Felix and Captain Embry

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Felix Wallace

I know I said my next post about Felix/Dick Wallace would be about his contributions to the famed 1909 St. Paul Colored Gophers, but I’ve come across something that’s quite, quite puzzling. Yes, as is often the case with what snares my acute attention, this is probably minutia, but it nonetheless has me captivated …

Anyway, here’s my first post on Mr. Wallace. Popular but brief biographies of Wallace, a native of Owensboro, Ky., have him playing for the Louisville Giants in 1907 before hitching on with the “world colored champion” Colored Gophers in early 1909.

But then I came across an article in the Indianapolis Freeman from early in the 1909 season. Under the headline of “VINCENNES B.B. CAMP” reads this text:

“Capt. Wm. Embrys, formerly of the Louisville Cubs, has a fast bunch of ball players known as the Idaho Stars. They recently played the Evansville O.K.’s in a double header at the latter’s home.

“Vincennes expects a winning team of the Stars when the season closes.

“Wallace, who is playing second base for the St. Paul Gophers; Davis, Monroe, Jackson and a number of others are students of Embyrs [sic].”

A few explanatory notes … after doing some research, I think the guy’s name is William Embry, not Embyrs or Embrys. Also, Vincennes is a small city in southwest Indiana, a little ways away from the Ohio River and Evansville, and about 140 miles west of Louisville. And also, the Idaho Stars of Vincennes appear in the papers one other time in 1909, after they split a doubleheader with the Evansville O.K.’s.

The 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 federal Censuses do list an African-American “William Embry” in Vincennes, as (variously) a “hostler,” a “laborer” at “odd jobs” and “laborer” for “public,” and a “servant” for a “private family.” In the 1900, 1910 and 1930 documents, Embry and both his parents are listed as being born in Indiana. In the 1920 version, his birthplace is Indiana but both his parents are listed with “unknown” birthplaces.”

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1930 Census page listing William Embry in Vincennes, Ind.

Using the three documents, Embry’s birthdate seems to have been circa 1878, making him about 30 years old at the time of the 1909 Freeman article. And Embry’s World War I draft card lists his birthdate as Aug. 28, 1878, and a residence in Vincennes. On the card, he states that he’s a laborer for a J.B.E. LaPlante in the “LaPlante Bldg.”

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By the time of the 1930 Census, Embry and his wife, Maud, owned their own home worth $5,000 in an otherwise all-white neighborhood.

William Embry is also listed in numerous years of the Vincennes city directory during that time. His listed occupations range from houseman to porter to janitor. However, the 1906 and 1910 directories confirm that this is the William Embry we’re looking for: In those books, his occupation is ballplayer.

However, I found almost no connection between Embry and Louisville except one: A marriages listing for “Negroes” in Jefferson County (which contains the city) in 1908 that includes Embry and Maud.

Now, the Louisville Cubs — or at least the ones I think the Freeman was talking about — don’t seem to have existed before 1909. In addition, media reports about them and their games — mostly in the Freeman — don’t include any mention of an “Embry,” although their is occasional inclusion of an “Emory” or “Emery.” So I couldn’t find any real evidence that does link William Embry to the Cubs.

The Cubs, though, seem to have been quite a good semipro team, one that wiped the floor with other squads in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Alabama and Tennessee. In May 1909, the Cubs squashed the Indianapolis White Sox, 9-2, in front of 400 fans. The Freeman noted that “[T]he Cubs played superb ball, their defense being perfect. Stung by defeat from the Sox in April, the Cubs went after them with a vengeance and got it good and plenty.”

That same week the Cubbies used a ninth-inning rally to nip the Birmingham Giants, 2-1, with the Freeman calling the contest “the best played game of the season. The local boys demonstrated that they are the best players in the South.”

Right after that, the “Little Bears” again beat the Alabama crew, this time by a count of 3-2 in front of a whopping 4,500 fans. “… the Louisville Cubs confirmed the report that they are the best semi-professional team in the South … in a well-played game. Significantly, it seems the pitcher for Birmingham was none other that “Steel Arm” Johnny Taylor, who would join Felix Wallace with the 1909 St. Paul Gophers.

Other cities also got psyched when the Cubs game to their burgs. The June 11, 1909, issue of the Nashville Globe features a big ad for an upcoming two-game set at Athletic Park between the Cubs and the Nashville Collegians. The ad states that the Cubs “defeated the Birmingham Giants two out of three in a recent series.”

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The result of the Nashville series? “The Louisville team boys took all three by good scores,” stated the Globe. “The games were batting feats in which all the Louisville players took a splendid role.”

So what was Felix Wallace’s connection to the Cubs and/or Embry? That, it seems, is the question. The one Freeman article explicitly links Wallace to Embry by calling the former a “student” of the latter. And the Freeman’s 1909 coverage of the Cubs does, throughout the season, mention a Wallace playing second base, Felix’s position.

And this Wallace appears to have been really good, frequently helping to turn double plays and, at the plate, slashing doubles and triples and clubbing the occasional home run. The June 5 issue of the Freeman states that “Wallace continues to furnish gilt-edged ball around second base,” while the later in the month, against the Tennessee Standard Giants:

“Wallace had a good eye on the ball, and swung the willow and sent the sphere out of the way for a home run. He also made several two and three-base hits.”

The most intriguing of this Wallace’s feats came in May against Birmingham, when he conquered one of the best pitchers of the day, stated the Freeman:

“Steel Arm John was easy for Wallace. Four times up, three hits, and on each hit a man scored. Guess that helps win games. What say you, knockers?”

Wouldn’t it have been incredible if this was Felix Wallace mastering his future St. Paul teammate?

But that could be highly unlikely, because there’s seemingly no way that this could be Felix. While Taylor indeed didn’t join the Gophers until mid-season 1909, from all appearances Felix Wallace was in St. Paul for the entire campaign that year.

And there could be further evidence that the Wallace of the 1909 Louisville Cubs isn’t Felix. The Aug. 21 Freeman states in a headline that “Wallace Now Captain of Cubs.” But the ensuing article asserts that “Wallace’s color is the only thing that keeps him out of rast [sic] company — oh, by the way, it is Captain Deamus now.”

Deamus Wallace??? Other coverage at different times during the 1909 season also mentions a “Deamus” playing for the Cubs.But in all kinds of searches, even a simple googling, uncovers now “Deamus Wallace” anywhere ever at anytime. And Felix Wallace did have the leadership skills to be a team captain; he took that role for the 1909 Gophers.

So what’s going on? Who is William Embry? Who is Deamus Wallace? When was Felix Wallace connected to Embry? And, for that matter, how were either Embry or Felix ever connected to Louisville and/or the Cubs?

It’s all very puzzling and intriguing, so much so that, as is often the case with stuff like this, it’s sticking in my craw very badly …

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