CHAPTER III: FREEDOM IS
High School Senior
I had now reached
the eighth grade and would soon be ready for high school. Most people there
were satisfied to settle down to farm life or working in t he logging business
after finished common school. Not many of the young people ever left Freedom.
The town of Spencer, the county seat of Owen County, ten miles from Freedom,
had a good high school.
My grandfather had insisted that his children all get a high school
education, so they went to Spencer and all managed to graduate, including
my mother. She also insisted that I go to high school.
To pass from the eighth grad, we had to visit the county seat and take
an examination to receive a diploma from what we now call elementary school.
It was a long, competitive ordeal and many failed, but passing was an assurance
that one was equipped to cope with life around the farm or in the small
town of Freedom.
I passed the county examinations in good shape and was ready for high
school. The fact that my father was a railroad man gave me a free pass
to ride the cushions as a passenger. The train left Freedom at 7 a.m. and
arrived at Spencer in time for me to get to classes. The train I took home
was at 7 p.m. After school ended at 4, I would practice basketball during
the season. I made the team as center, and on game nights, I stayed overnight
with some friends of my parents. (The school did not have football or baseball.)
When basketball season was over, I went to the public library and did my
homework until train time.
The four years of high school were routine, and I graduated with average
grades. My social life was limited because I had to go home every night
and could not participate in formal activities, such as class parties or
dances. My summers were spent working on my uncle's nearby farm. The pay
was small for farm labor -- one dollar a day.
In my senior year of high school I was given a summer scholarship to
Culver Military Academy. One student from almost every high school in the
state was given this opportunity as a recruiting idea. The students were
introduced to the academy, and many returned to enroll. I couldn't afford
In my senior year, the good Lord presented my parents with my baby sister,
Joanna. It was in January 1916 in below zero weather. It happened while
I as in Terre Haute on a basketball trip with the Spencer team. As I got
off the train on my return to Freedom, I was told that both my mother and
the baby were in serious condition and not expected to live. This was my
first real emotional shock.
The country doctor was not equipped for the necessary surgery, and forceps
were his only solution. It was a miracle that they pulled through. My sister
grew up to be a beautiful woman, and married to a fine chap, Wray Orem.
They were blessed with a son and now she has three beautiful grandchildren.
In 1916, I graduated from Spencer High School, but was not too keen
on going away to college. However, my parents insisted I get a good education.
My father had missed out on this, but my mother had been fortunate enough
to attend Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana. She majored in music,
and became an accomplished pianist and singer. She taught music and played
the organ in church. She insisted I learn piano, but I fought the idea
so she soon gave up on me, much to her disappointment. At the time I was
too excited about swimming, sports, and hunting, and fishing. Besides,
I thought it was "sissy" to play the piano. How wrong I was!
When I quit taking lessons, my dad sold the wonderful Baldwin, and bought
a player-piano. It was such a novelty in this small, country town that
people would gather around the house and listen to my father give concerts.
In the fall of 1916, I entered Indiana University. My mother's younger
brother, Freal McIntosh, was a senior at the university and a law student.
He was also a football star, which paved the way for me. He was captain
of the team and a great fullback, loved at a fraternity house, and was
the proverbial big man on campus. My family decided I couldn't afford a
fraternity, so I rented a room in a private house.
My mother had hoped that I would someday become a doctor because she
knew how a community without a doctor suffered, so I enrolled in pre-medical
Even though I had no football experience, I could hardly wait to go
out for the freshman team. I had followed my uncle's career and was really
bitten by the football bug. I was 6'4" by now and weighed 220 pounds, which
was a pretty good start for a football prospect. Many of the other candidates
were high school heroes with four years of experience. These hotshots were
given the best equipment and we unknowns got all the leftover suits, pads,
and shows; most of them several years old and pretty ragged. The second
and third assistants took charge of this motley group that looked like
a Mack Sennett comedy team.
My family and I soon decided I needed a job to help out on the expenses.
My dad had a pretty good job, but salaries in those days were meager. I
knew from the start that I would have to work to help pay my way. This
was in the days before athletic scholarships and payrolls for athletes.
College sports were in their infancy and the games were not so commercial.
They had small, stadiums and even smaller budgets.
My uncle Freal got me a job taking care of the huge olympic-size swimming
pool that required two or three hours of work every day. For this I received
all my fees, tuition and dues, but no cash. I was grateful to get even
that much because it saved money that I could use in other ways.
