Pioneer Club Celebrates Origins of Baseball In Pacific Northwest
On May 28, 1866, the Pioneer Base Ball Club of Portland (Oregon) became the first organized baseball club in the Pacific Northwest. They played their first “challenge match” against the Clackamas Base Ball Club of Oregon City later that fall, winning by a score of 77-45. More than one hundred and forty years later, a group of locals keep the spirits of the original pioneers alive by playing friendly games of Civil War era “base ball.”
The sun, high in the summer sky, beats down on a throng of gathering cranks who are being serenaded by a brass band as they anxiously await the start of a friendly base ball match between two local nines. The players exchange pleasantries before dutifully warming up and begin to sweat almost immediately under the weight of their wool uniforms.
At exactly 6:00 p.m., army soldiers from the local barracks fire a cannon to signify the start of the game, and after a coin flip between club captains to determine who bats first, the umpire shouts, “striker to the line,” ordering the first batter to step to the plate. It sounds, looks, and feels like 1866, except that it’s 2009.
Harken back to 1852, if you will, when young Joseph Buchtel, born in Ohio and raised in Illinois, began a long journey that deposited him in Portland, Oregon more than four months later. Buchtel, only 21 at the time, was industrious and successful, having worked as a tailor, farmer, store clerk, brick layer, and photographer before being named Deputy Sheriff of Champaign County, Illinois, at a time when Abraham Lincoln practiced law in the same jurisdiction.
On April 23, Buchtel joined a wagon train 60 strong headed for the Pacific Northwest and arrived in Portland on September 5 with no food in his belly, nor money in his pockets. Travel took longer than expected and the train’s food supply was running out, so Buchtel and a handful of volunteers agreed to forge ahead of the train in an effort to save food. Only three volunteers made it as far as The Dalles, Oregon, the others choosing to stay at camps along the route, and Buchtel had given away all of his money and most of his food to a friend who’d become sick in Warm Springs, 100 miles shy of their destination.
Upon his arrival in Portland, Buchtel secured a few odd jobs before settling on two—he worked as a steward on a river boat and took photographs known as daguerreotypes while working for Leland H. Wakefield. Buchtel eventually bought Wakefield’s studio and forged a successful career in photography. According to the Oregon Historical Society, he was an award-winning photographer who was one of the first to use stereography in the Columbia River Gorge, and who was the first Oregon photographer to take panoramic photos when he was commissioned to photograph Fort Vancouver in 1865. And, according to Joseph Gaston, author of Portland, Oregon: Its History and Builders, Buchtel was “among the first to introduce all kinds of pictures, including ambrotypes, tintypes, solar pictures, porcelain, watch dial pictures, enamel cameos and medalions [sic].”
But Buchtel wasn’t one to rest on his laurels. During his time in Portland he served as county sheriff, First Assistant to the foreman of the Multnomah Fire Engine Company, and Chief Engineer of the Portland Fire Department; organized the East Side Improvement Association, and was instrumental in convincing city officials to build a bridge over the Willamette River, which divides the east and west side of the city.
Buchtel was also quite athletic—he was allegedly one of only three men who were known to run 150 yards in 15 seconds, and was widely heralded for his ability to throw out runners at second base from the pitcher’s box by tossing the ball backwards without looking. In 1866, Buchtel helped found the Pioneer Base Ball Club and within six months was named captain and manager of the team, while also serving as a pitcher and left fielder. Two years later, he was elected president of the Oregon and Washington and Idaho Territories Association of Base Ball Players.
The first nine of the Pioneer squad were an eclectic group but, according to Mike Curtis, were “typical of the type of people who joined baseball clubs of this era. They were mainly the communities’ white collar crowd. A comparison could be made to today’s golf country club members. The ages of the members of the first nine ranged from 18 to 35 with an average age of 28.”
Curtis, a founding member of the current incarnation of the Pioneer Base Ball Club, the team’s captain, and a member of the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry Civil War re-enactment group, researched the history of the Pioneers for his excellent 40-page book, A Splendid Beginning: Baseball Arrives in the Pacific Northwest, 1866-1868.
