SABR

Jimmy Cleghorn

This article was written by Royse Parr.

A teammate of Allie Reynolds in their college days, James G. “Jimmy” Cleghorn was a full-blood Indian pitcher. He was born on December 18, 1916, on the Otoe/Missouria tribal reservation at Red Rock, Oklahoma. Cleghorn was three-quarters Otoe and one-quarter Sac & Fox, descending from his full-blood Otoe father, Grant Cleghorn, and his Otoe/Sac & Fox mixed Indian blood mother, Madeline Rice Cleghorn.

The Otoe tribe was once part of the Siouan tribes of the Great Lakes region. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 by the United States, the Otoes were the first tribe in the West encountered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition at present-day Council Bluffs, Iowa. After several moves brought on by continuing pressure from white settlers as well as the near extinction of the buffalo, the Otoes purchased in 1881 their current reservation in north-central Oklahoma. Today the tribe is federally recognized as the Otoe-Missouria and is based in Red Rock.

Jimmy Cleghorn learned to play baseball at the Pawnee (Oklahoma) Indian School. One of his coaches was Mose YellowHorse, the colorful Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher whose tombstone in Pawnee’s Indian cemetery is inscribed:

Mose YellowHorse
1898-1964
First Full-Blood Indian In
Major Leagues
Pittsburgh Pirates 1921-22

On April 6, 1933, 16-year-old Cleghorn, his classmates, and several adults including Lloyd YellowHorse (his relation to Mose can’t be determined) attended an exhibition game in nearby Tulsa in which the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Chicago White Sox, 9-8. The Tulsa Oilers of the Texas League were then a farm team of the Pirates.

Three weeks after the Tulsa trip, Cleghorn, pitching for the Pawnee Indian School, shut out Roe Institute, an all-male Indian high school of Wichita, Kansas, 2-0. This was his first known shutout. The Pawnee Courier-Dispatch credited the success of the Pawnee team to the coaching of Mose YellowHorse and a Mr. Chouteau, a descendant of the French fur traders who first settled St. Louis.

In the 1930s the annual Oklahoma sandlot baseball tournament, held each August in Oklahoma City after district playoffs, showcased an unequaled display of baseball talent. Many of the players, particularly pitchers, were Indians, but only a few joined the Organized Baseball ranks after their sandlot successes. Cleghorn first pitched in the tournament for his hometown Pawnee team in 1934 and defeated the team from Lucien. (Other notable Indian pitchers who played in the tournament over the years were Allie Reynolds, Cal McLish, Williston Bohanan, Fesser Harjo, Vallie Eaves, Milton Perry, and Tommy Warren. Mose YellowHorse played first base for several years with the Pawnee team.)

In the spring of 1935 Cleghorn finished second in a statewide high-school track tournament with a javelin throw of 165 feet. That fall he played left end on an undefeated Pawnee High School football team and was named to the all-conference team. That same fall Allie Reynolds was playing freshman football at Oklahoma A&M College (“OAMC,” now Oklahoma State University). In the spring of 1936, Cleghorn played for Pawnee High School in the state basketball tournament in Oklahoma City. In August he was on the roster for the Shawnee Indians team in the state sandlot tournament. In September Cleghorn enrolled as a freshman at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University), where he was an end on the freshman football team.

In the spring of 1937 Cleghorn was a javelin thrower on the college’s freshman track team, and Allie Reynolds was a javelin thrower on the varsity team. Allie substituted a baseball for his javelin that spring, and the rest is baseball history.

Cleghorn pitched for the Perry team in the semipro Oklahoma League in the summer of 1937 while Allie was pitching for Lisbon Coal in the Denver, Colorado, city league.

The August 11, 1937, issue of the Daily Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper, had a front-page picture of Cleghorn whose caption described him as one of the state’s most outstanding pitchers, and mentioning that one-fourth of the players in the sandlot tournament were Indians.