I moved up pretty fast in this freshman squad. It soon became apparent
that with a little training I could be a good lineman. I started out as
a center on the third team of the freshman squad. After two or three weeks,
I made the second team, and got a chance to prove myself at scrimmage against
the first team's center. One day we were called to play the varsity in
a practice game, and I was moved to the first team because I was larger
and faster. I had a new uniform and shoes and a helmet.
My uncle was fullback on this varsity squad, and it was a great thrill
to play against him. He was glad to see me coming along so well and got
together with the head coach of the varsity. Jumbo Steihm, to give me a
workout. What an understatement! Nine out of ten plays were called right
over center for the entire game. I was really hit hard and tested to the
limit, but stopped almost every play. This gave the coaches a good look
at me and I became first-string center. I had a big write-up in the college
paper, and from then on, created a lot of attention on campus because I
had beaten out the all-state high school center from Terre Haute.
I had invitations from all the fraternities and my ego was soaring.
Alas, there was a fly in the medical ointment. The dean of the medical
school called me on the carpet and said, "Your grades are far below requirements
and you must choose between medical school and football." I told the dean
I would let him know, I was terribly shocked and my family was disappointed,
but they left the decision up to me. The next day I called on the dean
and told him I had decided to drop out of medical school and switch over
to Liberal Arts -- that football had already gotten into my blood.
Some courses were necessary for all the freshmen anyway, but I dropped
those relating to medicine. I picked courses recommended by my coach because
by this time he figured I was going to be a pretty good athlete. He knew
the right professors, and the going was going to be touch. They also had
a tutor for me up fast.
The freshman team was used as a punching bag for the varsity. Each week
we were given a set of plays to master that were picked up by the scouts
from the teams that the varsity was going to play that week. As soon as
we were proficient enough, we could go to the varsity field and pretend
we were Ohio State or Purdue or Wisconsin. This routine taught us a lot
of football but involved a lot of punishment as well. Our team was good
enough, however, to give them a battle. We had recruited a lot of good
material from all over the country. Coach Jumbo Steihm had made a great
reputation at Nebraska, and Indiana was touted to become conference champions
Then along came basketball. The daily student paper gave me a write-up
because I had been a good player in high school, and it looked as though
I would be pretty good material for the freshman basketball team. I was
still having money problems, though, and my dad couldn't help me much because
he had bought a farm and had a mortgage.
So I took another job with the laundry and had the entire campus as
my territory. I solicited all the fraternities, sororities, and boarding
houses until I had a find little business going. But it took a lot of time
-- so much time, in fact, that I had to drop out of basketball even though
I was making the team.
I got a commission on all the laundry that I could drum up. Collecting
for it wasn't easy, but I managed to hustle up fifteen to twenty dollars
a week in commissions. By the time I did my studies, the laundry and the
pool work, there wasn't any time left for basketball or baseball.
I managed to go out for track because I could practice at special times.
I went out for the weights and with the cooperation of the coach, worked
out alone on the javelin, shot, discus, and hammer. At one of our meets,
I made four first places and broke three records on the shot, javelin and
In the summer of 1917, I worked for the railroad as a relief telegraph
operator. (Every few miles there were traffic stations with passing tracks
and station operators.) I was the youngest operator on the division at
that time, so learning telegraphy paid off to the tune of $150 a month.
That fall I successfully went out for the varsity team. I had been given
the name of Babe because I was the youngest, although I was the biggest
man on the team. The Arbutus yearbook called me "one of the best centers
Indiana football followers had seen for some time." Jumbo Steihm had been
a star center at Wisconsin, and really taught me how to play the position.
That season included the sweetest victory I ever savored, a 37-0 win
over rival Purdue. Purdue had registered a protest against half a dozen
of our players the night before, charging they had played a Sunday game
for a mining town near Bloomington. As a matter of fact, they had -- but
so had some Purdue players, and nobody had seen any money change hands.
The first reaction of Jumbo Steihm and the players was not to play,
but the alumni and administration insisted. We fielded a makeshift team
that hadn't practiced together, including a number of second-stringers.
Sherman Minton told his brother, Roscoe (known as "Cow"), who was shifted
from end to halfback, that he would give him ten bucks for every touchdown.
After three or four, Sherman was yelling from the sidelines to quarterback
Benny Cravens, "Give the ball to somebody else before I go broke!'
