Bake for ten minutes or until the bottom edges begin to turn lightly brown.