No turkeys this year – instead, here’s a photo for your Thanksgiving enjoyment.

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This circa 1910 image is mounted on a card, and has a long message on the back in ink:
“This was taken Thanksgiving afternoon, After the foot ball game.  Just use this [the next two lines have been scratched out with a stylus].  No. 1.  Harrison Englang [sic].  No. 2. Sir. Thomas Dawson.  No. 3. Duke of South Dakota.  Yours Truly, L.A. Dawson.  This is entitled The Bon Ton Socials of Rockville.”

Bon Ton Socials front and back
This is a pretty fantastic photo, all around.  1) The gentlemen are conveniently sporting a variety of hat and collar styles, making it a nice comparative sample for today’s researchers (a.k.a., me).  2) They gave themselves a funny, if perhaps highly temporary, group name.  3) Dawson spelled his friend’s name wrong – on purpose? – and then someone vehemently erased part of the message – why?  And, 4) It’s Thanksgiving, around 100 years ago . . . and there is football involved.

The pictured gentlemen are Harrison England (1891-1973), Thomas Dawson, Jr. (1892-1944), both of Rockville . . . and here’s where my planned Thanksgiving/Native American Heritage Month post went awry yesterday.  I’d thought that perhaps No. 3 was Bill Ross (1903-?), an Oglala Lakota who came to Rockville in the late 1910s to stay with the family of Hal and Fannie Dawson, and whose story I promised you back in Feburary.  The Dawsons and their children lived for many years on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota; they moved to Hal’s family farm, Rocky Glen, in 1911. Hal and Fannie welcomed Bill “Chief” Ross into their family for a time, and indeed he appears in the 1920 Rockville census as the Dawsons’ “adopted son.”

However, closer examination of the photo makes me think that the third gentleman here is Lawrence A. Dawson (1893-1953), author of the message on the reverse, and oldest son of Hal and Fannie.  I had initially ruled him out because the photo was donated by Lawrence’s daughter, Mary Dawson Gray, but perhaps she took it for granted that we knew “No. 3″ was her dad, without writing it down.  The relative ages of the three young men, the style of their clothing, and comparison with photos of a thirty year old Lawrence and ten year old Bill all point to the “Duke of South Dakota” being Lawrence himself, who came to Rockville* several years before the rest of his immediate family – putting this photo around 1910-12.

Thanksgiving and football have a long-entwined history – there are records of college games held on the holiday as early as the 1870s, and in the DC area Georgetown University’s Thanksgiving Day games were highlights of the season by the late 19th century.  And since I can’t resist a good turkey postcard, here’s a circa 1900 example showing a turkey playing football.

1908 football gameI wasn’t able to find anything about Rockville Thanksgiving Day football games in particular, but our library does include evidence of a possible precedent: The Midget, a one-sheet newspaper published by Rockville youths, reported on November 12, 1908 that “the ‘Uptowns’ and ‘Downtowns’ had a foot-ball game at the Fair Grounds last Saturday.”  (Click the image at left to see the full line-up.) The Downtowns won, 17 to 5, “although the Uptowns had more weight and what was more they had the time-keeper as coach.”   (Alas, our collection of Midgets – and possibly its print-run altogether – is sporadic; no record of a Thanksgiving game has been found in this source.) If any Rockville historians or residents have info, pictures, or records to share, please do!

* Lawrence came east in order to attend school; he stayed with relatives, including his aunt and uncle at our own Beall-Dawson House, where he can be found in the 1910 census.  And don’t worry, I’ll get to Bill Ross’s full story one of these days.

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