I was again approached by several fraternities. My uncle had now graduated
and I did not feel obligated to join his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon,
though it was a fine outfit. Several men on the freshman squad belonged
to the Phi Delta Theta. They offered me work at the house that would help
pay my room and board. It consisted of making the fifty-five beds in the
dormitory and firing the furnace. I was also given another job at the athletic
department as assistant gym class drills, and be a general handyman for
two classes each day. I also had the laundry route again but gave up the
swimming pool job.
I accepted the invitation and moved into the Phi Delta Theta house.
I had the honor of being ceremoniously pledged by Sherman Minton, who was
president of the chapter. Later, under President Roosevelt, he was appointed
to the Supreme Court. He as also a United States Senator before he was
appointed to the Court. My father and I both campaigned for him in his
Senate race. He became a close fire of mine through the years.
It was 1917 by now and World War I was going full blast. At the end
of the first semester of this year, there was a crash recruiting drive
going on all over the country. Indiana University opened a recruiting
effort by having a small rally with speeches and an enormous bonfire. Under
a wave of patriotism and aroused emotions, almost all of the football team
and hundreds of students joined the Army.
On induction day, the recruiting officer asked if anyone had any military
experience. Having been to Culver Military Academy that one summer, I raised
my hand. I was the only to raise his hand. He asked me to step out of line
and the sergeant took my name.
After we were sworn in, we were told that half of us would be sent to
Ft. Sheridan and half to Camp Taylor Kentucky. Ft. Sheridan was an officer's
training school and Camp Taylor was training grounds for the 150th Field
Artillery, known as the Rainbow Division. I drew Ft. Sheridan, Illinois,
near Chicago. Here I immediately became an infantry drill instructor.
Most of my buddies and team-mates were sent to Camp Taylor for a rush
program for overseas. I was terribly disappointed at my lot as I wanted
to get into quick action with my friends and go to the front.
We were sent home and told to be ready to leave for camp in two days.
My family was not too happy as I was only seventeen years old. Many tears
were shed by mother and a lot of advice given me by my dad. My parents
accompanied me back to Bloomington for departure to camp. It was a rip-roaring
sendoff band, speeches, and flags waving all over the place. I was told
I would be in charge of the Fr. Sheridan group. Although I was younger
than most of the men, the military training got me the job.
At Ft. Sheridan, the Indiana bunch was joined by a contingent from the
University of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin group included Fredric March, who
later became the famous movie star (his real name was Fredric Bickel),
also future Governor of Wisconsin, Philip LaFollette.
After a few weeks, I was selected to take a troop train of recruits
to Camp Gordon, Georgia, and became a drill instructor.
The friends that enlisted with me went into the artillery and were sent
over almost immediately. Over the mantle in our fraternity house is a plaque
listing thirty men killed in action. Fate spared me just because of my
summer scholarship at Culver Military, and the closes I ever got to the
trenches was on a Hollywood set.
The war ended while I was in Camp Gordon, but I didn't go back to college
immediately because I didn't want to waste a year's eligibility for football.
I took a job as a plant guard -- or all-round policeman -- at a government
nitrate plant in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a large, fenced-in reservation
that employed several thousand people who lived in barracks and ate in
a mess hall.
My first job here was riding fence on horseback. Later, I drove a patrol
wagon on the night shift. The town was divided into black and white sections,
but there were saloons and red-light districts for all. Riots and fights
were commonplace and the police had their hands full, keeping the peace,
especially on pay day. I witnessed many brawls, and waded in with my riot
stick to make arrests. Stabbings and shootings were routine. There were
even some lynchings, something I hope nobody ever will witness again.
When fall arrived, I picked up where I had left off as center on the
varsity squad, as well as all three of my old jobs. The yearbook stated,
"Pierce played a stellar game this year as center. He . . . has the reputation
of being one of the best centers in the Big Ten Conference." Track was
a rerun of my first year, turning in several points in all meets.
was during this year that I had my first romance, with Agnes McConnell.
She was the athletic type, playing center on the championship basketball
team. I gave her my Phi Delta Theta fraternity pin as soon as I was initiated.
We were very much in love. I went with no other girl during my college
I had never learned to dance but was required to go to all the fraternity
house dances. The annual formal was a big affair, and each fraternity and
sorority gave one. They brought up jazz bands from the South, many from
Louisville. The hottest outfit around was the Brown Brothers -- real jazz.
