SABR

Joe Moffet

This article was written by Carole Olshavsky.

While his major-league career spanned a mere three months in 1884, the game of baseball played an important part in the life of Joe Moffet and his family for nearly a quarter of the 19th century. Six family members were involved in professional baseball, playing on teams in Wheeling, Cleveland, Toledo, Indianapolis, Nashville, and Boston. Joe’s claim to fame lies more with the successes he and his four brothers had with silver and copper mining enterprises throughout the western United States.

Joe’s parents, Samuel and Mary Jane (Wright) Moffet, arrived in America on May 1, 1848, having traveled with four young children from County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, to Liverpool, England, and secured passage to the United States on the ship Richard Alsop.1 Within a month of landing in New York City, the family had settled in Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia), following in the footsteps of other family members who had arrived earlier. By 1862 the family had grown with the addition of seven more children. Joseph William Moffet born on June 27, 1859, was the tenth of 11 children and the fifth son.

The younger Moffet children grew up in the midst of the Civil War, which was very real in Wheeling with concerns about Morgan’s Raiders coming up the Ohio River and husbands and sons heading off into battle, sometimes on opposite sides. In 1862, when Joe was just 3 years old, his older brother Tom left home to join the Union Army and served as a private in the 1st West Virginia Light Artillery, known as Carlin’s Wheeling Battery under the command of Captain John Carlin.2

After the end of the war, family life resumed in Wheeling with Samuel managing the toll bridge that spanned the Ohio River from the city of Wheeling to Wheeling Island. The Moffet family lived at 75 Zane Street on Wheeling Island in a small duplex house right at the foot of the bridge. Farther south on the tip of the island was the Wheeling Fairgrounds and by the mid-1870s, with Wheeling hosting a variety of baseball teams, games were a regular occurrence at the Fairgrounds. The Moffets and their neighbors all lived within easy walking distance of the ballgrounds, and before long Joe and his brother Sam were playing baseball for the Buckeyes, an amateur boys’ team in Wheeling. In 1875 the Wheeling Standards, reputed to be one of the fastest teams in the country, recruited the best of the Buckeyes, including Joe, Sam, Jack Glasscock, and Sam Barkley.3 Bill Akin notes in his book West Virginia Baseball that “these boys proved to be West Virginia’s best home grown products of this era. All would make the major leagues in the next decade.”4

When the boys started playing for the Standards in 1875, Joe was only 16 years old, but like his brother Sam, at 6 feet in height, he was taller than most baseball players. Joe was a first baseman for the Standards in 1875 and 1876, but was moved to the outfield in 1877. In 1878 Fairgrounds Park was destroyed by a flood and, without a field to play on, the Standards disbanded.5

Joe Moffet took this opportunity to head west to join his oldest brother, James, who was prospecting for silver in Butte, Montana. For Joe and his brothers this started a pattern of seasonal trips between the Montana silver and copper mines, their family home in Wheeling and their commitments to professional baseball teams that continued for more than a decade.

When the Wheeling Standards reorganized in 1882, Joe and Sam rejoined the team for that season. By the following summer Joe was back in Butte working in the silver mines, but hadn’t yet given up baseball. He and his younger brother, Link, played for a local team known as the Butte Nine. While some of the mining companies had their own baseball teams, this was a city-sponsored team. Sporadic games were scheduled with teams from other Montana cities and sometimes from as far away as St. Louis. Games in neighboring towns became all-day railroad excursions, usually on a Sunday. The excursionists traveled in a train car that was somewhat of a novelty with open sides and canvas curtains in case of rain or wind. An excursion in July of 1883 to neighboring Deer Lodge included the baseball game, a picnic, a horse race, and “free use of Irvins Lake,” apparently a swimming hole. The Butte Daily Miner reported on the event:

“At Deer Lodge, the hospitable citizens met the excursionists with their excellent brass band and the most cordial greetings. …

“The excursionists assembled on the baseball grounds, back of the college building to witness the baseball game. The contest turned out rather to be a one sided affair and was devoid of social feature although the batting of McAuliff, the pitching of Moffitt (sic) and Cowan and the catching of Carson, McAuliff and Tetrault may be spoken of as exceptionally good.”6

The Butte Nine won this game, 25-3. The only downside to the event was that the train stopped a good half-mile from the baseball grounds in Deer Lodge and the excursionists had to walk the entire distance in oppressive heat.

In 1884 the newly reorganized Toledo Blue Stockings became a part of the major-league American Association. Following in the footsteps of brother Sam, who played for Toledo in1883, Joe Moffet was recruited by the Blue Stockings to play first base, joining his Wheeling neighbors Sam Barkley and Joe Miller on the team. Joe made his first appearance in an exhibitions game,a victory over the Cleveland Reserves on April 14, 1884. He played third base.7

Moffet’s first official major-league game was the fifth game of the Blue Stockings’ season, a loss to the St. Louis Browns at St. Louis on May 6, 1884. From May through August he played in 56 games and batted .201 with 17 runs and 41 hits. Typically Moffet played first base, but he filled in at second base, third base, and the outfield. While he had been a pitcher and shortstop on the Butte team, he never played either position in the major leagues. As of June 25 the American Association Official Averages listed Moffet as the top-ranked first baseman in the league.8 He played his last major-league game on August 10 against the Cincinnati Red Stockings, and was released that month.