What he came up with is a goldmine of information, and he was able to fill in some of the blanks thanks to a helpful assist from his catcher, Blaise “Freight Train” Lamphier, who researched the life of original catcher Theodore F. Miner. Lamphier is no stranger to research or writing, having penned Hockey in Rochester: The Americans’ Tradition in 2004, and two more books, one about hockey and one about basketball, expected to be published in 2010. And he’s no stranger to baseball, coming from a long line of diehard Boston Red Sox fans, one of whom used to sell shoes to the Boston Braves.
Miner, a native of Brooklyn, New York, became the team’s first catcher and was elected president of the club at the tender age of 22, serving in that capacity until 1867. During his time with the club, Miner also served as the Recording Secretary for the Library Association of Portland, the precursor to Portland’s first free library in 1902. He left Portland in 1867 and returned to New York, then migrated back to Oregon, settling in La Grande, before bouncing around between Philadelphia, New York City, and Egg Harbor and Vintner, New Jersey. He finally landed back in Philadelphia where he died in 1932.
Edward Quackenbush, the team’s 27-year-old pitcher, was a well-educated New Yorker, who studied political history, composition, philosophy, English, and advanced math before dropping out of school at 15. He moved to Iowa and campaigned for Lincoln, tried to enlist in the Union army at 21 but was denied due to a heart condition, then settled out west, working at various times as a cowboy, cashier, and bookkeeper. He arrived in Portland in 1865, got a job as a bookkeeper, worked in the hardwood lumber business, became president of the Y.M.C.A., and helped establish Portland’s first telephone company, the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company.
First base was manned by Ward K. Witherell, a 30-year-old saloon keeper from Massachusetts; second base belonged to William M. Wadhams, a 34-year-old wholesale grocer from New York; third base was held down by the baby of the bunch, 18-year-old clerk Frank Manley Warren Jr.; shortstop James B. Upton was a 22-year-old attorney from Michigan; center field was manned by 32-year-old Ohio native James Steel; and right fielder Peter Wolfe DeHuff was a 30-year-old steamer engineer from Pennsylvania.
According to Curtis’ dogged research, Upton once accidentally shot himself in the left thumb during a hunting trip—the injury wasn’t serious and he recovered; Steel became the first president of Willamette Savings Bank, and his brother George became a member of the Pioneer Base Ball Club in 1876; and Warren met with a tragic end when he and his wife, Anna, made the fateful decision to board the HMS Titanic in Cherbourg, France on April 10, 1912 after enjoying a three-month tour of Europe to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. After the ship struck an iceberg on April 14, Warren helped his wife and other women and children into a lifeboat, but didn’t board the boat himself and was lost at sea at the age of 63.
Before these men wrote those chapters of their lives, however, they played together in the first match game in the Pacific Northwest. On October 5, 1866 the Pioneers were challenged to a match by the recently-formed Clackamas Base Ball Club, to be played in Oregon City on Saturday, October 13. According to Gregory Paynter Shine, historian and chief ranger at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, games weren’t scheduled as they are today. “The process for establishing a match game [in 1866] provides a fascinating glimpse into the Victorian-era zeitgeist of order and organization. Protocol for one club wishing to play another club dictated that a formal challenge be forwarded to the prospective opponent, directed, of course, to the club’s secretary.”
The Pioneers accepted the challenge and began to prepare for the contest by scrimmaging against each other. Their work paid off as they defeated the Clackamas club by a score of 77-45, plating 42 of their runs in the first two frames, then staving off a late rally when Clackamas scored 21 times in the last two innings. Buchtel paced the Pioneers with 11 runs, Miner and Quackenbush belted two home runs apiece, and DeHuff smacked a four-bagger of his own. Clackamas’ catcher Randall scored eight times, pitcher S.D. Pope homered and scored six times, and left fielder George Harding homered and scored four times.
After the game, the teams repaired to the Barlow House for dinner and drinks and toasted each other into the night. The Oregonian reported that the game was a big success, calling it a “splendid beginning,” and applauded the Clackamas club for their courtesy and much-improved squad, and the Pioneers for not accepting the game ball, “which was properly refused, as the game was a friendly one and not for blood.”