Those of us without tuxedos took our measurements and ordered the suits
from Indianapolis by mail. When my suit arrived, it was far too small.
They either didn't have my size or got it mixed up. The pants were high
water and the sleeves hit halfway down my arm. The mid-section between
my belt and my vest was all white shirt because the vest was about half
I tried to get out of going to this dance, but no luck I didn't know
a one-step from a waltz, and it was perhaps the worst evening of my life.
I had several dances on my list besides Agnes. The dance programs were
filled in those days, usually before the dance started, but it not, dances
could be traded. Agnes was a good dancer and popular, so I had to walk
all over the toes of a lot of sweet young things as I jiggled up and down.
It was quite a mental ordeal for me and a physical one for them. Sweat
wilted my collar. One girl I danced with had a black sequin dress that
faded all over my white shirt. Each dance seemed interminable. Just when
I thought it was finished, applause would start it all over again.
After that horrible experience, Agnes decided to do something about
my dancing, so each time I had a date with her she spent a lot of tim e
in the sorority house living room teaching me how to dance. Finally, I
was passable and before I graduated, I could cut a mean rug.
That year I chose economics as my major and sociology as my minor subject.
My science was geology and my foreign language was Spanish. Political Science
fascinated me, and money and banking were my best subjects. My grades were
very good but I still had no particular career goal. As far as returning
to medical school after graduation from liberal arts, there was no possibility
due to lack of time and money.
Instead of going back to the railroad that summer as a telegraph operator,
I made hay more literally. My roommate, varsity quarterback Benny Cravcens
of California, had heard about big money being made in the Kansas wheat
fields by harvest hands. They were paying gone dollar an hour plus
board and room; it was also a chance to keep in shape for football. We
could work as much as fourteen hours a day from sunup to sundown. Mat Collier,
a track man from Colby, Kansas, gave us all the dope on how to get a job,
but getting there was our problem. Since I was a telegraph operator, I
flashed my Order of Railroad Telegraphers card often and easily caught
freight train rides heading west. We made it in about a week and got a
job right off the bat in Manhattan, Kansas, the home town of another fellow
we knew in college. His father had a general store there and soon got us
As fast as one job ended , we moved on west. Wheat ripened earlier in
eastern Kansas and harvest hands followed the harvest westward all summer.
The food was good because all the wheat field owners worked together. The
women would take turns helping the lady who had the harvest hands at that
time. At daylight we'd have a breakfast, and at 10 a.m., they'd come by
in a buckboard with another feed, then we had a regular noon meal. At 4
p.m., they'd come by again.
We wound up in Colby after making a pretty good bankroll, most of which
was sent home. Colby was not far from the Colorado border, so we decided
to see Denver and Pike's Peak, which then seemed very far west. We rode
a White Steamer bus to the top of Pike's Peak and brought back a pebble
from the grave of Buffalo Bill. We had enough money to buy tickets back
to Indiana and enough stories to last a long while.
We went out west to get in shape, but we were soon muscle-bound from
the hard grind of harvesting. We weren't quite as nimble as we should have
been for the start of the season. However, with a lot of steam baths, rubdowns,
and workouts, we were soon back in the pink.
The year 1919 was one of the best football seasons that Indiana University
ever had; but it could not quite win the Big Ten title or beat Notre Dame.
Centre College was also on the schedule and one of the best teams in
the United States for about four years. It is a small college in Danville,
Kentucky. Coach Charlie Moran brought the team, almost intact, from North
Forth Worth High School when he accepted the Centre College job. Under
Moran, North Fort Worth had won the national high school championship,
so it only had to pick up from where it left off to become one of the best
college teams in the country right off the bat. They beat Harvard that
year, much to Harvard's embarrassment.
Indiana held Centre 3-0 until the last two minutes of the game. Bo McMillin
was the big star, along with Red Roberts, both to become All-Americans
later on in their careers. The field that day was a quagmire of mud and
water. It had rained the entire night before and all during the game. Through
all of this, a never-to-be-forgotten battle raged.
As Wilton Hazzard wrote, breathlessly, in the Illustrated Football Annual
"The Hoosiers counted on Pierce to stop McMillin. In fact, they were
confident they would break the Praying Coloniels' winning streak.
"But wait. A week before Big Jumbo had been hurt (the writer's nicknames
for me). A bruised and swollen ankle refused to come around properly. And
Pierce was warned by the doctor.
