We played marbles and we played a game of ball in which there were four corners, four batters, and four catchers, ‘four old cat’ as it was then called.
-Reminiscences of William H. Packwood; p 37
William Packwood was born in Illinois in 1832 and lived in Mt. Vernon and Sparta. From the best I can tell, in his Reminiscences, he was talking about playing ball while he was going to school in Sparta and, since he stated that he went to school between the ages of six and twelve, this places the reference to his ball-playing activities between 1838 and 1844.
Besides being a pioneer ball-player in Illinois, Packwood was also a regular pioneer in Oregon and I found several articles about him in the Oregon press, which I'm passing along:
[Packwood] was born in Illinois, October 23, 1832. His father immigrated from Virginia to Illinois. Mr. Packwood attended school from his sixth to his twelfth year. The next six years were spent in working on a farm in the Summer and clerking in a store in the Winter. In 1846 he enlisted in what was known as the Mounted Rifles, and with 24 others under Captain Morris, served as an escort to General Wilson, on his way to California, who had been appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs on the Pacific Coast. In April, 1850, Mr. Packwood came with his company to Oregon in a vessel commanded by Captain McArthur, father of the late Judge L.L. McArthur. The company remained at Vancouver, Wash., until the next year when it was ordered to report at Benicia, California. In December, 1851, his company was ordered to Port Arthur, and was shipwrecked near Coos Bay on January 3, 1852. He was discharged from the Army in 1853, and then began mining and packing. At the breaking out of the Indian war of 1855-6, he offered his services and served as captain in the volunteer service. In 1857 he was chosen as a delegate to the constitutional convention of Oregon, from Curry County. In 1861 he went to Eastern Oregon, expecting to engage in the cattle business, but the gold discovery that year caused him to abandon this idea. He was one of the founders of the town of Auburn, nine miles from Baker City, a very important point in its day. For many years he was engaged in large mining enterprises in Baker County. He is among the best known and most highly respected citizens of Baker County. He was the first County School Superintendent of this county.
-Oregonian (Portland, OR), June 13, 1909
Closing a life that for more than half a century was interwoven with Oregon history, death came at 1:30 this afternoon to Judge William H. Packwood, aged 85, who was the last surviving member of the group that signed the state constitution when Oregon was admitted to the Union.
Judge Packwood was venerated by innumerable friends in all parts of the country and was revered by thousands of men who had been in his employ during the years that he was identified with the growth of the state. Traces of his work appear in ever corner of Baker County.
Three children survive. They are Mrs. J. L. Rand and William H. Packwood, of Baker, and Jefferson Packwood, of Seattle. Two daughters are dead. There are 14 grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements had not been completed today, but they will be conducted from St. Francis Cathedral.
No man in Baker County had a history more interesting than that of Judge Packwood.
Few pioneers there are in Oregon who can point to a record such as Mr. Packwood's, from the day when he first set foot on Oregon soil in 1849 to the time of his death. Mr. Packwood, bowed under the weight of his 85 years, was still an active citizen, and at the time of his death was concluding a book on the early pioneer history of Oregon, a work to which he devoted the major portion of his recent months. In this history, George H. Himes, of the Oregon Historical Society, has expressed intense interest and declares that it will be an invaluable addition to the historical records of Oregon.
Mr. Packwood was born at Jordan's Prairie, north of Mount Vernon, Ill, October 23, 1832, and lived there until he was 15 years old. In his youth he met and talked to Abraham Lincoln and could recall conversations he had with the man who was to become America's greatest President. When a boy of 15, in the Summer of 1848, he obtained the reluctant consent of his parents and enlisted for service in the Mexican war. He never saw service in Mexico, but instead started on a march to Oregon in May, 1849, serving as an orderly until he joined his regiment at Vancouver.
Mr. Packwood used to recount in an interesting manner how, at Astoria, he saw the timbers which had been gathered for the keel of the first steamboat to ply the waters of the Columbia, the "Columbia," which made its first trip up the river in 1850.
The youthful pioneer went back to California in the following year and served with Major Wessels in making treaties with the Indians of California. That same year trouble arose with the Indians of the Coquille and Coast tribes and Mr. Packwood was put in command of an expedition and started by boat to Port Orford. The schooner Lincoln, however, was wrecked in a storm at Coos Bay, January 3, 1852, and this it was which linked Mr. Packwood's early life with Curry and Coos counties and which made it possible for him later to become a member of the constitutional convention. Some supplies were saved from the wreck of the Lincoln and, after camping for a short time, Mr. Packwood took his command overland to Port Orford and subjugated the turbulent redskins. He was discharged from Army service September 23, 1853, after having served five years.
