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They Would Not Be Denied: Wyoming’s 1st (and only) NFL Game

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Uncle Sam was enlisted to promote the game. (Wyoming Tribune September 10, 1944)

75 years ago today, Wyoming became a part of NFL history. On September 10, 1944 the Brooklyn Tigers, a professional football team in the National Football League, played the Fort Warren Broncos at Cheyenne, Wyoming. The Broncos team was comprised of active duty servicemen stationed at Fort Warren (now Warren Air Force Base) during World War II. This game was the first and only time an NFL team played in the state of Wyoming during the league’s 100 year history. 

Legendary sports announcer and commentator, and Wyoming native son, Curt Gowdy covered the game for the local Wyoming Eagle. He described the game as “[slated to be] a battle of the pros’ power and experience against the spirit and hustle of the quartermasters. It turned out just that way. A team that won’t be beat, can’t be beat.”[1]

Bleachers in the stadium

The Warren Bowl was an large multi-use sports field on the east side of Fort Warren (beside what is I-25 today). The sunken oval track and infield were surrounded by wooden bleachers, which had been expanded for this game. The press box and radio room also received upgrades. (WSA Stimson Neg 4756, Warren Bowl, 1930 by J.E. Stimson)

The game kicked off at 2:00 P.M. at the Warren Bowl with 3,000 to 4,000 in the bleachers, including 1,200 Cheyenne civilians. Enlisted personnel attended for free, while civilians paid $1.75 or $2.75 admission.[2] The low turnout among Cheyennites was partially blamed on predictions that the professional team would steamroll the Broncos. Bronco coach Captain Willis M. Smith remained optimistic, proclaiming the Broncos would give a good showing against the professional team. [3]

The naysayers were correct, but for only one quarter of the game. The first quarter belonged to the Tigers. The Tiger’s offense routinely smashed through the Broncos’ defensive line allowing for long gains on the ground. After a 49-yard march down the field Tiger’s halfback Frank Sachse lateraled to star fullback Pug Manders who then plunged into the endzone from the 12 yard line. Kicker Bruiser Kinnard’s extra point kick was good. The first minute of the second quarter saw another Tiger score. Ray Hare broke through the Broncos’ defensive front for an easy score. Kinnard’s extra point was good and the Tigers were up 14 points on the Broncos.

Photos of the football game from the newspaper

The Broncos, in their new red, white, and blue uniforms, stand out against the Tiger’s black and orange. (WSA Wyoming Eagle September 12, 1944)

The Bronco defense settled down and dug in, not allowing the Tiger’s into the endzone through the rest of the second quarter and all of the third quarter. The Tiger’s offense did do some scoring of their own in the second and third quarters but penalties called the touchdowns back.

The fourth quarter opened with the Broncos still trailing the Tigers by two touchdowns. The Bronco offense came alive in the closing quarter of the game to score 21 unanswered points. The Tigers came back and scored a third touchdown in the final minute of the game. The Tiger kicker, Kinard, missed the extra point by sailing it high over the upright as the clock ticked to zero. If the game was played to college rules the kick would have been good, but professional rules stated the kick must go between the uprights. The final score was Broncos: 21 Tigers: 20. [4]

Final game box scores

(WSA Wyoming Tribune September 11, 1944

Bronco coach Captain Smith told the Wyoming Tribune after the game, “I am very pleased with the showing my team made. Everyone on the club who saw action did a remarkable job. The Tigers did everything we expected them to do and a little more.”

Brookly Tiger coach Pete Cawthorn lauded the tenacious Fort Warren Broncos. He told the Wyoming Tribune, “The Fort Warren team played a fine game after being behind two touchdowns. They made a swell showing and Captain Clifford Long (Bronco back) turned in an outstanding game… The credit shouldn’t go to any one Fort Warren player, however, as the entire Bronco team deserves credit equally for beating us.”

When asked if he could have changed anything about the game, Coach Cawthorn said he would have kept his starting line up in longer. “We probably took our first string out of the game too soon, early in the second quarter, but Fort Warren wasn’t to be denied.”