"'You may have a permanently lame leg if you play,' he was told.
"Pierce listened; knew he ought to obey. The ankle pained with the slightest
move. But he knew his team wanted him. Besides, there was the unvoiced
challenge of McMillen -- the fleet-footed Bo --and Jumbo bound his ankle
as tightly as he could. He had to play.
"The day was dank and miserable. The fast elusive McMillin could not
do his stuff in slippery footing, so Red Roberts, with his bull-like rushes,
had to do the real gaining for Centre. Time and time again, Red tried.
He smashed his bulk against the Indiana line, head down, the ball gripped
in iron fingers. Each time two giants met, for Jumbo Pierce was there.
And after each grinding smash, Jumbo would limp back to his position to
wait for another charge.
"Then before the first half ended, Indiana chalked up a field goal,
and the day was gloomier for Centre.
"In the dressing room, the Colonels talked it over quietly. This fellow
Pierce of Indiana stood between them and victory on one limping leg, and
it would have been easy to do things to that leg in the melee, but even
victory was not so dear that they should try to win at the price of a man.
Throughout two periods they had played Pierce carefully. NO molly-coddling,
but no piling either. You had to give a gallant foe his chance. Perhaps
the second half . . .
"The whistle blew, and the battle went on as before. Red Roberts plunging
at the line, McMillin lost in t he slippery field, and Jumbo Pierce was
"A break gave Centre the ball for a first down on Indiana's four-yard
line. The brittle bark of signals rings -- the ball snaps back and Roberts
hammers tackle. How can human bone and flesh resist the leaping, smashing
impact of the red tornado, driving for a touchdown? Four yards to score.
But up rises the figure of Jumbo Pierce. The crash of Titans meeting. And
-- no gain. Again they send Red Roberts at the line Again Pierce is there.
The stands are in an uproar. This is Roberts who has never been halted
when scant yards are needed for touchdown.
"With gritted teeth, Jumbo crouches at his post. The cruelly swollen
ankle makes him numb to everything but the man with the ball. It is Roberts.
Always Roberts. Here he comes again. Indiana has to stop him or Centre
sure will score. Pierce digs in his cleats and dives again. And Roberts
is halted in his tracks.
"Centre went into a huddle. Clipping was legal then. Let one man fall
on Pierce's leg. The giant would be out and scoring would come next. But
no. These boys who had journeyed up from Danville scorned such means. A
sporting victory or nothing. Keep hammering Red Roberts.
"Jumbo Pierce stopped Roberts every time he moved. He covered ground
like a grasshopper and tackled like a ton of granite. There was sort of
an unholy joy in holding Centre, in smashing down each mad attack, in turning
back the tricky plays of the great Bo McMillin.
"Indiana took the ball on downs close to the side lines. Bo dropped
back to safety position. Indiana stands were cheering wildly now, for hardly
more than a minute of play remained. They would punt out of danger, and
victory was theirs. The band came marching down, instruments gleaming from
the rain. A minute more and then the triumphant snake dance.
"Bo saw it all from t he corner of his eye. He heard the shouting crowd.
Heard them asking where the great Centre team was. What happened to the
great Bo McMillin.
"The Centre quarterback grinned gamely. Let them laugh It wasn't too
late yet. The Praying Colonels had come through before.
"Skyward went the punt and a rousing cheer rose with it. Bo made the
catch and was down on Indiana's forty-yard line. It was time to do or die.
A long pass. Incomplete. Another. Knocked down. Another and Armstrong caught
it fifteen yards from where it left McMillin's hand.
"The lines formed. Jumbo Pierce ground his teeth and set himself to
hold again for Indiana. What could they hope to gain with Roberts? Pierce
will stop him like a streamroller. But Roberts doesn't get it. There goes
Bo McMillin, the elusive, lightning Bo, the lad they said couldn't run
on a slippery field. Swift as light and as sure as a bullet. McMillin went
to the seven-yard line before he was hauled down.
"Another play. They watched McMillin now. And Roberts hurled himself
across the goal line for a touchdown. Centre kicked off, and there was
still a dying chance for Indiana. With the Hoosiers battling stubbornly,
they sought to sneak a forward pass. Up from nowhere leaped McMillin to
snare the ball. Sixty yards away the goal line beaconed and Bo was travelling,
Indiana tried to stop him. Jumbo Pierce , limping with an ankle that was
twice its normal size, tried to overhaul him. No use. Bo's feet were winged,
the score was up. Another touchdown. Bo McMillin had won the duel."
