From SABR member Joe Schuster at The National Pastime Museum on November 1, 2017:
In 1897, one of the most widely followed baseball stories in the country centered on an athlete who never played an inning of professional ball, and yet the event that thrust him into the national spotlight was so compelling, years later, it became the basis of the first feature film about a baseball player.
While the precise details of his story are a bit muddy, largely because of what I’ll call the “informal” nature of journalism in that era, the essential facts appear to be these:
At some point at the end of the 1890s—the exact date is unclear—a man many referred to as Walla Tonehka, a member of the Choctaw tribe in the Indian Territory, got into a barroom fight that ended in a death. (Some articles refer to him as Walla Tonka or Walla Tonaka; others as Wah Teh Nish; and others as William Going, the name the U.S. government gave him when it entered him on its rolls.) Some stories say the fight was over a woman, some say it happened because Walla Tonehka was drunk and became rowdy. Whatever the reason, when his uncle, a deputy sheriff, stepped in to break it up, Walla Tonehka killed him.
Read the full article here: https://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/walla-tonehka-sentenced-death-reprieved-play-baseball
Originally published: November 2, 2017. Last Updated: November 2, 2017.