Cricket in the 19th Century "Wild West"
Article from the Morris Quarterly - Autumn 1997
CRICKET IN THE 19TH CENTURY "WILD WEST": Although Cricket has been played in North America for over 250 years, it is still considered to be in its infancy! To those of us located in the Rocky Mountains and the Mid-West, it seems as though cricket has always been played in the "Wild West". Perhaps, this idea may be thought of as strange to cricketers in the cricket-centers of today, but the fact is that the game was once encouraged by the city elders of Salt Lake City in 1869 to keep the youth of the day from moping around and socializing with the young from the city.
In 1888, the first cricket match was played in El Paso County, where Colorado Springs is currently located. Due to the large contingent of English residing in the area the town was nicknamed "Little London". As in many other parts of the wild west, a majority of the people living here were young English trying to start out on their own, working to achieve a fortune in the new country.
Newspaper reports refer to the match played on August 24, 1888, as being "long expected and much advertised" where a "large and interested witnesses (sic) the contest". Denver defeated Colorado Springs by an innings and 36 runs although the headline said "by 36 runs". The result was largely played down by the Weekly Gazette (Colorado Springs) August 25, 1888 article in favor of how the match was played. The Denver cricket team had mainly seasoned cricketers who had at least played a lot of cricket in recent years if not all together. The Colorado Springs team, on the other hand had been together for all of two months and had only one practice on the day before the match. Nevertheless, in a true wild west fashion, the Colorado Springs players gave it their all in the field and felt they did well to lose by only as little as they did. The bowling and fielding they had to contend with was of a very high order, and the Denver club had four or five batsmen, at least, whos ability with the willow would entitle them to a place upon it's best eleven in "the Cricket City" of the continent, viz. Philadelphia and this saying a good deal.
The Denver side consisted of "pleasant gentlemen and good cricket players", who had played together as a team and practiced together quite a lot. This was their fifth game in the 1888 season.
Tom Melville in his article "The Wild & the Wicket West" which appeared in "True West", May 1995, describes that another hopping center of cricket was in St. Louis, the largest city in the west, where "the game not only briefly became a symbol of intense civic prestige but was also heralded as proof of the West's increasing importance in relation to the rest of the country. In 1873, St. Louis' two cricket clubs began to look for other cricket clubs to play. They created a combined side and undertook an unprecedented 2,500 mile tour to "all the cricket-playing cities of Canada and the eastern United States".
Although the "touring side" was made up of "local novices and rusty Englishmen", they barnstormed across the country late in the summer, winning almost every game they played, including those against "the best clubs from Chicago, Detroit, Boston and New York"......... a phenomenal feat since St. Louis was considered to be the gateway to the west and to uncharted and uncivilized territory. This caused so much excitement that Missouri's Lt. Governor C. L. Johnson, who played cricket in his youth, "cited the teams record as undeniable proof that no other city is as cosmopolitan as St. Louis". Johnson declared that the rest of the country would finally be forced to "change it's view of trans-Mississippi America". Unfortunately, the St. Louis cricket establishment was in for a disappointment. The clubs which the tourning side had played promised to reciprocate their visit for return matches, but these clubs never appeared. Finally, adding insult to injury, when a group of Philadelphia clubs organized a national tournament in 1875, St. Louis was not extended an invitation.
CRICKET IN THE "WILD WEST" TODAY: Although some of the largest cricket centers are on either coast, cities like St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Tulsa, Omaha, Wichita, Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas have active clubs and talent to match cricketers around the country. A majority of the clubs started as University social sides and clubs. As students graduated and moved out into the community and their place in the College side taken by the incoming talent, they started their own clubs. Since 1985, cricket clubs have more than doubled in the Rocky Mountains and Plains States.
Matches played are primarily of the one day, limited-overs variety, with the number of overs per innings ranging from 25 overs to 40 overs. Leagues administer the running of cricket, where except for Texas, most states have a single league. The Tulsa Cricket Association (in Oklahoma), due to its unique location and entrepreneurial management, have clubs from neighboring states - Kansas and Texas. Houston and Dallas have their own leagues, with new leagues (like the brand new North Texas League) starting up to accomodate the new clubs which start almost every year.
Unlike a century ago, where a majority of cricketers were from England, today, they are laregly from the Indian sub-continent and the Caribbean. This has changed some of the traditional decorum of cricket which is much romanticized like the tea's which included cucumber sandwiches and crumpets, strawberries and cream and silverware. Today, it is just as likely that the popular dishes would have a spicy overtone, one gets a biriyani, served on single-ply paper plates and the plastic utensils...and a cold beverage like pepsi or Coke, might replace tea. Not that this is any better or worse, but it represents the changing of the times, just as astro-turf wickets have replaced prepared turf wickets and "day-night cricket" is just as exciting and popular as "day-cricket". It's all become a matter of convenience. This change is also evident here in the "Wild West" just as it is on either coast.
Not only is cricket being played in the larger cosmopolitan cities of this country, it is also being played in smaller towns and cities. Colorado's Western State College hosts an annual cricket event, first organized by Dr. William Edmondson in 1966 in Gunnison at an elevation of 7,703 feet above sea level. Dr. Edmondson perceived the idea of this student-faculty match when he was casting around for something different for the school's annual Western Days festivities. Since then, the annual student-faculty match has become a permanent fixture at Western State's social schedule. In 1973 Dr. Edmondson Facilitated the first intercollegiate cricket match west of the Mississippi, when he and two other faculty members took 8 students to Los Angeles to play against UCLA's University Cricket Club. It was mostly a social venture, where the UCC was a vastly superior side and made "special considerations" by trading a couple of their best players, Leo Magnus and coach Tony Verity, for three Western States students. The Western State players were also allowed to have scored a minimum of three runs before they were able to be dismissed. Due to the unseasonable cold weather each innings was limited to 4 hours and the match resulted in a 126-126 tie! Not only did WSC get a memorable trip, but UCC donated their old cricket equipment to WSC!....... Only in cricket...!
Today, cricket in the new world looks brighter than it did just a few years ago. With the emergence of the United States Cricket Federation (USCF) and the intervention of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) started to smell the roses and underwent a major change in management. Currently negotiations are underway to combine the best of both the USCF and the USACA to create a responsible and representative national body.
With sports being a "big business" in the US, we need to put our house in order before we can share the fruits of what America has to offer international cricket.
My sincere thanks to Mr. and Mrs. William "Wild Bill" Edmondson and Andrew and Wendy Marris for their contributions.
(We are grateful to our friend, Dan Ruparel, for this fascinating account. A cricketer and golfer, who published "The Cricketer North American Edition" from 1992 through 1995, and is now producing "EntrÉe", a bi-annual magazine on Denver's fine dining and culteral events. Dan also published the official Summit magazine and Media Guide for the Denver Summit of the Eight international economic conference, presided over by the U.S. President, held in Denver in June 1997. A current project is "Golf Safari", where he is taking golfers on tour to South Africa for top level golf. "Golf Safari" tours run from October through Early May..)
FROM: THE AMERICAN CRICKETER - OCTOBER 25, 1888:
Colorado Springs v Denver
Denver 1st Inns. 125
Colorado Springs 1st Inns. 49
Colorado Springs 2nd Inns. 40
The first Cricket match ever witnessed at Colorado Springs was played between the Denver and Colorado Springs clubs, resulting in a victory for the former by an innings and 35 runs. The success of the Denver team was very largely due to the fine batting of Moon and Macpherson, who compiled between them 95 out of 122 runs scored, and in the bowling to the effective deliveries of Dr. Gower and the Macpherson brothers.
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