The First Negro League Champion: The 1920 Chicago American Giants, edited by Frederick C. Bush and Bill Nowlin

Eddie Boyd

This article was written by Frederick C. Bush

Eddie Boyd was a little-known player who had brief stints with the Detroit Stars and Chicago American Giants in 1920, the first year of the Negro National League’s existence. After his time with those two franchises, Boyd became a jack of all trades for the barnstorming Winnipeg Giants team that served as a developmental squad for the entire NNL. In 1921 he continued to travel throughout the Upper Midwest – Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota – and Canada with essentially the same team, which now called itself the Calgary Black Sox. Amazingly, during his two barnstorming seasons, Boyd is known to have played every position except first base and second base, displaying a versatility not often seen that should have made him a prized commodity. However, after the 1921 season, Boyd retreated into the anonymity whence he had come, and there is no further public record of his whereabouts until his death in 1962.

On his June 5, 1917, World War I draft registration card, Henderson Edward Boyd listed his date of birth as January 23, 1893,1 and his place of birth as St. Louis. Boyd lived in Kansas City, Missouri, at the time, recorded his marital status as single, and attempted to claim an exemption from the draft by stating that his father and a brother were his dependents.2 The 1920 US Census indicates that Boyd’s mother and father both had been born in Arkansas; however, no further records of the family in Arkansas or Missouri have been discovered, and it is unknown whether his mother was deceased or whether his parents were separated or divorced.

Although Boyd’s exact origins appear to have been lost to history, two events that occurred after he registered for the draft are certainties. The first is that he did not receive an exemption. Instead, he was drafted into the Army and served in Company D of the 806th Pioneer Infantry Regiment. The second is that he married his wife, Lottie, before being drafted since she is listed as his contact person in wartime military records.3

Boyd’s military service began in July 1918; the 806th was organized that month at Camp Funston, Kansas. All branches of the US military were still segregated at this time, and Boyd’s regiment was one of 20 African American regiments, out of a total of 37, in the Pioneer Infantry. After two months of training, Private Henderson E. Boyd and the 806th shipped out from Hoboken, New Jersey, aboard the USS Mercury on September 8, 1918, and arrived in Brest, France, on September 21.

Colonel Joseph L. Gilbreth of the 51st Pioneer Infantry described the Pioneer regiments’ responsibilities for the public in 1919. Regarding the infantry portion of their duties, he wrote that they “are not primarily fighting troops, but are trained as Infantry, simply in so far as to be able to protect their working parties.”4 Their work consisted of “semi-technical” combat engineering that included building “temporary roads, railroads, bridges, trenches and all kinds of shelter both in active operations and in rest areas. They make demolitions and destroy enemy obstacles so as to prepare the ground for the advance of our attacking troops.”5 An unknown Pioneer Infantry officer described their assignment more succinctly, asserting, “They did everything the Infantry was too proud to do, and the Engineers too lazy to do.”6 In sum, these troops had to work with a shovel in one hand, a rifle in the other, and their heads on swivels.

The Pioneer Infantry regiments were “attached to armies or corps on an as-needed basis,”7 but not all of them saw combat. Boyd’s regiment was attached to the US First Army and was involved in combat during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France from October 3 to October 9, 1918. Boyd served honorably and well, as is evidenced by the fact that by the time the 806th returned to the United States in June 1919, he had attained the rank of corporal. Boyd’s regiment was briefly stationed at Camp Upton, New York, and then the troops were discharged from service at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in July.

After his military service, Boyd returned to his wife in Kansas City. In 1920 he was working as a laborer in one of K.C.’s many meat-packing houses. There is little doubt that Boyd played baseball on his company’s team in the city’s Packers’ League because he came to the attention of Detroit Stars owner Tenny Blount. On February 13, 1920, Blount was in Kansas City to attend the meeting at which the first Negro National League was founded. During that time, he also may have scouted players and signed Boyd; the Chicago Defender reported on March 13 that Boyd was to be a member of Detroit’s outfield and, in a March 27 article, indicated that Boyd had come from Kansas City.8 On April 11 the Detroit Free Press noted that Blount “has signed players from as far West as Kansas City and as far South as Texas in an effort to make his 1920 club the best in the land.”9

Although each NNL member franchise signed players for its team, Rube Foster, the league president and the Chicago American Giants owner, wanted competitive balance in the hope that it would ensure the survival of the new league. The Defender asserted, “The wisest move made by Foster was in distributing the stars in various clubs, equalizing the playing strength, and each series will be better attended. … The fans in the cities opposed losing their idols, but as the plan was explained, they warmed up to it.”10 Not only were star players reassigned, but other players who did not make the team for which they tried out were to be “traded to the other clubs in the circuit.”11

Once all team rosters were filled, the best of the rest were assigned to the Winnipeg Giants (sometimes called the Winnipeg Colored Giants). After the Valley City, North Dakota, nine had played its first game against Winnipeg, the local newspaper described the team thusly:

“The Giants are composed of colored ball players, consisting of some of the overflow from the new colored league now in operation in the east. … The Colored Giants are made up of young players that are not quite old enough and well enough seasoned to make these teams so are ‘farmed out’ to this traveling organization where they will finish their base ball education.”12

Although Boyd did not fall into the “not quite old enough” category at 27 years of age, he was assigned to the Winnipeg Giants at the beginning of June.