Just before Bo intercepted the fatal pass, he took time out to strip
off all his pads, sweater and pants. Clad only in his gym shorts, he was
slick as a greased pig, breaking away for two touchdowns, the last one
in the last few seconds of play. This 12-3 loss went down in Indiana football
history as its greatest heartbreaker.
However, we did win a big one that year over Syracuse, the champions
of the east. Score 12-6. There was dancing in the streets after that one.
Hundreds of Hoosier supporters were thrown into a bedlam of excitement.
The University annual, "The Arbutus," for 1919 stated the following
kind words about me: "He was a bulwark of strength in Indiana's line. Few
Centers could withstand the all-powerful charge of Pierce and fewer wished
to try it again after attempting it."
The outcome of another big game was influenced by a racial ruling when
we played Iowa in Indianapolis. We held all of our gib games there because
our little field in Bloomington offered only bleachers and held few people.
We used Washington Park, home of the professional baseball team in Indianapolis
When the Iowa team went to the hotel, the clerk wouldn't let Duke Slater
register because he was black. This was my first introduction to segregation.
Ironically enough, it was the Lincoln Hotel. Slater didn't make any fuss
about this; but the University of Iowa threatened not to play. Slater,
being big-hearted, eased the pressure by saying, "I'll stay with a friend
in the Black area of Indianapolis." This incident made the Iowa players
so furious they played way over their heads, and a fumble in the last minute
of play cost us the game, 14-7.
We failed to win the Big Ten title with our 5-2 record, but we did get
gold footballs for our work. That wa considered quite a trophy dangling
from a pocket watch chain, even though it wasn't for the championship.
We wore it proudly, and I later gave it away to one of my girl friends.
In August, 1977, this football came to me here in Apple Valley through
the mail from New Hampshire. No letter . . . evidently the person I had
given it to had passed on and her family returned it at her request.
We had an open date on our schedule, and Steihm sent some key players
to scout Purdue and Notre Dame, whom we were to play later. I was assigned
to Notre Dame, and among many other things, I was to get the age, weight,
years on the team, and positions of each player. I sneaked into the varsity
locker room in the gymnasium to check the weight chart kept near the scales.
As a spy, I was no James Bond. Just as I was copying the chart , who
should walk in the room but coach Knute Rockne himself. He immediately
noticed me and challenged my presence. After a long pause, he recognized
me from pictures in the newspapers. "What the devil are you doing here?"
When I told him my story, he laughed heartily and said, "I'll be damned.
What will that old fox, Jumbo Steihm, think of next? Come to my office
and I will help you fill out your charts." Then he told me to tell Jumbo
that he could give him all their plays and still beat him.
He also offered to let me sit on the bench with the team and watch the
game. I thanked him profusely, but declined the invitation because I was
supposed to sit high in the grandstand at the end of the field to chart
Notre DAme formations and plays. I returned to Bloomington with quite a
comprehensive report and was congratulated by Steihm. I did not tell him,
however, what Rockne had done for me and what he had boasted for fear of
deflating Steihm's ego.
We almost beat Notre DAme in that game, but Rockne had a freak play
up his sleeve. In the last minute of play, Indiana was ahead. Quarterback
"Little Dutch" Bergman -- his older brother, "Big Dutch" also was a great
athlete at Notre Dame -- called a play through the line, where he took
the ball directly from the center. It looked like a quarterback sneak coming,
but instead of running, he just dropped in his tracks and screamed bloody
murder. It was such a shock that the referee even forgot to blow the whistle.
That was part of the calculated risk of the play. As everyone gathered
around to see what had happened, George Gipp suddenly was tossed the ball
from Berman and ran forty yards to a touchdown. The play beat us by three
At least my scouting paid off for me. I was given an award by an Indianapolis
Newspaper for making the most tackles in the game by any player on either
team. I knew just about what was going to happen on every play except the
one that won the game.
In 1920/1921 school year, which was my last, and also the centennial
year for the University, Indiana had an enrollment of 2,000.
