This wonderful mural, “Shipshewana Indians,” is found on the side of the Mishler building, in downtown Shipshewana on Morton Street. Words on the left side say “Every Sunday Afternoon at 2 p.m.” and on the right, “St. Joseph Valley Line – Take the Train to the Game!” It also says “Est. 1906.” But even with these clues, I was unable to find any information about the baseball team online. Luckily, I was able to contact Al Yoder of the Shipshewana Area Historical Society for help.
Mr. Yoder told me that the baseball team was formed from all local players by an Elkhart businessman, a millionaire named H.E. Bucklen. Mr. Bucklen owned a hotel in Elkhart as well as having investments in Chicago. He built a railway (the St. Joseph Valley Line) which started in Elkhart, ran east through Shipshewana (south of Shipshewana Lake), and then onwards east to the Ohio state line. Near Shipshewana Lake, Bucklen built a resort—with a baseball field and stands.
The Shipshewana Indians played their games on Sunday afternoons, as the mural says, and fans came from Elkhart, Lagrange, and all points east. The Valley Line Railroad ran special cars to accommodate the crowds. During the games, the railroad cars would sit on a side track near the sawmill in Shipshewana, and then after the game, they would go back to pick up the fans.
The teams of 1907-1909 were especially talented, Al told me. Fans came from all over northern Indiana and southern Michigan to see them play. They played teams from neighboring towns like Goshen, Elkhart, and nearby Sturgis, Michigan. All the players were local lads. Some of the best were Pete Fahrer and Harry Eash (pitchers); Claude Lupold (catcher); Vern Butts (1st base); James Beecher (2nd base); Leo Hersberger (shortstop); Samuel Curtis (3rd base); and lastly, Burns Summey, Clifford Sixby, and Jim Lemerck (fielders).
With this information from Mr. Yoder, I was able to do a little more digging. First of all, I wondered about H.E. Bucklen and his railroad. (This was a different railroad line than the Pumpkin Vine Railroad, pictured in another Walldogs Mural and written about in another of my posts.) There was so much to H.E. Bucklen’s story, that I’m saving it for another day.
Who were these young men on the 1907-1909 Indians baseball team? I decided to check the 1910 census records and the 1917 WWI draft records to find out.
· Pete Fahrer (pitcher): His name was really Clarence. In 1910 he was 20 and was a baker in a restaurant. By 1917 he was a farmer in Newaygo County, Michigan.
· Harry S. Eash (pitcher): I couldn’t find him in 1910, but in 1900 he was 12 and a farmer’s son, so in 1910 he would have been 22. By 1917 he was a theatrical manager in Dodge City, Kansas.
· Claude Lupold (catcher): His first name was actually “Cloid”! In 1910 he was 26 and a farm laborer on the home farm. In 1917 he was a farmer, still in the Shipshe area.
· Vernon R. Butts (1st base): In 1910 he was 26, separated from his first wife, and living with his parents; he was a carpenter. By 1917 he was remarried and worked in the Shipshe area as a locomotive fireman.
· James A. Beecher (2nd base): In 1910 he was 24 and worked as a miller at a flour and feed mill. He was married with a 5-year-old son. By 1917 he was a salesman for the Anthony Wayne Institute in Fort Wayne. He was sent to Fort Benjamin Harrison Officer Training Camp that year, but failed the physical.
· Leo D. Hershberger (shortstop): In 1910 he was a 20-year-old public school teacher, having graduated from the local high school in 1907. By 1917 he was a Methodist minister in a nearby town.
· Samuel P. Curtis (3rd base): In 1910 Samuel, age 25, lived with his brother and they both worked in a meat market. By 1917 he was a farmer in the area.
· Burns H. Summey (fielder): He graduated from the local high school in 1907. In the 1910 census he was 21 and worked in a butcher shop. In 1917 he was still working locally as a butcher.
· Clifford F. Sixby (fielder): In the 1910 census Clifford was the manager of a restaurant and 27 years old. By 1917 he was a farmer in Newaygo County, Michigan.
· Jim Lemerck (fielder): His name was actually James G. Limric. In 1910 he was 30 years old, married, and a plumber. By 1917 he worked at the Smith Brothers Hardware Store in Shipshewana, in the plumbing/tinning department.
A look at newspapers.com didn’t turn up much, but I was able to find out that their home field was called “Lakeside Park.” An article from Shipshewana in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (7/11/1911) said, “A large number of fans from here gathered at Lakeside Park yesterday to witness the game between the Lagrange and Shipshewana teams. The game was one of the best seen on the local lot this season but at no time was the outcome in doubt as Fahrer, pitching for the local team, had the visitors at his mercy throughout the game.” I also learned that in September 1909, Goshen had won the independent baseball championship of northern Indiana and southern Michigan by beating Shipshewana 18-3 (Indianapolis News, 9/20/1909).
The Walldogs mural says that the team was established in 1906, which makes sense, given that Mr. Bucklen laid plans for his lakeside resort in 1905. I was unable to find out when the team stopped playing, but perhaps World War I put an end to it. Or maybe the fact that the railroad line that brought the fans was sold and scrapped in 1918 had something to do with it. I would love to know more about the team and the baseball field and the resort on the south side of Shipshewana Lake.