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UND Loses to Haskell Indians

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This date in 1929 featured perhaps the most important event to ever happen at Memorial Stadium of the University of North Dakota: The UND Flickertails lost to the Haskell Indians, a football team from Lawrence, Kansas, 13-6.

It was the third anniversary of the stadium’s dedication, and ticket sales were brisk. UND cracked down on student scalpers selling their tickets to eager alumni. A pre-game pep rally featured the Great Northern Railroad's quartet, a speech by Governor George Shafer, and speeches from powerful alumni in industry and finance.

Meanwhile, the Grand Forks Herald and the Dakota Student printed ballyhoo with typically racist images and language to hype the game. Hundreds of Native Americans came from Fort Totten, Fort Yates, Mahnomen, and Cass Lake to see the Haskell Indians play. Two Dakota Indians played on the Haskell squad. Pete Sheperd of Flandreau started at halfback and moved to quarterback in the second quarter. James Grant of Devils Lake started at end.

During halftime, speakers of Dakota heard a chant from the UND fans. The chant was a university tradition dating back to 1893. It was said to be a mishmash of Greek and Dakota, but the students didn’t realize that in Lakota it meant “No, no, North Dakota!” They were effectively chanting against their own team.

Although the 1931 Dacotah yearbook claimed that the game “held no bitterness for the losers,” UND's defeat rankled, and was cited as one reason UND dropped its “Flickertail” nickname in 1930.

The Dakota Student attributed Haskell's victory over UND to black magic, also known as “bad medicine.” The Grand Forks Herald had claimed that the Haskell Indians had “mixed 'bad medicine'” during the night before the game. This desire for “bad medicine” became a theme in the Dakota Student's campaign to change UND's nickname to the “Sioux.” Referring to an upcoming game, it wrote, “Most of the students who aren't freshmen know what the Haskell Indians did to us last year, and with the Davis-Elkins team including some Indians, about the only way of combating them is to turn Indian and cook up a little 'bad medicine' for them.”

Although the Haskell Indians football team is long gone and the Haskell game is mostly forgotten, the resulting Indian nickname served as a vestige of institutional memory about the loss to Haskell.

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel

View a list of references here.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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