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A Hall of Fame effort -- Known as 'Chief' Bender, the former White Earth resident became one of Major League Baseball's best pitchers

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Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy knew his baseball.

Considered one of the greatest managers in Major League Baseball history, the legendary Hall of Famer -- known as Connie Mack -- led the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901-1951.

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Over his 50-plus year career, he won five World Series and nine American League pennants.

He was known to have an eye for young talent and knowing exactly how to get the most out of that talent.

So it's easy to say he knew what he was talking about when he said of his star pitcher, Charles Albert Bender, "If I had all the men I've ever handled and they were in their prime and there was one game I wanted to win above all others, Albert would be my man."

Mack insisted on calling his players by their given names -- calling his prized pitcher Albert (his middle name) -- but most baseball fans called him Chief Bender.

Bender endured hardships, poverty and blatant racism throughout his life on his road to becoming the greatest American Indian to play Major League baseball -- a road that was paved through the White Earth Reservation.

Bender was born May 5, 1884, in Crow Wing County, about 20 miles east of Brainerd.

His father, Albertus Bliss Bender, was a German-American settler who was born in Massachusetts and made his way to northern Minnesota, eventually working in a logging camp.

Albertus learned to speak a little Ojibwe and there met his mother, Mary Razor Bender.

Mary, whose Indian name was Pay shaw de o quay, was a member of the Mississippi Band of Ojibwe. Charles was the fourth child of at least 11 children, and possibly 14.

In the late 1880s, the family moved to the White Earth Reservation and claimed Mary's allotted 160-acre plot in what is now Gregory Township in Mahnomen County.

They eventually owned 23, 80-acre sections.

Life was not easy in White Earth in the early years. The reservation was destitute, and corruption was giving lumber syndicates much of the best timberland and farmland on the reservation.

According to Melissa Meyer in The White Earth Tragedy, it was thought the Indian was unable to adapt to "progress," so the land was turned over to private interests.

Corporate interests, Meyer said, won out over the needs of the White Earth people.

The Benders were one family which lost out. Their prairie land was marshy and hilly and they scarcely produced enough food to feed the large family.

The attitude of the U.S. government at the time was to endorse programs that forced Indian assimilation into white America. The best way to accomplish that was to teach the young Natives the English language, math, and "proper values and aspirations."

Most families on the reservation with children of Charles' age sent them to boarding school.

There were four on-reservation schools in White Earth alone, and they were fairly overcrowded.

A big family, a bleak future on the reservation, overcrowding schools and a fair amount of racism from his own Native people -- Bender was only one-fourth Ojibwe and was sometimes shunned on the reservation -- may have contributed to his mother's decision to send Charles, his brother John and sister Anna to an Indian boarding school on the east coast.

Boarding schools

Charley was seven years old when he boarded a train bound for Lincoln Institution near Philadelphia with his brother and sister, leaving their Native life behind.

The Institution purposely isolated the students from their former life, making sure to always keep them busy to keep their minds off of home.

They were taught to be ashamed of their Native life and ruled over very strictly. They were very often malnourished and sometimes physically abused.

The living conditions were sometimes just as bad. Drains backed up, faucets were leaky, and the communal bathrooms often didn't have toilet paper.

Diseases such as measles, mumps, influenza, meningitis, and tuberculosis spread like wildfire through the institute, and medical attention was scarce.

The idea was to take these children away from their homes, strip them of their identity, work them hard, and starve them all inside a Petri dish of disease.

A good plan for the assimilation of a people.

Richard Henry Pratt, founder of Carlisle Indian Industrial School -- where Bender would later attend -- said, "Carlisle's mission is to kill this Indian, as we build up the better man. We give the rising Indian something nobler and higher to think about and do, and he comes out a young man with the ambitions and aspirations of his more favored white brother.

"We do not like to keep alive the stories of his past, hence deal more with his present and his future."

Bender spent five years learning a new life at Lincoln. He was 12 years old when he returned home to White Earth for unknown reasons.

Life at home hadn't gotten any easier in five years. Living conditions would have been a stark contrast from his previous five years at Lincoln.

The whole family packed into a one or two room log house; privacy and space was scarce. His future there must have looked bleak.

It was his father, you could say, that gave him the push he was looking for.

According to a story Bender told as an adult, his father dispatched him and his brother for fresh water.

Charley wasn't moving fast enough for his ill-tempered father, who gave him a hard boot to the backside and sent the child tumbling.

After that, Charley's brother convinced him they didn't need that kind of abuse any more, and the pair ran away to a relative's farm several miles away.

They took jobs at a farm in White Earth, and while there, a teacher from Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Penn., came through looking for boys.

The two brothers volunteered and headed east again.

Life at Carlisle was very familiar to Bender, having spent five years at Lincoln, with one exception -- sports.

Sports at Lincoln were discouraged, but Pratt encouraged sports at Carlisle, believing it to be one more avenue of assimilation.

Tall, thin Charley was naturally attracted to sports.

"If it was in my power to bring every Indian into the game of football," Pratt said, "I would do it, and feel that I was giving them an act of the greatest Christian kindness and elevating them from the hell of their home life and reservation degradation into paradise."

Carlisle is where Bender met and played for legendary coach and the godfather of modern football, Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner.

Warner coached football, baseball and later was the athletic director of the school. While at Carlisle, Bender played football, baseball, basketball and ran track.

He was small, weak and slow and not a good athlete when he was young. He didn't like playing football, saying he hated to practice.

But being a Carlisle athlete had some advantages.

Warner made sure his athletes were well fed, employing a chef for his teams. The players ate steaks, roast beef, pot pies, and could stay away from the "government gravy," as the students referred to the standard food at the school.

