Bernice Historical Society
Bernice Dots #10
Baseball seems to have always been a favorite sport among the small towns of Union Parish. In the mid 1880’s a traveling evangelist who often spoke at tent revivals in our parish made this remark about the game –“if I had a dog and he were to get out and look at a game of baseball I would go and kill him. . .there is not a more corrupting thing this side of hell than baseball”. His remark was probably influenced by comparing the size of the crowd at the game against the size of the crowd at his meeting; as one spectator put it, “it helps break the monotony of the Sabbath.”
A 1908 Farmerville Gazette article brought out three important points about baseball in Union Parish:
- Most spectators care not a whit about the game as long as their home town wins
- Baseball surpassed all other forms of amusement; even politics takes 2nd place
- Free speech is unrestricted at a baseball game
Baseball in Union Parish can be traced back to the early 1880’s through the pages of newspapers printed in Union Parish and adjoining parishes. As early as 1884 a Union Parish native named Walt Goldsby, born in 1861 in Marion, Louisiana went to the big leagues and played for three years. At the age of 22 Goldsby went to play for the St. Louis Browns. Before leaving baseball in 1888 he had played for the Washington Nationals and the Washington Senators and ended his career with the Baltimore Orioles. At a time when most baseball players were from urban cities, Walt Goldsby was a rare product of the rural south. In fact, he was the first Louisiana native not from New Orleans to play in the major leagues.
Throughout Union Parish every community seemed to have a team, no matter how small the community. Shiloh was known for their team which competed on a regular basis with the team from Farmerville. So, when the town of Shiloh burned in 1899 and the town of Bernice came to life in that same year, Bernice was provided with an already experienced ball club ready to wear the uniform of the town of Bernice. The following account taken from newspapers and biographies tells the story of Bernice’s love affair with baseball.
To begin the story I introduce you to two residents of Bernice who actually made it to the professional baseball league.
The first was Seaborn Jesse “Red” Booles. His professional baseball career began with the Shreveport Pirates in 1908. Shreveport sold Booles to the Raleigh Red Birds in the Eastern Carolina League in 1909. After sporting a 9 and 7 record as pitcher and .243 batting average he again returned to Shreveport winning 8 games and losing 8. In September Shreveport sold Booles to the Cleveland Naps for $1000. His career with the Naps consisted of 4 games played between July 30 and August 20th of 1909 with 1 loss as a pitcher and an ERA of 1.99. After leaving the Naps Booles played in El Paso in the Texas League until 1911.
When Booles returned to his home in Bernice he continued to play for his home town team. In August of 1915 the Monroe News Star described a game between Bernice and Monroe stating that the Bernice team “can play baseball. Red Booles, former Cleveland American League pitcher is with the Bernice club.”
Red Booles died in 1955 at the Veterans home in Monroe, Louisiana. He is buried in the Shiloh Baptist Church. At the time of his death he was listed in the top 100 oldest living professional baseball players.
The other was J. L. Caldwell, a six foot one inch pitcher “with a lot of smoke” who played in the Texas/Oklahoma league in 1911. Caldwell was assigned to the team in Ardmore, Oklahoma and the next year with the Dallas Giants, returning to Ardmore in 1913.
Both Booles and Caldwell would return to Bernice and continue to play for the “home team” as they traveled across North Louisiana playing the sport they loved. In 1925 Caldwell purchased the Royal Theatre in Bernice from G.C. Black and ran that theatre until literally his “dying day”, his death occurring in 1957 behind the ticket counter at the theatre.
Baseball would play a big role in Bernice for many years but this gives you a picture of the earliest years. (More to come on baseball at a later date)
Next Week: 1916 – 1920; Bernice fights for good roads