AMERICUS V. McKIM
From the Society for American Baseball Research, website:
Americus McKim was the owner of the the 1884 Kansas City Unions in the Union Association, the first major league team in Kansas City. If you don't consider the Union Association a real major league, he was also the owner of the 1886 Kansas City Cowboys in the National League.
McKim was born in 1840 in Belmont County, Ohio, and attended Franklin College in Athens, Ohio. He moved to Kansas City in 1868, and by 1876 he was a major figure in the malt and grain business in Kansas City. He was an important backer of professional baseball teams in Kansas City, and engineered the city's first entry into both the Union Association and the National League. In 1885 he was president of the Western League. He passed away in 1910, virtually penniless, and was buried in a pauper's grave in Elmwood Cemetery, in Kansas City, Missouri.
The only player from the Kansas City Cowboys (during their single season of existance) to lead a day-to-day stat was pitcher Stump Wiedman who led the National League in games lost and hits allowed.
The team itself was founded by James Whitfield of "The Kansas City Times" and two local bear brewers, Joseph Heim and Americus McKim. The three had also funded the defunct 1884 Union Association Kansas City Unions and were able to raise $25,000 by February 10, 1886, for this National League franchise.
The Kansas City Cowboys finished 58-1/2 games behind the leader and folded at seasons end. In 1888, an American Association team of the same name started, but folded following the 1889 regular season.
From "The Kansas City Star", Sunday, May 21, 2006, (article by Bradford Doolittle, The Kansas City Star), pages C1 and C8:
"Kansas City in the 1880s decided it wanted to be one of the major cities. Baseball was one of the prime movers behind that." - historian and author Lloyd Johnson
(photograph of McKim gravestone with the following caption: "The game of baseball eventually kept Americus V. McKim's memory in Kansas City from disappearing forever. After years in an unmarked grave at Elmwood Cemetery, McKim received a headstone on Saturday).
A LOST PIONEER Americus V. McKim brought big-league ball to KC, but for nearly a century, his legacy went unmarked.
The final resting place of Americus V. McKim was marked by a common orange pylon. The Elmwood Cemetery historian placed it there after consulting an elaborate plot map. McKim is in Block 16, Row 6, Grave 37, in a quiet area tucked away in the northeast corner of the necropolis.
If not for the pylon, the spot would have been a simple patch of grass, with no hint that the man who came to be called "the father of Kansas City baseball" was buried beneath.
Elmwood Cemetery is surrounded by a stone wall that separates it from the old, working-class Lykins neighborhood. There is barbed wire strung along the top of the wall to keep people from climbing in.
The history of Kansas City is buried here, where generations have been interred dating back to the 1840's. The names of the dead read like a registry of street names and parks: Meyer, Gregory, Loose, Block (Bloch), Armour, Winner.
In newer cemeteries, they install simple, flat gravestones that make for easier mowing. At Elmwood, the elaborate obelisks, icons of the Virgin Mary and mini Greek temples have become attractions unto themselves.
The quiet corner in which McKim is tucked is not elaborate. The grave markers are modest, many of them flat, all of them people who died during the same era.
Americus V. McKim should have been forgotten and surely would have been if he had not become involved with baseball, if he had not become the forerunners of J.L. Wilkinson, Charlie Finley, Ewing Kauffman, and David Glass.
When McKim died in the late afternoon of February 10, 1910, it is doub tful he knew that it was his association with baseball that would keep his memory from being lost. It is doubtful that he even considered himself a baseball man. Or that it was possibly through his efforts that Kansas City remains a major-league town in the 21st Century.
(continuing on page C8)
McKIM: Owner helped make KC big-league town
(Note: Photograph of the 1886 Kansas City Cowboys, with the following caption: "In 1886, Americus V. McKim and Kansas City returned to the major leagues, this time in the National League. The Kansas City Cowboys team earned infamy for representing the Wild West persona of the city at that time)
"I suspect most people died broke. When you couldn't work, that was the end. So, you kind of drifted off. Unless, of course, you were rich," said local historian Harold Dellinger, one of the few living persons who knows much of anything about McKim.
How doed a prominent man come to lie forgotten in an old cemetery, in what amounts to a pauper's grave, a man without an epitaph, with no way to know his story would stir the interest of a community nearly a century later?
Kansas City was booming in the 1880s.
The city had become a railroad hub, and the livestock industry was growing so fast it was common for land speculators in the West Bottoms to swap the same piece of property several times in a day.
The population grew that decade from fewer than 56,000 to about 133,000. The city was dirty and unplanned. There were no paved roads. The newspapers were full of ads for strange remedies like liver pills, stomach bitters and, especially sasparilla.
