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Episode 54: Montana: The Unlikely Fort Shaw Basketball Champions with Sharon McMahon

podcast Nov 15, 2021

Sharon shares a story only the buffest of history buffs will know about Montana in this solo episode. In the early 1900s, Indigenous children were taken from their families to attend residential schools where they were assimilated into European culture. At one such school, Fort Shaw in Montana, they started a basketball program for the students, boys and girls alike. The girls team became wildly popular, drawing crowds of hundreds of people per game. In this episode, Sharon will tell the story of how the Fort Shaw girls basketball team went from playing in a small gym to being named World Champions at the 1904 World’s Fair.

Links to Full Episode:

This Episode Will Teach You:

  • Schooling for Indigenous children in the early 1900s 
  • Treatment of Indigenous children
  • Women’s basketball in residential schools 
  • St. Louis Worlds Fair 
  • The popularity of the basketball team 

3 Biggest Takeaways:

  • Throughout this episode, listeners will learn more about the treatment of the Indigenous people of the United States during the early 1900s, specifically the children. During this time, the children were sent away from their families to attend residential schools where they were assimilated into European culture. They had to cut their hair, wear European-style clothing and stop using their native language. The children and their families did not want them to go and many books have been written with accounts from children who were forced to go to these schools. 
  • One of the programs the school had was a basketball team. They wanted women to have some physical activity, but not too much. The women who formed this team came from many different tribes, and ranged in age from 15 to 22. Their team name was the Dusky Belles. The superintendent of the school was the coach, and he began to influence other schools in the area to form their own teams so they would have people to play. The games became a big spectator sport and would draw crowds of 700 people. The Fort Shaw team went on to beat all the high school teams in the area and then went on to beat all the college teams in the area. 
  • The Fort Shaw basketball team became so popular that they grabbed the attention of many. Attending these games was the only opportunity many people had to interact with Indigenous people, and the games became more than just basketball. The school's leadership saw this as an opportunity to show the Europeans the Indigenous children were assimilating, and they got invited to the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 to be a part of the “Indian Model School.” The women who went were essentially displayed to show the Americans and Europeans who attended their culture. While they were at the fair they played the Missouri All-Star team and beat them, being named the World Champions of Basketball.

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