The results of the Blue Stockings’ first season in the major leagues were not stellar: 46 wins and 58 losses. The next season the team returned to the Northwestern League, in which it had played before joining the American Association. Several members of the Association team went on to outstanding baseball careers, including Tug Arundel, Tony Mullane, Hank O’Day, and Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first black man to play major-league baseball.9 Humorously, Sporting Life reported that “the Toledos are a model of deportment on the ball field and indulge in less kicking and monkeying upon the field than any club we have ever seen.”10

In September of 1884 the Butte Daily Miner reported that Moffet was back in Montana and there was excitement about this professional ballplayer rejoining the Butte Nine team in his old position as shortstop.11 And then again in 1886, he reportedly was playing with a semipro team in Wheeling.12 The last reference to Joe Moffet and baseball that can be found is from 1901 in the Anaconda (Montana) Standard in reference to plans to organize a new team with the intention of securing Joe and Link Moffet to play.13 How long Joe actually continued to play on these semipro teams is not known.

Four of the Moffet brothers banded together in the fall of 1884 and changed their mining operations from working small-lode claims at individual sites to taking over the operation of one of the largest mining operations in the Butte area, the Orphan Girl Mine. Over the next five years, they pulled 210,000 ounces of silver and 300 ounces of gold worth about $231,000 from the mine before the ore vein petered out. This was a sizable fortune in the 1880s. James Moffet’s obituary in the Oakland Tribune in 1912 said that the Moffet brothers were “credited with having done more than any other group of blood relatives to develop the mineral resources of the West.”14

With the closing of the Orphan Girl Mine, Joe, Sam, and Link Moffet continued their lode-mining operations in Silver Bow County and then in Madison County, Montana, acquiring a significant amount of property. Vestiges of their mining efforts can be found on the map of Montana as Moffet Mountain, Little Moffat Gulch, and the Moffet/Johnston Mine site. A large portion of the Moffet claims was purchased by the Anaconda Mining Company in 1904.

While working in Madison County, Joe met Margaret Lee “Maggie” Pollinger, the daughter of E.M. (Elijah) Pollinger, a wealthy landowner and businessman
respectfully referred to as “the Governor.” Over the span of his career E.M. had been a Pony Express rider, a stagecoach operator, a prospector, and a rancher. He was wealthy enough to send several of his children east for college educations. Maggie had been sent to Philadelphia to study at the new school of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania. After she completed her schooling, she stayed in Philadelphia working at the Blockley Almshouse, a hospital for the poor. She returned to her home in Twin Bridges, Montana, in 1903.

Maggie Pollinger and Joe Moffet were married on June 23, 1905, in Billings. Joe was 45 years old and Maggie was 27. They initially made their home at Camp Creek, Montana, near his mining interests. A few years later they moved into the town of Melrose, Montana, and in 1917 Joe purchased a 163-acre homestead property in the same area.

Staying settled on homestead property apparently didn’t stick with Moffet, and in 1920 he and Maggie moved again, this time to Tucson, Arizona, where Joe prospected for copper. Two years later they again moved to mining territory in San Bernardino, California, where they remained for the rest of their lives. While Joe continued mining for copper, Maggie continued to work as a nurse at each of these locations. They never had any children. Joe died in 1935 in San Bernardino. at the age of 75 and Maggie died two years later in San Bernardino. They are both buried in the cemetery just outside of Twin Bridges, Montana.

 

Notes

1 The Famine Immigrants 1848-1851, Volume II, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983), 344.

2 Linda Cunningham Fluharty and Edward L. Phillips, Carlin’s Wheeling Battery (Kearney, Nebraska: Morris Publishing, 2005), 39.

3 “Glasscock Still at It,” Fort Wayne (Indiana) Sentinel, May 11, 1899.

4 William E. Akin, West Virginia Baseball – A History 1865-2000 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2006), 25

5 William E. Akin, West Virginia Baseball, 2006), 29.

6 “Sunday Excursion,” Butte (Montana) Daily Miner, July 31, 1883.

7 Sporting Life, April 28,1884.

8 Sporting Life, June 25, 1884.

9 John R. Husman, Baseball in Toledo (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing), 12-13.

10 Sporting Life, June 4, 1884.

11 Butte (Montana) Daily Miner, September 17, 1884.

12 William E. Akin, West Virginia Baseball, 30.

13 Anaconda (Montana) Standard, May 19, 1901.

14 “Noted Western Mine Expert Dies In South,” Oakland (California) Tribune, June 5, 1912.

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