John Golden

the First African American Baseballist in Washington State?

by Ty Phelan

Who was the first African American to integrate baseball in Washington state? This is an impossible question to answer with any degree of certainty. However, if you are talking about ‘organized baseball’, the honor perhaps goes to John Golden of the 1906 Ellensburg Colts.

John Golden
John Golden —
1906 Ellensburg Colts

John “Goldy” Golden (1880-1951) was born in Washington DC, July 18, 1880. He enlisted and was assigned to the 9th Cavalry, one of the most famous early black regiments.

The unit fought courageously in the Spanish American War alongside Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Cuba, 1898. They were repositioned after the 114 day conflict to Fort Wingate, New Mexico in 1899-1900, and served in the Philippines from 1900 to 1902.

After he returned from overseas, Golden settled in Ellensburg, Washington. Many ex-Cavalry moved to central Washington, specifically the Kittitas and Yakima Valleys, for the cowboys life on the frontier. Many of the best rodeo circuit riders in the area were African American Cavalrymen. Golden was a “baggage master” at the Northern Pacific Railroad station for nearly 40 years. A baggage master in a ranching community did more than just carry luggage, they handled horses and drove livestock on and off railcars. He was one of the most trusted persons in town; that was not just money out of pocket, but a meal on your families table he handled.

The cities of Ellensburg and Yakima have been regional sports rivals since the late 1800’s. In 1906, the first incarnation of this mutual disdain on the baseball diamond was the short-lived Yakima Valley League. The 1906 YVL was clumsily rolled out, stumbled through an abbreviated season, and mercifully folded like a cheap lawn chair.

For a blip on the baseball map, the league certainly had some interesting players such as Yakima Tigers’ Royal ‘Hunky’ Shaw, and Ellensburg Colts’ Nick Daviscourt. Hunky Shaw is probably most well known for his T206 tobacco card from his brief time with Providence, one at-bat with the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates, and extensive Pacific Coast League career. One of Golden’s teammates was Nick Daviscourt (Dewiscourt), a former football standout and multi-championship wrestler; “Amateur Champion of the Northwest”, and “Canadian Heavyweight Champion”. Daviscourt wrestled for the professional World Championship twice; versus Ed “Strangler” Lewis in New York (1921) and versus Jim Browning in Los Angeles (1934). Both bouts he lost.

John Golden manned the hot corner for the Ellensburg Colts. He typically hit sixth in the batting order, just ahead of Daviscourt. Initially the league had six teams, then contracted to just four; Yakima Tigers, Ellensburg Colts, Toppenish Indians, and Prosser Elks. Games were played on Sunday afternoons. By available records the Ellensburg Colts were third in the league, with a record of 3 wins and 6 losses. The teams short existence was captured by local photographer Otto Pautzke, and included in the 1907 Spalding Guide probably without editors realizing the team was integrated.

After his single season with the Colts, Golden pitched for Ellensburgs’ black baseball team, but they played only periodically. When given the opportunity he performed well on the mound. He pitched three innings “of no hit, no run baseball” at a charity event to save Ellensburg’s AME church. The 1912 Ellensburg black baseball team played a benefit game to save the local AME church. The game was meant, “To free the AME church from a debt that has been hanging over it for a number of years, the negroes of Ellensburg and the surrounding country yesterday gave an all day program beginning with speeches, including a baseball game and barbecue and ending with a reception in the evening.”

Following the speeches of Mayor Mahan and Reverend Sharp, “the crowd repaired to the ballpark, where a nine inning baseball game between the North Yakima and Ellensburg negro teams was played. The lower valley nine (Yakima) won the contest the score being 13 to 8. John “Goldie” Golden, who played first base on the Ellensburg team several years ago, pitched three innings for the home team, no hits or runs being made. Although the team had indulged in but little practice, they made a most creditable showing, and the game was fast and exciting. The (Ellensburg) line-up: Brown, first, Brewer, second, ‘Star’ Hunter, third, William Thomas, catcher, Golden, pitcher, Morrison, shortstop, Forney, centerfield, Gratton, rightfield, and Evans, leftfield.

A barbecue dinner was served in the AME church after the ball game. During the afternoon a steer, sheep, hogs, and other meats were roasted, and although the hungry crowd would not wait till the meats were thoroughly cooked, the repast was said to be excellent. In the evening a reception was held in the Grace church parish house, at which the 56 out-of-town people were guests…. Close to 200 people attended the reception and the celebration was a success in every way.” (June 20, 1912 Ellensburg Evening Record)

This event in Ellensburg hosted some of the most well-known black families in central Washington, including Jasper P. Evans, Mrs. Della Woods, and the Sanders family. Jasper P. Evans was a decorated Civil War veteran who fought for the 18th infantry in Missouri before homesteading 160 acres outside of Selah, Washington in 1896. Jasper would have been 64 at this event, so the left-fielder was probably one of his two oldest sons Edward or Nathan Evans, 26 and 22 respectively. Mrs. Della Woods was the mother of Yakima boxer, Henry Woods, also known as “Yakima’s Ghost of Joe Gans” (82-9 career record). Miss Margaret Sanders and Liette Sanders were Bob Sanders mother and aunt. He was born in Roslyn (1902), and was ten years old at this event. Sanders’ was a right handed pitcher with a 10 year career in the Negro Leagues.

This is probably more genealogy than interests most, but I thought it was a nice story about church, community, barbecue, and early baseball history in Washington state. Hope you enjoyed it.

Ty Phelan is the author of “Darkhorse: The Jimmy Claxton Story
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