Local challenges were all well and good, but the Pioneers wanted to be recognized nationally, so they sent a delegate to New York in December to represent them at the National Base Ball convention. From there, baseball in the Pacific Northwest took off and, according to Curtis, Portland had 17 different teams by July 1867. Excitement about baseball had also spilled over into Washington, which saw two teams, the Occidental Base Ball Club of Vancouver and the Sherman Base Ball Club of the Vancouver Barracks, made up of army soldiers, formed in May. They met on the field for the first time on May 11, 1867.
The Shermans, led by the 8th U.S. Cavalry and 2nd U.S. Artillary, challenged the Occidentals to a match game, then whipped their neighbors to the tune of a 45-5 beating that local newspapers called a “flaxing.” The teams met again on September 26 and this time the 2nd U.S. Artillery and 1st U.S. Cavalry led the Shermans to victory over the Occidentals by a count of 52-25.
Fast forward 142 years later, back to the future, circa 2009, when these teams would meet again at Ft. Vancouver, represented by men almost five generations removed from the original nine. Men like Curtis, leading off and playing second base for the Shermans; “Freight Train” Lamphier, catching for the Occidentals; Greg Moore, who serves as president of the Pioneers, but pitches for the Shermans on this day; and Dave McCloskey and Emmett Gauntt, who serve as secretary and treasurer of the Pioneers, but make up the left side of the Shermans’ infield for this particular match. In fact, most, if not all, of the Pioneers are playing in this game.
It’s something they’ve been doing for most of this decade. “In 2000 or 2001, John Burpee, Ranger at the National Historic Reserve at Fort Vancouver, spoke to Greg Moore and myself about the possibility of creating an exhibition 1860s baseball game on the parade grounds for the public,” Curtis explains. “As we are members of the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry re-enactment group and have been volunteers at the site in the past, along with historical evidence that soldiers in the period played the game on the site, it was a natural fit. We’ve been playing two games per year in July and August since that time.
“After doing research on the game from the time we started playing at the fort, Greg and I decided to resurrect the Pioneers. We were lucky to find a photo of the Pioneers so we were able to copy the uniforms.
“We made a point of recreating the club on the 140th anniversary of the original Pioneers creation date (May 28, 1866), and we also played our first game on the 140th anniversary of the Pioneer/ Clackamas game (October 13th 1866).”
The differences between the modern game and this “friendly” are obvious and startling. The atmosphere is casual, of course; spectators inadvertently mark the boundaries of the field, sitting in lawn chairs down each base line that stretch from home plate to the outfield. There’s no outfield fence, so families who don’t mind sitting farther away from the action pepper the outer reaches from left to right. They probably figure the homemade lemon peel ball won’t reach them, being “dead” and all, but they’ll learn soon enough how wrong they are.
Women and girls in crinoline-supported dresses and carrying parasols to shade themselves from the hot sun wander the grounds and hand out programs. The Shermans are dressed in military uniforms typical of the period, while the Occidentals are decked out in beautifully designed replica uniforms that bear some resemblance to the modern uniform, but haven’t yet evolved into that more familiar style.
In the field, the players don’t wear gloves—gloves weren’t introduced until four years later and were considered “unmanly,” and the practice of using a glove didn’t catch on until the mid-1890s—and at the plate, batters, called “strikers,” use homemade bats hewn from ash.
The Shermans win the coin toss and elect to bat first. The Occidentals pitcher, also known as a hurler or feeder, takes his position in a six-by-three foot area called a pitcher’s point that’s only 45 feet from home base, which is shaped like a circle. The striker stands not in a batter’s box, but straddles a line running across home. The catcher, also called the “behind,” stands behind the batter and catches the pitches on a bounce.
The umpire stands off to the side and makes out and safe calls on the bases, but rarely calls balls and strikes. A ball is called only when the pitcher intentionally delays the game; a strike is called only when the striker intentionally delays the game or he swings at a pitch and misses. In fact, it’s the pitcher’s duty to serve each pitch to the batter’s liking and he does so with an underhand motion.
The rest of the defense is composed exactly as one would expect—a first, second, and third baseman, also known as “base tenders,” man the bases; a shortstop, also known as a “short scout,” plays between second and third; and three outfielders, also called right, mid, and left “scouts,” man the outfield.