The year 1884 was a turning point in the city's history. That year, a West Bottoms saloon owner, James Pendergast, decided to enter politics, a decision that eventually had profound impact on the city's development. On May 8, Harry S. Truman was born in Lamar, Mo.
Baseball was also booming in the 1880s. The game had gradually spread from its modern origins in the boroughs of New York and then drifted westward, along with the general population.
Baseball in Kansas City was firmly embedded by the middle 1880s. Several semi-pro teams flourished. There were tales of the 1860s when Wild Bill Hickock would attend games and sometimes even umpire, six-shooters at his side.
"Kansas City in the 1880s decided it wanted to be one of the major cities in the United States," said historian and author Lloyd Johnson. "Baseball was one of the prime movers behind that."
By 1884, there were two established major leagues: The National League and the American Association. Countless other leagues existed, under terms laid out in the sacred National Agreement.
"One of the things I like about the 1880s, you can really see baseball evolving. Particularly in '84. You see the advent of sportswriters. The modern box score," Dellinger said.
St. Louis millionaire Henry V. Lucas decided to form a new major league to challenge the stalwarts. This league, the Union Association, placed teams in six existing big-league cities as well as Altoona, Pa, and Washington, DC.
During the process of forming the UA, a businessman from Kansas City named Americus V. McKim attempted to secure a team for Kansas City. His application was denied.
"We were 10 hours west of St. Louis, so you lost a whole day traveling here and a whole day going back," said Dellinger. "That makes it always kind of marginal."
So the UA went on without Kansas City and proceeded to raid the existing leagues for players, ignoring the reserve clause of the National Agreement. It was as good as a declaration of war, and the result was escalating salaries throughout the game. Star player Buck Ewing parlayed a $1,800 offer from the UA's Cincinnati team into a $3,400 deal with the National League's New York Gothams.
Lucas, who owned the St. Louis entry of the UA, is believed to have provided financial support for nearly all of the franchises and dictated the league's policies, such as the highly controversial practices of playing games on Sunday and serving beer. Many of the owners in the league had made their money in the beer industry.
"I suspect that at the time there was a big connection between alcohol and baseball," Dellinger said. "In fact, the nickname of the American Association was the 'Beer Barrel League.' The money behind the AA was definitely beer money. I think that's probably true in the Union Association."
Lucas steered the vast majority of the best players to his own team, the Maroons. St. Louis won it first 21 games in '84, and fan interest leaguewide faded fast. By the end of May, the Altoona franchise became the first casualty of the disorganized outfit and folded.
Needing a team to fill out the schedule, the opportunistic McKim stepped in. He led a group that raised $15,000 and persuaded Lucas to place a team in Kansas City. McKim received the news by telegram on June 2. He had five days to put a team together before the first game.
In wide-open Kansas City, it was a time for speculators, risk-takers and opportunists. McKim seems to have been of the ilk, a goateed archetype of his times, and he no doubt saw baseball as a chance to pad his pocketbook.
Nevertheless, McKim was the driving force who brought major-league baseball to Kansas City for the first time, an act that would eventually, 122 years later, earn him his epitaph.
Amvericus V. McKim was 44 years old when he became the owner of the Kansas City Unions. He had drifted west from his birthplace in Ohio and made his living by selling malts and grains to local breweries.
When he was younger, McKim had attended the Hopedale Normal School in Ohio. A normal school was basically a teacher-training shcool, but there is no evidence that McKim ever worked as an educator.
Much of McKim's story has been lost. What remains are blurbs in history books and old microfilm articles in newspaper archives.
The disparate details paint a portrait of a man who caught the westward drift of American migration to make his mark in life. There is no evidence that McKim was a baseball fan per se, but he was a fan of a profit.
McKim leased Athletic Park, an ampitheater with a partially covered grandstand. The field was in an area known as Cook's pastures, at Southwest Boulevard and Summit. The lease cost him $500. The park was a mile from downtown and was served by only the Rose Street car line. Still, McKim optimistically doubled capacity to 4,000 in anticipation of big crowds.
Today, (May 21, 2006), if you walk around the area where the first big-league game in Kansas City, was played, it is difficult to imagine. The intersection has become a morass of overpasses, viaducts, raised highways and on-ramps. Twin rows of ethnic shops and restaurants line Southwest Boulevard, and behind them is an industrial village.
But on Saturday, June 7, 1884, the area was green and open. Lucas traveled from St. Louis to watch the first game between Kansas City and Chicago.
Harry Wheeler had signed on as team captain and was given the responsibility of filling out the roster. When the first game began, many of the nine players on the KC roster had never seen each other before. Several were playing positions they had never played.