During the summer of 1938 Cleghorn again pitched for the Shawnee Indians, who on August 26 were defeated 9-2 in the state sandlot tournament by the Stillwater Boomers, a town team composed almost entirely of players from the Oklahome A&M varsity. (The college, now Oklahoma State, is in Stillwater.) On August 28 the Shawnee Indians went extra innings to get an 11-10 edge over the Okemah Indians, only to lose official credit for the victory on a forfeit. Shawnee finished the game with only eight players after pitcher Cleghorn had been ejected in the seventh inning. No eligible replacements were available and tournament officials held that the eight-man Shawnee lineup constituted forfeiture.

Cleghorn was the self-styled “publicity manager” for Ittanaha, an intramural basketball team of Indians from several tribes at Oklahoma A&M during the winter of 1938-1939. The college’s O’Collegian newspaper noted that among the members of the team were “Allie Reynolds, Creek, all-around athlete who will play forward, and Jimmy Cleghorn, an Otoe Indian playing second fiddle at forward.” In their only reported game Ittanaha defeated Farmhouse fraternity, 24-11, with Reynolds as the high-point man with four goals and Cleghorn with two goals.

On a cold and windy day in March 1939, Cleghorn finally got his chance to pitch for the A&M varsity team. He allowed five runs in three innings against the archrival University of Oklahoma Sooners. Reynolds, who was the team captain, finished the game on the mound and held the Sooners to one hit in the final four innings in a 6-2 loss. (Reynolds, a senior, signed with the Cleveland Indians at the end of his college career.)

Cleghorn bounced back as he defeated Central State College, 9-4, for his only pitching victory as a collegian.

During the 1939 summer vacation Cleghorn married a fellow Oklahoma A&M student, Irene Jacobs, a full-blood Creek from Holdenville, Oklahoma. She had been crowned as the Indian princess in the fall of 1935 at halftime of a football game between A&M and Haskell Institute, an Indian school in Topeka, Kansas. (Irene’s brother, Indian Jack Jacobs, is the best remembered of many outstanding Indian athletes who played football at the University of Oklahoma including the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, Sam Bradford, a Cherokee. Jacobs played in the National Football League and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1963 and the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977.)

The Oklahoma A&M baseball team had a successful 13-5 season in 1940. The coach, Henry Iba (who was also the athletic director and legendary basketball coach), used five pitchers in defeating Central State 8-1 in an early-season game. Each hurler had about two innings on the mound, and Cleghorn was the starting pitcher. Later in the season he was the losing pitcher in a 7-5 loss to Central State, his last appearance on the mound for the college.

Near the end of the baseball season, Cleghorn was rushed into service on the track infield to throw the javelin in a meet against the University of Oklahoma. He won the event by a margin of 1¾ inches with a toss of 164 feet 8 inches, and assured A&M of victory over its archrival. For his accomplishment, Cleghorn was granted a letter in track. Coupled with letters in baseball and football, he joined Allie Reynolds as a rare three-sport letterman at Oklahoma A&M.

During the summer of 1940 Cleghorn again pitched for the Shawnee Indians team. In a game against Seminole, he did not give up a hit until the 13th inning as Shawnee won, 2-1, in 15 innings.

Most of Cleghorn’s college teammates were with the Stillwater Boomers during the annual sandlot tourney in the summer of 1940. Cleghorn had pitched for Shawnee, which did not qualify for the tourney and he had joined Seminole, which did qualify. The Boomers were the state runners-up to the Enid Champlins, who won the second and last semipro World Series in Puerto Rico in September.

In the spring of 1941 Cleghorn tried out for the Muskogee (Oklahoma) Reds of the Class C Western Association. Muskogee assigned his contract to the Denver Bears of the Class D Western League. Cleghorn made the Denver team and was the winner of the Opening Day game. With a 13-13 record and a 3.41 ERA in 210 innings, Cleghorn was the only Bears pitcher who did not have a losing season as the Bears finished in last place in the six-team league with 42 victories and 68 defeats, 23 games out of first. The highlight of the season for Cleghorn was his no-hit game in a 0-1 loss to Sioux City. One of the gifts Cleghorn received from admirers was “a baby carriage for his son, Bobby, two months and seven days in the world,” according to the Denver Post.