Before joining the traveling Giants squad, Boyd started in center field for the Stars as the “Detroit ‘Semi-pro’ baseball season was mustered in for 1920 at Mack Park” on Sunday, April 11.13 The Stars “wielded the old willow” well as they clobbered the Denby Motors team, 12-0.14 One week later, on April 18, Boyd – showing the versatility that became his calling card – manned third base as the Stars defeated the Delray All-Stars by a 7-2 score; Boyd had one hit, stole a base, and scored a run in the game.15

Exactly when or why Boyd was transferred from the Stars to the Chicago American Giants is unknown. However, in May he played three games in the outfield for Foster’s team. He was 1-for-4 with one hit, three walks, and three runs scored. His most important contribution to the American Giants’ season took place at Schorling Park in Chicago on May 23. That day, “[m]ore than 7,000 persons witnessed the hand-to-hand battle between the K.C. Monarchs and American Giants.”16 Chicago pitcher Tom Williams, who had relieved starter Dave Brown at the top of the fifth inning, smashed a single to right field in the bottom of the 11th inning that drove home Boyd from second base for a 6-5 victory. The Chicago Whip’s game report indicated that there had been some controversy over Boyd’s winning run, stating that he “was called safe, then out[,] then safe again.”17 However, neither the Whip nor the Defender provided any details about the dispute. As mysterious as the circumstances surrounding Boyd’s game-winning tally is the reason why he was reassigned to the Winnipeg Giants within about a week after this game.

Whatever transpired, on June 1 Boyd started in center field for Winnipeg in a game against Valley City that the Giants won, 6-5. As had been the case in Chicago on May 23, there was excitement at the very end of the game. In the bottom of the ninth, “with three on and none out[,] Valley City was not allowed to score – two men being caught at the plate in two hair raising plays.”18 This likely was Boyd’s first game with Winnipeg, and it was not a memorable affair for him personally. He was hitless and, when he did reach base safely on an error, he was thrown out at second on a steal attempt. Soon, however, Boyd began to flash his versatility and value to the Giants.

Four days later, Boyd started at shortstop in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in a game that Winnipeg lost, 9-6. The local press enthused that “[s]everal sensational catches by the outfielders of both teams added greatly to the interest of the game” and raved that an unassisted double play by Boyd was “nothing short of sensational.”19

The next day, the same two squads clashed again at Grand Forks’ Dacotah Park, and Winnipeg fell by a 6-1 score. It was noted that “[t]he playing field was too heavy to allow any sensational plays because of the heavy rains early Sunday morning.”20 Nonetheless, there was excitement aplenty and Boyd was involved in two key plays for the Giants:

“The visitors’ lone run came in the first frame when Boyd, the lead-off man, singled and stole second. Sacrifice hits by Reed and Singer scored him. The ‘clouds’ nearly scored again in the third when Boyd was up again with two men out. He singled and stole second and third. Two strikes were called on the batter and when Bird started to deliver the ball again[,] Boyd made a pretty steal to home but the umpire called the pitched ball a strike, retiring the side[,] and the run did not count.”21

Boyd had started the game in center field but at some point traded positions with catcher William “Buck” Ewing, who also had played one game with the 1920 Chicago American Giants.

Before the third and final game of the series, there were rumblings about bad blood between the two teams. The local newspaper reported, “The colored warriors are peeved about having their perfect record broken and have been saying terrible things during the day about what they are going to do to the locals tonight.”22 The Daily Herald failed to recount any of the “terrible things” the Giants players were alleged to have said, but it did print Grand Forks manager Fadden’s threat that “there would be dead ‘chocolate drops’ lying around the field tonight after the game.”23

As it turned out, the only violence committed in the June 7 game was by the Grand Forks batters against the baseball. Boyd played the entire game at catcher as the locals “gave the Winnipeg Colored Giants a terrible drubbing” by an 11-1 score.24 Winnipeg manager Sam Gordon tried to smooth over relations between the squads by conceding about the Grand Forks nine, “They are a well organized bunch … and they play ball like big league clubs.”25

After the debacle in Grand Forks, the Giants continued to barnstorm through the Upper Midwest while also venturing into and out of Canada. On September 11 Boyd was the starting pitcher in both games of a doubleheader against an amateur team from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Boyd scored Winnipeg’s first run in the first inning of the opener that became an 8-6 victory; at some point in the game, he ceded the mound to a reliever and moved to center field. In the nightcap, “Boyd, who was on the mound for the descendants of Ham[,] was in fine form and had the better of the pitchers’ argument, striking out four[,] walking one and allowing but five hits” in a complete-game 5-1 triumph.26 At the plate, he was 1-for-4, stole a base, and scored a run.

