Written by Cathy Buckley
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
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 the 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 made due to 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.”
In 1908 an article on the game appeared in the Farmerville Gazette which brought out three important points:
- 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
Our Love Affair with Baseball
Baseball in Union Parish can be traced back to the early 1880’s. 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. His career batting average was .243.
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, and was perhaps the first professional baseball player with Arkansas ties. He was born in the Confederate succession state of Louisiana during the Civil War in the small town of Marion near the Arkansas-Louisiana border. His parents, Dr. Miles Walton Goldsby Jr. and Irish immigrant Dettie Dudgeon1 were a young couple, and Walt was their first child.
In 1880 Walt moved to St. Louis and in 1882 began playing baseball with the Missouri Pacific Railroad team; the company for whom he worked. In 1884 he became part of the St. Louis Browns club and through the years was a player and reserve manager as well as an umpire at different times. He suffered from acute paralysis toward the end of his career thought to have been the after effects of a blow to the head which knocked him senseless.
Goldsby at one time managed The Nashville Club in the Southern League. He was also manager of the old Baltimore Orioles, and managed Topeka, Evansville and various other clubs. At one time he was a member of the famous St. Louis Browns under the leadership of Charley Comiskey when they were the World Champions. Goldsby was a player of exceptional ability and was usually fast on his feet when actively in the game. Goldsby’s last experience in base ball was as a member of Judge Kavanaugh’s umpire staff in 1903.
Goldsby resided in several Arkansas cities and at the time of his death in 1914 was a resident of Harrisburg. Goldsby took his own life in a hotel room while visiting Dallas, Texas.
Throughout Union Parish every community seemed to have a team, no matter how small the community. Shiloh was known for its 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 resident of Bernice who actually made it to the professional baseball league.
Seaborn Jesse “Red” Booles
Booles was born in 1880 to William A. Booles and Susan Gilbert Booles. His professional baseball career began with the Shreveport Pirates in 1908. In that year he won 16 games and lost 16 games and sported a .138 batting average. 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.
The Naps “farmed out” Booles to Toledo, which is the experiment station for the Cleveland club. On April 25, 1910 an article in the El Paso Herald stated that “Not wishing to go north this year, Booles has stayed at his home in Bernice, where he has a family, but has wired that he will report here for the summer season.”
In May of 1910 an article in the El Paso Herald stated that Booles “arm is still sore from too much work so soon after going to El Paso but the freckled chap has oodles of it in that big arm when he gets it working good”. Another article in this paper described him as a “sandy haired lad with the sun kissed complexion.”
The Fort Worth Star Telegram of May 7, 1911 gave this article that included Booles:
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 cemetery on Highway 2 east of Bernice.
At the time of his death he was listed in the top 100 oldest living professional baseball players.
Farmerville Gazette – May 26, 1909
In a very hotly contested game last Friday Farmerville beat Bernice 4 to 1. The game was very fast and both teams showed up might well.
Pollock, the left hander for Bernice, pitched a beautiful game allowing but four hits and he kept them well scattered, showing his ability to pitch when necessary. Caldwell, catcher, did excellent work and Porter at short did good work. Bernice scored their only run in the second inning. Batteries for Farmerville James and Burton; Bernice, Pollock and Caldwell.
J. L. Caldwell
Ardmore, Oklahoma 1912
Pitcher Caldwell of the Dallas Giants arrived in Dallas last night from his home in Bernice, La.; Caldwell pitched for the Ardmore Club of the Texas League last year. Caldwell pitched in 7 games for the Ardmore Club and had 3 hits in 21.
The Bernice town team was competing locally almost as soon as the town was incorporated. As early as 1904 newspaper articles describe games between Bernice and Spearsville.
By 1909 the team was competing in games across North Louisiana. In 1909 Bernice defeated Jonesboro by a score of 5 to 0. The game featured the pitching of J.W. Caldwell and the backstop work of Muse, the Bernice battery. The game was played in one hour and 25 minutes.
August 18, 1915 –Monroe News Star
Bernice Has Fast Team-Manager McClendon is in receipt of a letter from the manager of the Bernice Team which plays here Sunday, in which he states he will bring a team that can play ball. “Red” Booles, former Cleveland American League pitcher is with the Bernice Club which has other strong members. The Bernice manager said if his club did not give Monroe a good game he would not expect any payment.
August 21, 1915 – Monroe News Star
August 23, 1915 – Monroe News Star
Only four of the Bernice team reached Monroe for the game with the local boys yesterday afternoon, the others being stranded on the road when the “Fliver” in which they were making the trip broke down. The Monroe players were substituted and it looked like it would be a good contest but a heavy rain came up after the second inning, flooding the grounds. The diamond soon drained, the outfield was soaked but the game continued after a delay of thirty minutes. The pitchers could do little with the heavy wet balls. It was a wonder the score was not larger.
Farmerville Gazette – July 1916
The town of Bernice advertised an upcoming “Big Barbecue and Public Speaking” with the note that a big baseball game would be part of the festivities.
Farmerville Gazette – Summer 1921
Manager Stencil took his bunch over to Bernice for a game last Thursday. Bernice, not having a good ground to play on, they met out in an old corn field and had a regular boys’ game that resulted in a score of 14 to 13 in favor of Bernice. This was not a ball game; merely a burlesque on baseball. The following day Stencil Miller Lumber Company asked for a game, but manager Stencil turned them down on account of the team being beaten to death the day before chasing balls down the corn rows of Bernice.
Cathy Buckley is a native of Union Parish and lifelong citizen of Shiloh. She served as Principal of Spearsville High School for many years until her retirement. Cathy is now the director of the Bernice Depot Museum and a active member of the Bernice Historical Society.