Still, there was much excitement in the air as the crowd of 1,500, including "a noticeable sprinkling of ladies," settled in to watch the action.
Kansas City lost the coin toss to determine who batted first and so led off the initial frame. Wheeler was up first and reached on a muffed fly ball and later went around to score the first run.
Chicago took the lead, but Kansas City put up three runs in the seventh and tied the game. The game went to extra innings. In the 12th, the last of 13 Kansas City errors allowed the game-winning tally to cross the plate for Chicago, which won 6-5. The newspaper accounts of the action were upbeat regarding the city's ability to support a big-league team. The second baseman, Charlie Berry, one of the few players who transferred from Altoona, was described as "something in the nature of a daisy."
A crowd of 4,000 was expected for the second game the following afternoon. Chicago was starting famed pitcher Hugh "One-Arm" Daily, who went on to throw four one-hitters that season and win 28 games. But nature intervened, and the game was rained out. Patrons huddled underneath the grandstand to stay dry until a prankster shouted, "Cyclone!" and the throng stampeded onto the field. Buggies pulled right up on the muddy infield, leaving it in shambles. The rainout must have made an impression on McKim. He issued what the newspapers called "rain check" to the disappointed faithful so they could get in free to the next day's game. "Somebody was credited with developing scorecards and rainchecks in 1887," Dellinger said. "But McKim was doing that in '84." The opening series, a Chicago sweep, was eventually completed, and a total of 7,000 fans came out to watch.
Kansas City won its first game on June 14, 8-4 over Chicago. But the wins were few and far between. The Unions finished 16-63 in their only season in the Union Association. By contrast, Lucas' St. Louis team won the pennant with a 94-19 record.
But the crowds stayed strong all season. On Ocotber 27, at a sparkling post-season banquet celebrating the campaign, McKim boasted that the club turned a $7,000 profit in 1884. The statement was made in the atmosphere of song-singing and champagne toasts. Given the toxic economic environment of the game that year, McKim might have been the only owner in baseball to turn a profit that season -- if his boast was true.
After the season, Henry Lucas went back on his word, abandoning his own league and jumping to the National, League. Owners in the established league knew that by letting Lucas in, it would pretty much kill the Union Association. With normalcy restored, salaries could be nudged back to their former levels. However, UA meetings were scheduled for Jan. 15, 1885, in Milwaukee, with hopes of keeping the league alive. Only Milwaukee's owner and the Kansas City contingent of McKim and T. P. Sullivan arrived punctually. McKim was eager to reorganize and play a second season. The men waited all afternoon for the other owners, but none of them showed. Finally, the meetings were convened with just the two teams represented. There was but one order of business. The Union Association was disbanded.
After the UA's demise, McKim moved almost immediately to form the Western League, of which he served as the league's president. The teams in the Western League decided to abide by the National Agreement, which meant they accepted minor-league status. The 1885 Kansas City entry in the Western League finished 17-13, in fourth place. That league, too, was disbanded after just one season. A later incarnation of the Western League, led by Ban Johnson, declared itself "major" in 1900 and changed its name to the American League.
In 1886, McKim and Kansas City returned to the majors, this time in the established National League. McKim's partners included a prominent brewer, Joseph J. Heims, and James Whitfield, sports editor for "The Kansas City Times". McKim served as the team's trasurer.
KC's National League entry, nicknamed the Cowboys, earned infamy for representing the Wild West persona of the city. Violence toward the umpires was the order of the day. "McKim was pretty hot-headed," Dellinger said. "He was accused of berating umpires. He was pretty envolved." Kansas City's reputation among the crew of National League umpires was so bad that every one of them quit in protest at one time or another. NL president Nick Young had to promise the umpires that if they would return to the fold, they would not have to work again in Kansas City.
Perhaps no one personified the wild nature of the 1886 Cowboys better than the catcher, Frank Ringo. Ringo was thought to be one of the better receivers in the game. It is believed that he may have been a cousin of the Western gunslinger, Johnny Ringo. The affable Ringo was a devoted family man with a fatal weakness: booze. Unable to keep his drinking under control, the Parkville native became distraught and took an overdose of morphine. Twenty hours later, Ringo died on April 12, 1889, at the age of 28. The newspaper headline the next day read, "Death came to his relief." Ringo is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, about 150 yards from McKim. His life was short, but at least his grave has a faded marker.
The Cowboys finished 30-91 in 1886. The idea of enduring rugged travel to play against a bad team in front of an anarchist crowd was none too appealing to the other NL teams, and it soon became apparent that KC would not be invited back. Realizing this, McKim moved fast and divested himself of interests in the team. His career as a big league baseball entrepreneur was over.