On October 10, in what was the final game of the season for the DeKalb, Illinois, team – and likely for the Winnipeg Giants as well – Boyd started at shortstop but took the mound in the eighth inning after the locals had scored four runs to take a 10-3 lead. Boyd went hitless in what ended as a 10-5 game, and then he went home for the offseason. The Defender later noted that the Winnipeg Giants had traveled over 22,000 miles in 1920 and made the dubious claim that the team had lost only five games in three months.27

In 1921 Sam Gordon was named manager of the Calgary Black Sox, a team owned by Calgary businessman Charlie Ross that took on the role of the Winnipeg Giants minus the identity as the NNL’s developmental squad. The club was scheduled to “train in Chicago starting after the first of April,”28 and its roster was populated by many of the same players from the 1920 Winnipeg team, including Boyd and Ewing.

Available game recaps show that Boyd played one or the other corner outfield spot in most games. Speed was Boyd’s forte as an outfielder and on the basepaths. In a game against the Appleton, Wisconsin, team on May 8, Boyd registered three hits, reached base once on an error, stole two bases, and scored four runs as Calgary notched a 7-2 victory.29 After the Black Sox vanquished the Minot, North Dakota, team, 7-3, on June 4, the Defender maintained that “[t]he Sox have one of the best teams in the country and up to date have won all their games with the exception of two.”30

Box scores reveal that Boyd was a more consistent player in 1921, likely because he was able to focus on playing in the outfield most of the year and because the Black Sox played some home games in Calgary rather than barnstorming exclusively.31 He became a true batting threat and continued to wreak havoc as a base stealer. Late in the season, Boyd did take the mound as the starting pitcher in the second game of a doubleheader against a team from Red Deer, Alberta. He was 3-for-5 with the bat, stole a base, and scored two runs to support his complete-game pitching effort in a 5-4 win.32 At 28 years of age, Boyd was still in his prime as an athlete, but he never again played for a team of major-league caliber in the Negro Leagues.

In fact, the 1921 season appears to have been Boyd’s final campaign as a professional baseball player at any level; his name is not found in any further articles or box scores. In 1922 the Cream City Giants, a team “made up of many of last year’s Calgary Black Sox,”33 debuted in Milwaukee on May 28. The team received far less coverage than either the Winnipeg Giants or the Calgary Black Sox and did not last long. Boyd’s name was never mentioned in association with the Cream City Giants.

From this point forward, Boyd’s life became like that of most people who are not in the spotlight – anonymous to all but those who knew him. Perhaps his wife, Lottie, had encouraged him to give up the rigors of barnstorming and settle down with her; however, it is not known whether the couple remained married or had any children. Boyd’s choice of a post-baseball career also remains a mystery.

The only certainty about Boyd’s life after the 1921 baseball season – found in the records of the US Veterans Administration – is that he died in Devils Lake, North Dakota, on August 2, 1962.34 Boyd had played in Devils Lake as a member of the Winnipeg and Calgary teams. Whatever his later life’s experiences may have held, perhaps he found contentment by settling in a place he had visited and enjoyed while he was a young baseball player with great potential and a significant amount of time still before him.


Sources was consulted for public records such as census information; birth and death records; military draft registration cards; and ships’ passenger logs.

Although data specific to Boyd’s military service was gathered from, the information about the Pioneer Infantry Regiments was taken from the following source:

McMahon, Margaret M., Ph.D. A Guide to the U.S. Pioneer Infantry Regiments in WWI (No city listed: Margaret M. McMahon Teaching & Training Co., LLC, 2018).

Direct quotes taken from McMahon’s book are cited in the endnotes.

Unless otherwise indicated, Negro League player statistics and manager/team records were taken from



1 All military records show January 23, 1893, as Boyd’s date of birth since that is what he wrote on his draft registration card. The 1920 Census – the only census in which Boyd currently can be located – lists his birth year as “abt 1895,” while the Social Security Death Index has the date as January 23, 1889. The conundrum surrounding a player’s exact birthdate is not unique to Boyd, but in this instance, it is impossible to determine which year is correct. Since this is the case, the author has decided to use the year that Boyd provided to the draft board.