When the state university system began, half of the operation was given
to the central part of the state in Bloomington, 65 miles south of Indianapolis
. This was to include liberal arts, medicine, and law. The other half went
to Lafayette, and was called Purdue University, which had a curriculum
on agriculture and mechanics. Most of the other state colleges, eventually
known as the Big Ten, had all their students on one campus, putting Indiana
as a permanent athletic disadvantage. This explains why Indiana has had
few championship football teams, though it finally won the Big Ten in 1968,
only to be outclassed at the Rose Bowl by O.J. Simpson and USC.
Luckily, the fraternity decided to give me the best job in the college
as house manager. I was in charge of the entire business operation of the
fraternity; supervising the kitchen help, keeping the books, buying the
groceries, and collecting the dues, board and room. This paid a salary
as well as all my living expenses. I faced many crises, but kept the fraternity
solvent, while also continuing my work at the gym.
The Arbutus summed up my career for that season: "Babe Pierce's last
year was his greatest. It will be many a year before there comes to Indiana
University a varsity football center of the size and calibre of Pierce.
For four years, he has been a line bastion. Combined with his tremendous
weight, he possessed speed and savage tackling. He became invincible toward
the close of the season and was a wonder of roving center in the Notre
Dame and Purdue games. He outclassed all other centers in the state and
was named All-State center" I was the fastest man on the squad in all the
wind sprints and races, beating the fleet-footed backs as well as the linemen.
A cartoon of a caveman with my head on top asserted, "The PHi Delta feed
this bird raw meat three times a day or maybe more. Sometimes he likes
a freshman to eat. He strewed one field with Purdue gore." (A-la Tarzan!)
In my senior year, I was selected to the Sphinx Club, a social club
of men who had made a name for themselves in various college activities.
It was a high honor to make this exclusive organization, formed in 1910.
Members were also called the "Book Nookers" for a meeting place near the
campus that was a Greek candy kitchen and soda fountain., It is still there,
only larger, and is where Hoagy Carmichael played the piano and tried out
such original compositions as "Star Dust," "Old Rocking Chair," and "Buttermilk
Sky." The club originated when sociability developed into a regular if
uncredited course in the university.
Membership is limited to upper classmen from the Greek letter fraternities.
Five seniors are elected to the organization each year. Sphinxers are of
three types: scholars, athletes, and other men prominent on the campus.
Members' claim of distinction is based upon the black and white toque,
a hat with little or no brim, and often with a soft or full crown.
In 1919, I was also elected to Mu Beta fraternity, founded among college
and university men at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station during the
summer of 1918. After being discharged, the men founded chapters in schools
throughout the Midwest. Its scope was increased to admit any man who served
during the Great War.
This group was an offshoot of Theta Nu Epsilon, which was outlawed in
the Ivy League and other Easter universities. It was a more rowdy group
that did a little drinking from time to time, though drinking wasn't a
serious problem in college then. Drugs were never used. Sex was at the
old-fashioned level, and homosexuality was unheard of until one was discovered
and a group of students hijacked him, took him far from the campus, stripped
him of all his clothes and left him alone in the woods. The story went
that he discovered a light in a farmhouse and aroused the farmer, whom
he scared out of his wits, told him of his plight, and borrowed some overalls.
He withdrew from school and was never seen again on the campus.
I was also elected chairman of the Student Affairs Committee dealing
with all sorts of problems and misdemeanors. Hanky-panky on dates went
on, of course. Many college romances ended in marriage.
But this was not to be for my darling Agnes and me. Agnes graduated
in June 1920, but I was out of school my last half year due to the Army.
Letters were regular, however, and our love persisted.
I graduated in February 1921, almost a year behind my original class.
I was given credit for one semester's work for being in t eh Army and only
had one semester to make up. I soon made up my mind to head west, preferably
to Arizona, where I had a dear friend, Henry Miller -- "Heine" we called
him. -- who graduated a year ahead of me. He was a law school graduate
and had married a girl I also knew well who was advised to move to the
desert for her health.
I had saved up a little money but my father was still with the railroad
company in Freedom and managed courtesy pass for me to Phoenix. He had
also done well with his farm and was able to help out with some extra money
in case I needed it.
My parents were happy for me to leave Freedom, where all I could hope
to be was a farmer or a "railroader." My mother had advised me to run for
my life before I got married and had to scourge for a living the hard way.
They were fond of Agnes but were so afraid I would marry before I had a
chance to see the world and find something better than farming or railroading.
Agnes was terribly upset when I left without seeing her. As a matter of
fact, I was almost afraid to see her because I would have married her if
she had said, "I'll take a chance if you want me, no matter what."