The 1944 season was the last season for the Brooklyn Tigers (whose name changed from the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944.) Not surprising for a team in dead last with no wins during the regular season. Franchise owner Dan Topping announced he was joining the new All-America Football Conference, so the NFL canceled his franchise and merged the team with the Boston Yanks.[7]

The Fort Warren Broncos brought the confidence gained from beating the professional squad into their next game against University of Colorado at Boulder on September 23. The Broncos won this game 7-6.  Despite ended the season with an average record of 5-4-1, this football club is rumored to lay claim to an extraordinary feat in football history: the Fort Warren Broncos are the only independent team to ever defeat a professional football team and a major college program in the same season. [7]

ViewScan Premium PDF ouputIn his post-game commentary, Gowdy asked what “intangible something” underdogs possess that enabled them to pull off the unexpected. “That intangible something is team spirit… That team spirit must originate within the players themselves” and be fostered by the coaches. Gowdy’s credit started at the top with the fort’s commanding officer Brigadier General H.L. Whittaker for fostering participation in team sports on base and continuing to the coaches, who he praised for preparing the team to tackle what he argued was “one of the toughest schedules in the entire nation.” He ended with lavish praise of the team themselves:

To single out an outstanding player… would be doing an injustice to the Fort Warren eleven. They were jittery, out manned, and badly outplayed… and all fought together in one of the most perfect examples of team play you’ll ever hope to see. There were captains, lieutenants, enlisted men and players of different races hustling and winning side by side. Think that through. Isn’t that truly the democratic way of life?[8]


1. “Curt Comments”, Wyoming Eagle September 12, 1944 p12. Born in Green River in 1919, Curt Gowdy began his career in journalism covering sports for his high school newspaper. Graduating with a degree in journalism and 3 letters in both tennis and basketball, Gowdy enlisted in the Army hoping to become a fighter pilot. It was not to be and he was medically discharged from the Air Force in 1943. That year he began calling high school and local sporting events in Cheyenne and covering sports for the Cheyenne radio station and Wyoming Eagle newspaper while he recovered from back surgery. By 1945, he was in Oklahoma covering and calling minor league and college sports. His distinctive style got him a job with New York Yankees in 1949. In 1951, he began calling for the Boston Red Sox. During his over 30 years on the national stage, Gowdy covered professional and college games in both football and baseball, including several noteworthy moments and numerous post-season games in both sports. He also called all of the Olympic Games televised by ABC from 1964-1988 and hosted or narrated several television shows.

2. “Fort Warren Broncs Vs. Brooklyn Tigers”, Wyoming State Tribune September 10, 1944
3. “Tough Broncs Trim Brooklyn Pros, 21 to 20.” Wyoming State Tribune, September 11, 1944, p. 5
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. “NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers.” Pro Football Hall of Fame https://www.profootballhof.com/news/nfl-s-brooklyn-dodgers/ (retrieved May 2019)
7. “Curt Comments”, Wyoming Eagle September 12, 1944 p12.
8. This claim is not corroborated. We would love to hear from anyone with more information.

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Filed under Eyewitness to History, This Day in Wyoming History..., Wyoming at War

Red Cloud in Blue

Every so often, you come across an item in the collection that is so unusual it makes you stop and stare. This is one of those items, both for its subject and technique.

Red Cloud and his wife, Pretty Owl, in 1888. Cyanotype on silk.  (WSA B-82)

Red Cloud and his wife, Pretty Owl, in 1888. Cyanotype on silk.
(WSA B-82)

In 1888, Ogalala Lakota Chief Red Cloud and his wife, Pretty Owl, sat for an unnamed photographer. He would have been about 66 and she about 53. The two were married  around 1850 and it was said that she was very jealous of other women vying for his attention and was the undisputed head of the household.

During the 1860s, Red Cloud’s band of Ogalala Lakota Sioux warriors joined with several other groups in attacks against the US Army stationed in the Powder River Basin. They attacked Fort Phil Kearny repeatedly, lured and killed Captain Fetterman at what became known as the Fetterman Massacre, and were the cause of John “Portugee” Phillips’ famous 236 mile ride to Fort Laramie for reinforcements. In fact, the entire series of battles became known as “Red Cloud’s War.” (read more about it on WyoHistory.org)

The Treaty of Fort Laramie at 1868 brought an end to "Red Cloud's War." The US Army agreed to abandon forts in Northern Wyoming and build agencies for the tribes in the region. (WSA Sub Neg 5439, 1090, National Archives photo, by Alexander Gardner)

The Treaty of Fort Laramie at 1868 brought an end to “Red Cloud’s War.” The US Army agreed to abandon forts in Northern Wyoming and build agencies for the tribes in the region.
(WSA Sub Neg 5439, 1090, National Archives photo, by Alexander Gardner)

In 1868, Red Cloud participated in the treaty talks at Fort Laramie which lead to the US Army abandoning the forts, including Fort Phil Kearny, in northern Wyoming.  Red Cloud went on to lead the Ogallala Lakota as chief from 1868 until his death in 1909.

The treaty also stipulated that the Lakota be confined to an Indian agency, the forerunner of the reservations. It was named in Red Cloud’s honor and moved three times before it was renamed the Pine Ridge Agency and permanently located in South Dakota.