2 Boyd did not provide his father’s or brother’s names.

3 The author was unable to locate marriage records for the couple; thus, Lottie Boyd’s maiden name is unknown.

4 McMahon, 5.

5 McMahon, 5.

6 McMahon, 4.

7 McMahon, 4.

8 “Detroit Stars Will Report Last of March,” Chicago Defender, March 13, 1920: 9; “Detroit Stars Are Ordered to Report,” Chicago Defender, March 27, 1920: 11.

9 “Baseball Game Set for Sunday/Detroit Stars and Denby Motors Open Season with Elaborate Ceremony,” Detroit Free Press, April 11, 1920: 24.

10 “‘Rube’ Assigns Players to Giants,” Chicago Defender, March 20, 1920: 9.

11 “Detroit Stars Are Ordered to Report.”

12 “Valley City Fans See Real Base Ball,” Valley City (North Dakota) Weekly Times-Record, June 3, 1920: 5.

13 “Detroit Stars in an Easy Victory/Open Semi-Pro Season Here by Trimming Denby Motors,” Detroit Free Press, April 12, 1920: 14.

14 Detroit Stars Win/Initial Event Is a Walkaway for Blunt’s [sic] Boys,” Chicago Defender, April 17, 1920: 9.

15 “Stars Trim Delrays/Overflow Crowd Sees the Victory of Blount’s Boys,” Chicago Defender, April 24, 1920: 9.

16 Dave Wyatt, “American Giants Win in 11th/Plucky Fight of Visiting Pitcher Goes for Naught When Teammates Falter,” Chicago Defender, May 29, 1920: 9.

17 “Giants Take Two Falls from K.C. Monarchs/Giants [sic] Wins Own Game for Giants in 11th,” Chicago Whip, May 29, 1920: 6. The Whip erroneously named Tom Johnson as Chicago’s pitcher in its game write-up; however, the box score in the Whip as well as the Defender’s game article and box score show that it was Tom Williams.

18 “Valley City Fans See Real Base Ball.”

19 “Grand Forks Won Opener from Giants/Locals Take Slug-fest from Winnipeg Colored Giants Saturday,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, June 6, 1920: 17.

20 “Grand Forks Defeated the Winnipeg Colored Giants in the Second Game of Series,” Grand Forks Daily Herald and the Evening Times, June 7, 1920: 18.

21 “Grand Forks Defeated the Winnipeg Colored Giants in the Second Game of Series.”

22 “Grand Forks Defeated the Winnipeg Colored Giants in the Second Game of Series.”

23 “Grand Forks Defeated the Winnipeg Colored Giants in the Second Game of Series.”

24 “Locals Took Final Game of Series Monday,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, June 8, 1920: 10.

25 “Locals to Play at Devils Lake,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, June 8, 1920: 10.

26 “Local Team Falls Twice on Saturday/Colored Giants Prove Too Much for City League Amateurs,” Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, September 13, 1920: 7.

27 “Calgary Black Sox Ready for Busy Season,” Chicago Defender, April 9, 1921: 10. The Winnipeg Giants played from at least June into October, which is longer than three months. Additionally, recaps for many of the team’s games are not available; however, the few recaps cited in the present article show the team to have lost four games, so it is doubtful that the Giants suffered only one additional loss in 4½ months of play.

28 “Calgary Black Sox Ready for Busy Season.”

29 “Calgary Black Sox Trim Appleton, Wisconsin, Nine,” Chicago Defender, May 14, 1921: 10.

30 “Calgary Black Sox Beats [sic] Minot (N.D.) 7 to 3,” Chicago Defender, June 11, 1921: 10. In this instance, the Defender’s claim that the Black Sox had lost only two games may have been accurate; the season was still young.

31 See, for instance, “Drumheller Drops Another Game to Black Sox, 4 to 3,” Calgary Herald, August 6, 1921: 22, and “Calgary Black Sox/Take Two Games from Red Deer – First Game 9-0, Second Game 5-4,” Red Deer Advocate, August 19, 1921: 3.

32 “Calgary Black Sox/Take Two Games from Red Deer – First Game 9-0, Second Game 5-4.”

33 “Watching the Scoreboard/Cream City Giants Win,” Chicago Defender, June 3, 1922: 10. See also, “Colored Nine to Play Here,” Milwaukee Journal, May 26, 1922: 45. For an in-depth discussion of the Cream City Giants and Black baseball in Milwaukee, see: Ken Jon-Edward Bartelt, “Brew City Black Ball: Milwaukee as Microcosm of the Early-Twentieth Century Black Baseball Experience” (2020). Theses and Dissertations. 2454.

34 Efforts to locate an obituary or death certificate that might shed more light on Boyd’s life and the circumstances of his death proved unsuccessful.

Full Name

Henderson Edward Boyd


January 23, 1893 at St. Louis, MO (USA)


August 2, 1962 at Devils Lake, ND (USA)

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