CARLISLE, Pa. - One of the earliest inductees to the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame at Haskell Indian Nation University in Lawrence, Kan. was inducted into the Dickinson College Sports Hall of Fame this month.
Olympian Franklin P. Mt. Pleasant, member of the Tuscarora Nation, was recognized at his alma mater for his performance on the football and track teams. At a ceremony held at Dickinson's Kline Center in Carlisle, Pa., family members presented the college with two trophies that Mt. Pleasant won during his years at the college.
Mt. Pleasant was also a student at the Carlisle Industrial School from 1904 - 1907 where he ran track and played baseball, basketball and football with teammate Jim Thorpe. But his private thoughts and personal life remain unknown.
"There's not a lot of first hand knowledge of him other than historic records," said Ed Farnham, great-nephew of Mt. Pleasant. "There really haven't been personal anecdotes. There haven't been memories passed down."
Farnham's grandmother, Mamie, Mt. Pleasant's sister, also attended Carlisle School.
"At the time, Carlisle was considered the place to go," said Farnham. "It gave them opportunities to do things they'd never have done if they hadn't gone. But on the other hand, the strict assimilation stripped away cultural identity."
Mamie became a seamstress and worked at the textile mills at Niagara Falls.
"But she never talked about Carlisle or about her brother," said Farnham. "What's sad is that it's all been lost."
Born in 1884 on the Tuscarora Indian reservation near Niagara Falls, N.Y., Mt Pleasant earned a spot on the 1908 Olympic team competing in the long jump and triple jump at the London Olympics. He placed sixth in the triple jump despite a ligament injury. Later that year, he set records in the Paris Games by defeating the Olympic long jump champion.
"I'm sure back in those days a lot of it was sheer talent," said Farnham. "These days there are personal trainers, but back then either you had it or you didn't."
After the Olympics, Mt. Pleasant enrolled in Dickinson College as a sophomore in 1908. In 1909 his talents as captain of the school's Red Devil football team set records for scoring, punting and field goal kicking. He also set the college record for the long jump, a record that remained unbroken until 2000.
"A good student, true friend and one of the most popular fellows in college," read an entry in the yearbook when he graduated in 1910. He was the first American Indian to graduate from the college.
After briefly coaching Franklin & Marshall's football, basketball and track teams, Mt. Pleasant was head football coach at the Indiana Normal School in 1911, now called Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where his teams won two championships. In 1912 they were undefeated.
When he left the school in 1914, Mt. Pleasant coached at West Virginia Wesleyan University for a year before returning to Upstate New York to lead the SUNY Buffalo through its 1915 season.
During his service as a World War I Army lieutenant in Europe, he was decorated for bravery. Little is known of his life after the war. The only known records show that he eventually returned to Buffalo.
"He definitely was quite an athlete," said Farnham. "In the early 1900s, I would have thought an athlete like that coming out of Tuscarora would be the talk of the town, but little is known about him."
Mt. Pleasant was working as a postal clerk when, on April 9, 1937, he suffered a fatal hit-and-run accident in Buffalo. After three days in the hospital, he died at the age of 53.
In 1973 he was inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame at Haskell Indian Nation University in Lawrence, Kan. In 1998 he was inducted into Indiana University's Hall of Fame.
"I didn't realize anything about my great uncle until I was in the army," said Farnham. "My last duty station was at Carlisle Barracks from 1995 to 1997. The day I got there and walked through the gates I realized it was hallowed ground I was walking on."
There are still many records to be gone though in Cumberland historic society, Smithsonian Institute and the Army Barracks history building, he said. Possibly more information will be found.
"If he was anything like my grandmother, he was very reserved, but focused," said Farnham. "Just a good person. Very giving and dedicated to family. Strong faith. But very reserved, not outspoken."