Carlisle Indians football

The Carlisle Indians football team represented the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in intercollegiate football competition. The program was active from 1893 until 1917, when it was discontinued. During the program's 25 years, the Indians compiled a 167–88–13 record and 0.647 winning percentage, which makes it the most successful defunct major college football program.[1] During the early 20th century, Carlisle was a national football powerhouse, and regularly competed against other major programs such as the Ivy League schools. Several notable players and coaches were associated with the team, including Pop Warner and Jim Thorpe.

Carlisle Indians
First season1893
Last season1917
LocationCarlisle, Pennsylvania
NCAA divisionDivision I
All-time record173–92–13 (.646)
RivalriesDickinson Red Devils
Harvard Crimson
ColorsRed, White, and Gold


An early football team, called the "Pirates", at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1879

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was founded in 1879 by an American cavalry officer, Richard Henry Pratt, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Its purpose was to facilitate the assimilation of the Native American population into mainstream American society.[2]

In 1893, the Indians played their first season recognized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.[1] The Indians were consistently outsized by the teams they scheduled, and they in turn relied on speed and guile to remain competitive. Carlisle's playbook gave rise to many trick plays and other innovations that are now commonplace in American football. The overhand spiral throw and hand-off fake are both credited to Carlisle.[2][3] Other trick plays innovated by the Carlisle Indians cannot be used because the NCAA instituted rules specifically prohibiting them after Carlisle used them.[citation needed]

The 1911 Carlisle Indians football team pose with a game ball from the upset of Harvard. Coach "Pop" Warner (standing, third from right) and Jim Thorpe (seated, third from right) are pictured

In 1903, an Indian team coached by Pop Warner first employed its infamous "hidden-ball play" against heavily favored Harvard. Warner, as coach at Cornell, had already used it against Penn State in 1897, but it had not achieved much notice. Carlisle led Harvard at halftime, and hoping to keep the game's momentum, Warner elected to try the play on the ensuing kickoff. Harvard executed the kick, and the Indians formed a circle around the returner. With the aid of a specially altered jersey, the ball was placed up the back of the returner. The Indians broke the huddle and spread out in different directions. Each player feigned carrying the ball, except Dillon, the man with the ball up the back of his jersey. The ruse confused the Crimson players, and they scrambled to find the ball carrier. Dillon, with both his hands free, was ignored by the searching Harvard players, and he ran unmolested into the end zone. With the score, Carlisle extended its lead to 11–0, but Harvard came back and eventually won 12–11. Nevertheless, the close match, and trick play, resulted in national attention.[2][4] Warner had learned the trick from John Heisman while facing Auburn in 1895 during his tenure as coach of the Georgia Bulldogs.[5]

In 1907, Jim Thorpe, undersized even for the Indians, persuaded Warner to allow him to try out for the team. Thorpe immediately impressed his coach and secured a starting position on the team.[3] On October 26, 1907, Jim Thorpe and Carlisle trounced a powerful University of Pennsylvania team, 26–6, before an overflow crowd of 20,000 at Franklin Field.[6] After graduating from Carlisle, he went on to stardom in numerous athletic endeavors, including as an Olympic athlete and professional player in football, baseball, and basketball.[7]

In 1911, the Indians posted an 11–1 record, which included one of the greatest upsets in college football history. Against Harvard, Thorpe scored all of the Indians' points in a shocking upset over the period powerhouse, 18–15. The only loss for Carlisle came at the hands of Syracuse the following week, 12–11.[8]

On November 9, 1912, Carlisle was to meet the U.S. Military Academy in a game at West Point, New York, between two of the top teams in the country. Pop Warner spoke to his team: "Your fathers and your grandfathers," Warner began, "are the ones who fought their fathers. These men playing against you today are soldiers. They are the Long Knives. You are Indians. Tonight, we will know if you are warriors." That dramatic evening Carlisle routed Army 27–6. That game, played just 22 years after the last Army battle with the Lakota/Sioux at the Wounded Knee, featured not only Jim Thorpe, but nine future generals including a linebacker named Dwight D. Eisenhower.[9] "It was an exquisitely apt piece of national theater: a contest between Indians and soldiers."[10]

The Indians' last season of play was 1917. The school would fold at the end of the 1917–18 school year. Many of the Indians' players would eventually end up in the National Football League and other professional football teams during the 1920s.


Year Captain
1895 Bemus Pierce
1896 Bemus Pierce
1897 Bemus Pierce
1898 Frank Hudson
1899 Martin Wheelock
1900 Edward Rogers
1901 Martin Wheelock
1902 -
1903 Jimmy Johnson
1904 -
1906 Albert Exendine
1907 Antonio Lubo
1908 Emil Hauser (aka Waseuka)
1909 Joe Libby
1910 Pete Hauser
1911 Sampson Bird
1912 Jim Thorpe
1913 Gus Welch
1914 Pete Calac
1915 -
1916 George May [11]
1917 -

All-time team


Coach Warner was once asked by a reporter of the Carlisle Herald to name an all-time team.[12] It includes:





  • Anderson, Lars (2008) [2007]. Carlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the Forgotten Story of Football's Greatest Battle (Paperback ed.). New York: Random House. p. 349. ISBN 978-0-8129-7731-8.
  • Jenkins, Sally (2007). The Real All Americans: The Team That Changed a Game, a People, a Nation (First ed.). New York: Random House. pp. 343. ISBN 978-0-385-51987-8.


  1. ^ a b Official 2007 NCAA Division I Records Book, National Collegiate Athletic Association, p. 399, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c Gridiron Guts: The Story of Football's Carlisle Indians, NPR, May 19, 2007.
  3. ^ a b Carlisle Indians made it a whole new ballgame, The Washington Post, May 13, 2007.
  4. ^ Football, the Indian Way, Newsweek, April 27, 2007.
  5. ^ Cook, William (29 July 2011). Jim Thorpe: A Biography. p. 27. ISBN 9780786485772.
  6. ^ "15 Most memorable Phila. sports moments". Philadelphia Inquirer. 2009-05-09. Archived from the original on September 26, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
  7. ^ Jim Thorpe Is Dead On West Coast at 64, The New York Times, March 28, 1953.
  8. ^ Carlisle Indian School Game by Game Results Archived 2015-04-27 at the Wayback Machine, College Football Data Warehouse, retrieved March 12, 2009.
  9. ^ Jenkins, p.2-6.
  10. ^ Jenkins 2
  11. ^ The Carlisle Arrow, Volume 13, Number 16, Page 1, December 22, 1916
  12. ^ William Peet (November 10, 1913). "G. U. Chances To Win Slim". The Washington Herald. p. 8. Retrieved April 4, 2015 – via Chronicling America.