Warner was best known for his skills on the gridiron, not on the diamond.

But his coaching and leaderships skills transcended his baseball inabilities.

Bender credited Warner to teaching him everything about pitching, including changing speeds.

"When I was a slim kid at Carlisle, not ever knowing what my future would be, Warner made me feel that I could become a good pitcher," Bender said.

Bender's tall, slim build made him a natural first baseman on the class team -- not varsity.

He sometimes played right field, and only after he came in as a spot reliever, was it apparent he could pitch, too.

He began throwing batting practice to the varsity team, and Warner was so impressed, he added Bender to the team as a reserve. In the spring of what would have been Bender's junior year, some members of the team approached Warner and told the coach Bender deserved a shot.

Bender came in as a reliever in his first game for Carlisle, but he soon was in the starting rotation. Records for the era are sketchy at best, but Bender was considered the third best pitcher on the Carlisle team.

By his final year at Carlisle, he was the captain and ace of the team. He became known for making batters miss, striking out eight batters in one game.

He graduated from Carlisle in 1901, and attended Dickinson College in 1902, playing football and baseball. That summer, he pitched for the semi-pro Harrisburg Athletic Club, earning $100 a month.

While pitching for Harrisburg, he was discovered by a Philadelphia Athletics scout, and signed a contract for $1,800 a year.

Bender's first game in the major leagues came on April 20, 1903 against the Boston Red Sox. He relieved Eddie Plank, and the A's picked up 10 runs in the last three innings of the game to give Bender his first career victory.

He picked up his first complete game win on April 27, beating the New York Highlanders (later the Yankees), 6-0.

1914

By 1914, Bender was well established as one of the best clutch pitchers in the major leagues.

"Bender, when it comes to pitching an individual game, has no equals. In a short series like the World's Champions' contests, no pitcher in the business can excel Bender," wrote sportswriter FC Lane in Baseball Magazine.

He got his first taste of the World Series in 1905, as the A's lost to the New York Giants four games to one. Bender picked up the lone victory for the A's in the Series, pitching a four-hit, 3-0 shutout.

In 1910, Bender led the American League in winning percentage (.821) with a 23-5 record and a 1.58 ERA. He threw his only career no-hitter that year against the Cleveland Indians.

He helped give the A's their first World Series title in 1910, going 1-1 in the Series.

Two more AL pennants came in 1911 and 1913, along with two more World Series titles. Bender again led the league in winning percentage (.773) in 1911, going 17-5.

Despite all of his education -- Bender had much more education than most white people of the time -- and success in Major League Baseball, white America still gave little respect to the Native pitcher. Often when Bender pitched, he was hit with a barrage of racial slurs.

When he was written about, he was "Mack's wily redskin," or he "scalped his opponents" on the mound. His tobacco trading cards touted him as "the Athletics' great red-skin slabman," or "the famous Indian pitcher."

Sportswriter Charles Zuber wrote in Sporting Life after Bender's sterling performance in the 1905 World Series, "Bender, according to reports, is a typical representative of his race, being just sufficiently below the white man's standard to be coddled into doing anything that his manager might suggest, and to the proper exercise of this influence on the part of manager Connie Mack much of the Indian's success as a twirler is due.

"Like the negro on the stage, who... will work himself to death if you jolly him, the Indian can be 'conned' into taking up any sort of burden."

Bender was Pratt's poster boy for Native assimilation, but white America still wasn't ready to accept the Natives they were "changing."

Nevertheless, Bender was Philadelphia's best pitcher, and Mack was ready to give him the ball in the first game of the 1914 World Series.

The A's had won the AL pennant and were heavy favorites to beat the "Miracle" Boston Braves in the World Series, but the season was marred by the upstart Federal Baseball League attempting to lure MLB players with larger paychecks.

Bender and several other A's signed Federal League contracts prior to the end of the 1914 season.

Throwing his warm-up pitches for game one, Bender could feel something was wrong. He had missed large portions of several seasons, including in 1914, with nagging injuries and aches and pains due to rheumatism he had been diagnosed with at a young age.

Bender told manager Mack he didn't feel well, but Mack brushed off the comment. Bender took the mound on Oct. 9, 1914 at five minutes past two and threw the first strike of the 1914 World Series.

By the sixth inning, the A's were down 6-1 and Bender was chased from the only World Series game he started and didn't complete.

Plank pitched the second game for the A's and lost. Following the game, Mack announced his intentions to only use his younger pitchers for the rest of the Series, presumably concerned about his players' divided loyalty.

There were also rumors that some members of the A's were being paid by gamblers to lose the World Series to the underdog Braves.

Whatever the reasons, the Braves swept the A's in four games and Chief Bender's baseball career with the A's was over.

Bender signed on with the Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League in 1915.

He pitched to a 4-16 record for the last place team and was released that September.

The Federal League fell apart after the 1915 season, and Bender signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for the 1916-17 seasons.

But his pitching prowess never returned. He bounced around the minor leagues from 1918 to 1925, before retiring.

Bender was voted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame by the veteran's committee in 1953, along with five other "old timers." He was the only native Minnesotan in the Hall until Dave Winfield was inducted in 2001.

Although he was informed of his selection to the Hall, Bender didn't live to see his formal induction. He died at Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia on May 22, 1954 after a long battle with cancer.

In his Major League career, Bender compiled 212 wins, 127 losses, 1,711 strikeouts and a 2.46 career ERA.

He is still the greatest Native player to play Major League Baseball.

"I do not want my name to be presented to the public as an Indian, but as a pitcher," Bender said in 1904.

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