Outs are recorded by catching a batted ball in the air or on one bounce, although the latter practice is considered unmanly and often results in taunts from the cranks or opposing players, or fielding a grounder and throwing the runner out, just as players do today. If a runner overruns first base, he can be tagged out. When a player is put out, the umpire announces it as a “hand out” or “hand dead.”
The rules of this game are ones adopted by the National Association of Base Ball Players on December 9, 1863 at the New York convention, and subsequently included in the 1864 edition of Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player written by Henry Chadwick.
Play begins and the competition is spirited and friendly. A discussion between Sherman manager Emmett Gauntt and the umpire results in a call being overturned in the first inning. Instead of a nose-to-nose, spittle-laced tirade, Gauntt calmly points out a mistake by the umpire, who unashamedly concurs, apologizes to the teams and the fans, then orders the Occidentals back onto the field to complete the inning. The Occidentals comply without a fuss.
And so it goes. Lamphier drives a ball deep to left field in his first at bat and I can’t help but root for him because he’s a Red Sox fan afterall, whose first autograph came from my boyhood idol, Carl Yastrzemski. Fans and players cheer the action with cries of “Huzzah, Huzzah!” when someone does well. But when the Sherman left fielder, playing in his socks no less, catches a drive on a bounce for an out, fans and opponents good-naturedly shout “unmanly.”
It may be considered unmanly, but the play requires reflexes and judgment as more than one batted ball takes a crazy, unexpected hop, making clean plays all the more notable. Gauntt is particularly impressive at third base and makes several very good plays. He later admits to me that he’s the only one on the Sherman team with prior playing experience, having played little league, Babe Ruth, and Senior Babe Ruth in Wyoming before playing for Cape Cod Community College.
But to me that makes this exhibition that much more authentic. Baseball was in its infancy in the 1860s and many of the players would have had little to no experience playing the game. Because of that, Gauntt, who also drives the ball farther than everyone else, stands out.
So does Bob Knight, the Sherman’s first baseman, who makes several fine defensive plays of his own and inadvertently provides the crowd with the game’s most humorous moment when he belts a ball past the outfielders and attempts to round the bases while his pants are falling down. Knight is able to keep his pants on and makes it all the way around for a home run, much to the delight of the cheering crowd. The umpire, feigning shock at the impropriety, apologizes to the fans for what he calls the runner’s “hostile disrobement,” drawing a hearty laugh from us all.
The participants do their best to take us back in time and, for the most part, they’re successful. Cries of “Strike well, Sir!” are aimed at batters and, at one point, the umpire stops the game to remind the Occidentals’ pitcher that his duty is to cater to the whims of the batter and not try to strike him out. The pitcher demands to know if the arbiter is accusing him of “ungentlemanly conduct,” then challenges him to a duel.
But every once in a while, the present creeps in, as is the case when the Occidentals resort to wearing rally caps in the eighth inning. The caps work for a spell as they stage a late rally to pull to within one at 12-11, but the Shermans hold on for a hard-fought victory. At a time when more than 100 runs is not uncommon—Clackamas defeated the Pioneers 123-76 in 1868 in a game that lasted almost five hours—it’s a low-scoring affair, but no one seems to mind. The winning club gathers in the middle of the field and cheers on the Occidentals with three rounds of “Hip, Hip, Huzzah!”
After the game, the participants pose for a group photo while onlookers snap pictures. The significance of the moment is not lost on me, as baseball and photography converge.
Somewhere Joseph Buchtel is smiling.
Special thanks to Mike Curtis, Greg Moore, Blaise Lamphier, Emmett Gauntt, Dave McCloskey, Bob Knight, and Greg Shine for their time, generosity, and information crucial to the completion of this article. May you always strike well, sirs.
Curtis, Michael. A Splendid Beginning: Baseball Arrives in the Pacific Northwest, 1866-1868 (self-published)
Gaston, Joseph. Portland, Oregon : Its History and Builders in Connection With the Antecedent Explorations, Discoveries and Movements of the Pioneers That Selected the Site For the Great City of the Pacific. (S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1911)
Shine, Gregory Paynter. “On the Fly: The Rise of Organized Base Ball in the Portland-Vancouver Area.” Columbia Magazine, Spring 2007
Oregon Historical Society