Native Village Youth and Education News
November, 2009 Volume 4

NFL's Indians were rich in Oklahomans
Condensed by Native Village

Oklahoma: If you live in Oklahoma and care anything about state pride and Native American heritage, here's who your favorite NFL team should be: the Oorang Indians.

Never heard of them? You've got a valid excuse since the Oorang Indians haven't played a game since Dec. 9, 1923.

On that day, Emmett McLemore sloshed through ankle-deep mud at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds, caught the last touchdown pass in franchise history and helped lift the Indians to a 19-0 victory over the Louisville Brecks.

McLemore was born in Lyons Switch when Oklahoma was still Indian Territory. He died in 1973. He wrecked his knee playing pro football, so he became an educator and coach at Stilwell,  where the junior high gym bears his name. He later coached at Bacone College. McLemore also served his country in the military and urged Baconeplayers to do likewise.

But McLemore isn't the only reason Oklahomans shouldd jump on the Oorang Indians' bandwagon. The franchise, though based in tiny LaRue, Ohio, probably had a higher percentage of Oklahomans on its roster than any NFL squad before or since.

In the 1920s, NFL teams suited up only about 20 players each. Among the Oorang Indians were McLemore, Peter Blackbear, Al Jolley, Bill Newashe, and Jim and Jack Thorpe. Others might have been Oklahomans, also, but verifying roots can be tricky when researching birth records from the 19th century.

All, however, deserve recognition for playing it what could be the most interesting franchise in NFL history -- every player on the Indians' roster was a Native American.

Owner Walter Lingo started the team intending to promote his real business, Oorang dog kennels. Lingo and his hunting buddy, Thorpe, put together an all-Indian team as a marketing gimmick.

Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox tribe, served as a player-coach. Many of his players went by aliases. McLemore, who was "Little Rabbit" in college, was called "Red Fox" while with the Oorang Indians.

Fans bought tickets not only to watch Thorpe, an Olympic hero and multi-sport star, but also to see the Oorang Indians don Native American apparel and participate in wild west-type halftime shows, complete with stunts by Lingo's trained dogs.

While today that wouldn't be politically correct, the joke was  on the spectators. "They thought we were all wild men, even though almost all of us had been to college and were generally more civilized than they were," former Indians player Leon Boutwell once said.  "... .Since we were Indians, we could get away with things the white men couldn't. Don't think we didn't take advantage of it."

The Oorang Indians attracted thousands of curious fans who then became interested in pro football. "I personally think that the Oorang Indians, the Canton Bulldogs and the Massillon Tigers were three teams that probably introduced people to pro football," author Robert Whitman once said.

The Oorang Indians didn't win many games; the team only lasted two years. But the team was immortalized in a 1984 book titled "Jim Thorpe and the Oorang Indians: The NFL's Most Colorful Franchise."

Thorpe is one of two Oorang Indians in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The other is Joe Guyon, who threw the last touchdown pass in franchise history the one that Emmett McLemore caught.

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