The observance of Christmas day in Emporia was not unlike that generally practice elsewhere. The weather was mild, but the sky was o'ercast with clouds...But the feature of the observance was a huge game of “ball” in the public square. Nearly all the male bipeds of the place – old and young – participated in the sport, which commenced in the morning and continued until dark. - The fun and excitement were great, and doffing, for the time, the gravity and dignity of every-day life and business, all were “boys again,” and entered into the spirit of the game with a relish and vigor that would have done credit to their younger years. - The discussions which grew out of this revival of “the days when we were young,” have been very numerous, covering the whole range of “ball science,” and many are the learned disquisitions we have listened to in regard to the merits and demerits of “base ball,” bull-pen, cat-ball, etc., with the proper mode of conducting the game. - Nobody got mad or drunk during the whole day; and although the time might have been more profitably spent, yet taking it all in all, we believe that it was much better employed than is usual on such occasions.
-The Kansas News (Emporia, Kan.), January 1, 1859
Now, while I'm normally focused on St. Louis baseball history, I've been forced to expand my focus over the years and have traced the spread of proto-baseball games across the Trans-Appalachian West prior to the Civil War. I've also poked my nose a bit further west and have looked around for some of the earliest references to baseball west of Missouri. I'm going to share a little of that with you this week.
While I'm a bit farther afield than normal, this piece from Kansas is actually a relevant to St. Louis baseball and the history of early baseball in the region. The listing of early games - base ball, bullpen and cat ball - is similar to the lists of games we see in Illinois and Missouri in the 1820s and 1830s. I find it particularly interesting to see bullpen listed with proto-baseball games because I don't think there are too many people other than me who believe it should be listed with those games. Bullpen was certainly a popular game among frontier children in the first half of the 19th century but there was no batting or pitching or things that you would normally associate with baseball. While it was essentially an early form of dodge ball, I think the game fits comfortably in the American baseball family of games.
Another really interesting thing here is the date and place of the game. Emporia is about halfway between Topeka and Wichita and about sixty miles southwest of Kansas City. It was a fairly new town, having been founded in 1857. The Boarder War was going on at this time and a group from Emporia took part in a clash at Fort Scott, on the side of a Free State militia that included John Brown, in late 1858. So it's almost certain that some of the men who took part in the ball game on Christmas 1858 were also taking part in the Boarder War. This is another example of how the history of early baseball is intertwined with the history of the Civil War.