Although he had not yet reached his majority, Mr. Packwood was at last a free agent to do as he wished. He formed a partnership with George H. Abbott and took up mining, made a little stake and then he and Mr. Abbott bought horses, sold their claims and, after packing and freighting for a while, took up ranching in Curry County. Indians became troublesome and the youth was made Lieutenant of a volunteer company, captained by Mr. Abbott. They subjugated the Indians again and then, in December, 1854, he went prospecting to California. He returned to Oregon and in 1855 was elected Captain of a company to enter the Indian War. He was commissioned Captain of the Coquille Guards by Governor George L. Curry. He took an active part in the Indian War and was instrumental in bringing about the surrender of the three warring tribes.
Mining again attracted the young pioneer and he went in 1857 to the Sixes River mines and soon after was elected by unanimous vote of Curry County to represent it at the state constitutional convention. He was then a youth of 25 and had never even voted, but had taken part in making laws in mining camps and had presided as chairman at miners' meetings. He was worried somewhat as to his qualifications and appealed to Mr. Abbott, his old partner, for advice.
"Be yourself," was Mr. Abbott's sole advice, and thus equipped he joined the convention made up of citizens who were destined to become leaders in Oregon's affairs. Of that little body of men which drew Oregon's constitution, two later were Governors, four were United State Senators, two were Representatives to Congress, one was a Federal Judge, one became Attorney General of the United States and Mayor of Portland, one State Attorney General, six judges of the state courts one Mayor of Portland and one had the triple distinction of being successively Representative of Congress, Governor and United States Senator. Of all this list of distinguished pioneers and the others who were members of that convention, Mr. Packwood was the survivor.
The elk in the Oregon seal was placed there at Mr. Packwood's suggestion at that historic convention, while he was also active in the debate on the many questions which came before the body.
It was not long after this that Mr. Packwood went to Siletz and Yaquina, where he was sub-agent for the Indians. He did not stay there long, but returned to Coquille, where he raised cattle and horses and then was elected County Assessor, not even knowing he was a candidate until election day.
Business reverses took his ranch away from him in 1862 and, interested in the Blue Bucket strike in Eastern Oregon, he left for this section and helped lay out the town of Auburn, then the mining center of the entire district. He engaged in merchandising, freighting and packing at once and the first year he was there organized the Auburn Water Company, which, after many years, became the greatest water company in the entire Baker district, and the plant, which cost $225,000, is now giving water to the city of Baker.
Among his earlier experiences in Baker County was one which he never liked. He was elected one of three judges to try a Frenchman for poisoning his partner. The Frenchman was convicted by a jury and was hanged. This was in 1862.
The same year, October 16, Mr. Packwood married, soon after being appointed School Superintendent of the newly-created Baker County.
Among the achievements which he recalled with pride was that he signed the first call for the Union Republican party in Baker to send delegates to the convention and he stumped every precinct in the county for Abraham Lincoln.
He had not been in Baker County long before his mines failed and he lost $45,000. He did not have the money, but Mr. Packwood always paid his debts and for years was busy in paying for something which many men might easily evaded.
For many years then, until 1887, he gave his time to organizing water companies and building ditches in the county. In 1888 he was elected Police Judge of Baker City and held that office for five years.
The call of gold again was heard by Mr. Packwood in 1893, when he was 61 years old, and he went to Port Orford to engage in beach mining, but he found that the reports of the strike had been colored and he returned to Baker and went with the Columbia Gold Mining Company. Soon after he became Assistant Postmaster of Baker, then Baker City, and he held that position until he was 78 years old, when he resigned.
For the last six years Mr. Packwood was retired from active business, but he kept an interest in public affairs which was little short of amazing. There must have been something in that historical convention which brought a community of interests among its members.
Like the late George H. Williams, Mr. Packwood was an ardent football follower and never a game was played but he was on the sidelines "rooting."
-Oregonian (Portland, OR), September 22, 1917
The man lived a rather full and interesting life.