This particular type photograph is called a cyanotype and was printed on what appears to be silk. Cyanotypes are made by treating paper with potassium ferricyanide and a ferris salt. The negative is placed directly on the prepared paper and exposed to UV light (usually sunlight), which causes the exposed portions to turn a muddy yellow. The prints are then “developed” using plain water and the yellow-green become the characteristic blue and the original color of the paper shows through in the highlights.

Detail of the cyanotype. The image is crisp and clear, despite the texture of the fabric.  (WSA B-82)

Detail of the cyanotype. The image is crisp and clear, despite the texture of the fabric.
(WSA B-82)

The process became a favorite technique for architects reproducing plans which became known as blueprints. Amateur photographers also liked the processes because it was cheap, simple, and produced a wonderfully detailed image, but the blue color made them less than ideal. Pre-treated cyanotype paper is available today in sun print or sun sensitive paper kits. (As a side note, faded blueprints and cyanotypes have a fascinating habit of regenerating to some extent when they are stored in the dark for long periods of time.)

The same process was  used on fabric for this photograph, a technique which is still fairly popular with textile artists who use natural materials and found objects as well as negatives or transparencies to create their designs. Silk is a favored fabric because of its tight, even weave and smooth texture, but modern cottons are also used.

Examples of cyanotypes. These two were amateur snapshots taken in Cheyenne's Holliday Park and then printed on postcards. The large dark spot in the lower photo is a dog's head as it swims toward the camera.  (WSA P71-78_14b & e, ca 1906-1907)

Examples of cyanotypes. These two were amateur snapshots on postcards taken in Cheyenne’s Holliday Park and then printed on postcards. The large dark spot in the lower photo is a dog’s head as it swims toward the camera.
(WSA P71-78/14b & e, ca 1906-1907)

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Greetings From… Fort Bridger!

Fort Bridger is one of the oldest permanent white settlements in what is now Wyoming. This bit of land has seen it all. From Native Americans to Trappers and mountain men, religious militias to the US Army, trading post and commissaries to modern convenience stores, game trails to emigrant trails to interstates.

This monument was placed as Fort Bridger when it became a State Historic site in 1933. Nearly 7,000 people attended the festivities and several dignitaries spoke, including Wyoming Governor B.B. Brooks and LDS President Herbert Grant.  (WSA P72-70/4-9)

This monument was placed as Fort Bridger when it became a State Historic site in 1933. Nearly 7,000 people attended the festivities and several dignitaries spoke, including Wyoming Governor B.B. Brooks and LDS President Herbert Grant.
(WSA P72-70/4-9)

In the 1840s, mountain men camped, hunted–and a few even died- in the Valley in their quest for beaver and other furs. In 1842/3, Jim Bridger saw the end of one way of life and decided to settle down and build a trading post with his partner Louis Vasquez. The location he chose was strategically placed in an oasis like valley on the edge of the Wyoming badlands, on the Oregon and California Trails and at the head of the canyon leading into the fertile Salt Lake Valley. In  this remote spot, Bridger built his trading empire.

In 1847, Brigham Young and a group of Mormon settlers established Great Salt Lake City in the neighboring valley. The two parties disagreed on many issues. In 1853, an armed militia out of Salt Lake attempted to arrest Bridger for selling alcohol to the local tribes. Bridger abandoned the fort and the Mormons established their own Fort Supply nearby. The LDS church claimed that they had purchased the fort, through a power of attorney, from Vasquez and Bridger for $8000. By 1858, hostilities between the LDS church in Salt Lake and the US Government in Washington DC had become so heated that the US Army was sent to depose Brigham Young from his position as governor of Utah Territory. The walls of the fort were reinforced but ultimately, both Fort Supply and Fort Bridger were burnt by the retreating Mormons. (You can still see a portion of the “Mormon Wall” today) The US Army took possession of the ruins and occupied the site almost continually until 1890 when all of the frontier posts were abandoned.

Commissary and ruins of the old trading post, surrounded by the fortified "Mormon Wall". (WSA P81-45/240)

Commissary and ruins of the old trading post, surrounded by the “Mormon Wall”.
(WSA P81-45/240)

In addition to a trading post, the site has served as a pony express stop, terminal on the first transcontinental telegraph line, and a stop on the first transcontinental highway (Lincoln Highway). Fort Bridger was also the second post office established by the Federal Government in what is now Wyoming. It was established in August 1850, only 5 months after the post office at Fort Laramie. In 1933, the site was transferred to the State of Wyoming and is still administered as a State Historic Site by the Department of Parks & Cultural Resources. It has been a popular tourist attraction since then. Visitors can explore the remains of the fort, several restored buildings, and the museum housed in the old barracks building.

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