Cleghorn had a famous teammate-for-a-day, Dizzy Dean, who had pitched on the same day in a semipro exhibition game in Colorado Springs. Dean pitched two innings for the Bears and played an inning each in right field and at second base. Denver came from behind in the ninth inning to defeat Sioux City, 5-4, after Dean had left the ballpark. Two weeks before the game, Dean had quit as a coach of the Chicago Cubs to become a St. Louis baseball radio announcer.

After the US entered World War II, the Western League folded and Cleghorn’s professional baseball career was over. In 1942 and 1943 he worked as a guard at a gunpowder manufacturing plant near Chouteau, Oklahoma. Drafted into the Army in 1944, he fought as a machine gunner in the Battle of the Bulge with the 80th Infantry Division. He received several medals, including the Purple Heart.

After the war ended in 1945, Cleghorn pitched for the 319th Regiment team in Bavaria and Czechoslovakia. On September 29 the Gravel Agitator newspaper noted with a picture of the team that the 319th was runner-up in 80th Division baseball play. H Cleghorn was complimented on pitching “a beautiful ball game, limiting the 317th to seven scattered hits while striking out ten batters.” During the baseball playoffs, the 319th was attached to the XXII Corps Artillery and guarded points of entry between the Corps area and the Russian Zone of Occupation. On December 30, 1945, Cleghorn received an honorable discharge as a private first class at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas.

The newly civilian Cleghorn worked for the US Bureau of Indian Affairs in Muskogee and later the Army Corps of Engineers in Tulsa. He retired from the Corps of Engineers in 1981. Allie Reynolds was a frequent visitor in the Cleghorns’ home in Tulsa while he traveled on business for Atlas Mud, his company in Oklahoma City.

On November 16, 1979, Jimmy and Irene Cleghorn were guests of Reynolds and his wife, Earlene, when Reynolds was inducted into the Oklahoma Athletic Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

Cleghorn served three terms as chairman of the Otoe/Missouria tribe and was a president of the Tulsa Pow Wow Club.

He died on August 4, 1997, at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa. He was 80 years old. He was survived by his wife, Irene; their three sons, Robert, Tom, and Ronnie; his grandson, Jason, and his sisters, Marge and Mary. Services were held at the Otoe Cultural Center with burial in the Cleghorn Cemetery. Irene Cleghorn died on January 25, 2005, and was buried beside her husband.

Sources

The primary source for this biography was a scrapbook compiled by Jimmy Cleghorn’s wife, Irene, of his athletic exploits from 1933 to 1941. It was in the possession of their oldest son, Robert, of Pawnee, Oklahoma. I interviewed Robert on several occasions in my home and we met at Oklahoma State University’s library to review archives, including newspaper microfilm and yearbooks. Robert also provided data from the Internet and from the Tulsa and Pawnee libraries’ microfilmed newspapers. Other book sources are provided below.

Bischoff, John Paul. Mr. Iba: Basketball’s Aggie Iron Duke. Oklahoma City: Western Heritage Books, 1980.

Burke, Bob, Kenny A. Franks, and Royse Parr. Glory Days of Summer: The History of Baseball in Oklahoma. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Heritage Association, 1999.

Fuller, Todd. 60 Feet Six Inches and Other Distances from Home: The (Baseball) Life of Mose YellowHorse. Duluth, Minnesota: Holy Cow Press, 2002.

Johnson, Lloyd, and Miles Wolff. Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Third Edition.) Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, 2007.

Parr, Royse, and Bob Burke. Allie Reynolds: Super Chief. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Heritage Association, 2002.

Powers-Beck, Jeffrey. The American Indian Integration of Baseball. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.

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