I find it amazing that I know more about the life of William Packwood, who interests me largely because he played a baseball predecessor game in Southwestern Illinois in the late 1830s or early 1840s, than I do about someone as significant to the history of 19th century St. Louis baseball as Merritt Griswold. Or maybe I know that Packwood played four old cat because he was, historically, a more prominent figure than Griswold. I don't know.
As to the reference itself, this is the kind of source that I usually have a problem with. I've said it time and again: the memory of man is flawed. The older we get the more prone we are to forget or misremember things. The Reminiscences of William Packwood was published in 1915, so we're talking about a man looking back and trying to remember details that were seventy-five years old. I have no doubt that Packwood was doing his best to give an honest account of his life but I also have no doubt that there were errors in reminiscences. It's human nature.
Having said that, I actually kind of like this source, simply because of the details that Packwood provides. It wasn't some generic reference to ball-playing or the usual litany of town ball, bull pen, and cat. Packwood provides us specific details about one of the ball games he played as a child and gives it a specific name.
So lets go over the information that Packwood is giving us about this Spartan variant of four old cat.
First, he tells us that, in the game, there were "four corners." I take this as meaning that there were four bases. That means that this was a safe-haven game, which is significant when we're talking about the development and evolution of American baseball. You can't have baseball without bases. There is no indication of how the bases were arranged but one has to assume that they were either arranged as a diamond - which we're all familiar with - or a square, with the batter standing between the first base and the fourth (final or scoring) base - which was a somewhat common arrangement in town ball variants.
Second, he tells us that there were "four batters." Couple that with information regarding the name of the game and the mention of four fielders and we know that there were four players per side. Also, this tells us that the game included batting. However, we're given no indication of how the batters took their turns at bat.
Finally, Packwood mentions the "four fielders." So we have defenders in the field. The game was divided between an offensive side - the batters - and a defending side - the fielders. Again, this is something that we're all familiar with. We do not know how the defensive side retired the offensive side but it's a safe assumption that the goal of the defensive side was to retire the offensive side and then take their turn at bat.
There is a lot of familiar stuff here. Batting, base-running, defensive fielding. It's not stated but there was probably pitching involved - whether it was the defensive side pitching or the batting side pitching to themselves. Something had to initiate the action and, in American baseball, that's usually pitching of some sort. Those four elements - batting, base-running, fielding, and pitching - are really at the core of the American baseball rule set. Within the framework of American baseball, you can do a lot of things and change all kinds of stuff but you have to have those four elements for it to be considered a variant of the game. The game that William Packwood was describing appears to be a variant of American baseball. You add a couple of more guys to each side and you could have called it town ball or base ball.
And that really goes to the heart of the point I've been trying to make. Baseball didn't just magically appear one day. It developed and evolved over time and through the influences of a myriad of bat and ball games that originated in Europe and were brought to the New World by immigrants and colonists. When these folks moved west, over the Appalachians, they brought these games with them. As these games were played, they were changed. The rules were changed to fit the circumstances in which they were played. The ball game that John Sevier was playing in Tennessee in 1795 was not the same game that was being played in Southern Illinois in 1819 and that wasn't the same game that William Packwood was playing in 1840. Times change; circumstances change. Things evolve. All of those games probably involved bats and balls and bases. There may have been pitching or not. But they were all different. However, all of these games - and countless others, undocumented - moved the process forward. The playing of trap ball introduces the idea of foul territory into the American baseball playbook. There were games - weird, strange ball games that most people don't know the name of - that introduced the idea of the tag out into American baseball and this game was played two hundred years ago by school-aged children out on some prairie somewhere.
American baseball was a Frankenstein monster made up of bits and pieces of all of these games that were played in this country, starting from the time that folks settled at Jamestown and Plymouth Colony. In that sense, it is a fascinatingly representative of the country itself, which is made up of a hodge-podge of people who's ancestors came from all over the globe. We can very well be speaking of not only the nation but the game of baseball when we say e pluribus unum.
It is impossible to separate the game from the people. The game comes from the people's imagination. It moves and travels with the people. It evolves to fit their needs. It is and has always been ingrained in our culture. The bottom line question has always been why was the game so popular? Why and how did it spread the way it did? We look to answer those questions in various ways. I've been showing you a sampling of the spread pattern. That's one way to attempt to answer the question - just gather data and look for patterns. But the philosophical answer to the question is actually really simple. Why was the game so popular? Why did it spread? It's just who we are. The game is innately a part of us and everything else is just details.