McKim went on to become a brickmaker and general contractor, less-noticeable pursuits that kept his name out of the public eye until 1910, when his death at the age of 70 earned him a small notice in the local papers. He was referred to as a brick manufacturer, and not mention was made of his association with baseball. Americus McKim was buried on February 12, 1910. He was survived by his wife, Mary and four grown children. McKim probably died believing that he would be forgotten.
McKim's story should have ended there. His eternal resting place should have been forever marked by a patch of grass. But sometime in the early 1970s, his tale stoked the fires of Harold Dellinger.
Dellinger is a gray-haired man with a white moustache that hangs down on either side of his mouth. His lair is the Blue & Grey Book Shoppe in Independence. There, in a glass case, are miniature Civil War reenactments, "Legends of the South" T-shirts, books of slave songs, men's shirts fromt the 18th century and pink flamingos in the windows. The shelves contain a virtual treasure trove of local history.
Dellinger saw his first big-league game in 1957 in Kansas City. It was the Yankees and the A's. Mickey Mantle hit a home run. A life-long romance with baseball was born.
He first came across McKim when reading early accounts of Kansas City baseball in the Baseball Encycolpedia. As he read, he noticed an Eastern bias. Something stirred. Dellinger wanted to discover Kansas City baseball from a Kansas City viewpoint.
"Nobody cared about the 1884 Kansas City Unions, who went through 51 players and two or three managers, except for me," Dellinger said. "There's not a Hall of Famer on there."
Long hours were spent poring over microfilm, efforts that yielded three books on the early days of big-league baseball in Kansas City. Two of the simply bound volumes can be found in the rare books collection of the Kansas City Public Library.
Much of what has survived about the early days of baseball in this country is as much myth as fact. Through the efforts of Dellinger and those like him, much of the mist has dissipated, at least for those who care to know the difference. In researching his books, Dellinger learned more than thirty years ago that McKim was lying in an unmarked grave, virtually right in his backyard. Dellinger is a long-time resident of the Lykins neighborhood. As part of his research, he tried to track down McKim's four children, hoping that one of them might still be alive. He learned that McKim's son, who was depicted in 1886 game stories as being a passionate and demonstrative young fan, moved to Minnesota. He wasn't able to trace him further than that.
Dellinger thinks he barely missed finding McKim's daughter, Daisy. In 1976, he spoke to someone who remembered an old secretary named McKim. He spoke to another person who claimed that there was a McKim who "was big into horses." He wasn't able to substantiate those claims.
"I have every box score from 1884 to 1902," Dellinger said, "except one." Dellinger then rattles off the date and the circumstances of the box score non grata. It was in 1893, the second game of a double header that, for some reason, never found its way into print.
The Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) was created to organize the efforts of Harold Dellingers all across the land. A primary task of the organization is to recover and preserve as much of baseball's history as possible.
So it is in the spirit of community and fellowship that baseball historians capture every old box score as if it were one of Hemingway's lost stories.
And it was in the spirit of community that Harold Dellinger took it upon himself to write McKim's epitaph and preserve his memory. He brought up the subject at meetings of the local SABR chapter. He got his neighborhood association involved. "I talked to the Elmwood people two or three times over the past 20 years, but nobody really cared about any old ball players," Dellinger said. "And I wasn't going to just (put a gravestone there).
"You want a project that people can participate in. It's all about community building." Eventually, the community came together. Various organizations chipped in, and a gravestone was ordered. The date for the dedication was set for May 20.
The sun was shining Saturday when Ameicus V. McKim's grave finally received a marker. A red blanket with pictures of hitters and pitchers covered the flat stone. The blanket was weighed down on each corner with a baseball.
The gathering was small, about 20 or so, and the mood cheerful, with what seemed like about a dozen different baseball conversations going at once. Dellinger looked happy, shaking hands and mugging for a television camera. He carried a tobacco pipe in one hand and ballglove under his arm. He led off a procession of speakers, who talked of the importance of preserving memories and McKim's place in local history. Dellinger invited a little girl named Natasha, clad in a Royals T-shirt and cap, to do the unveiling. She happily kneeled and removed the baseballs one by one, then pulled back the blanket.
The stone was simple, with McKim's name, the dates of his birth and death and Dellinger's words that will define him forever: "The father of Kansas City baseball."
The speeches done, the cameras shuttered, the crowd began to thin. When only a few were left, Dellinger picked up his ball glove, as did cemetery historian, Richard Stewart, and the split apart on either side of McKim's grave.
Another friend of Dellinger's borrowed a glove, formed a triangle with the others, and on a perfect afternoon for a ballgame the three middle-ages men started to play catch.
(To reach Bradford Doolittle, send email to email@example.com).
Acknowledgements: For this story, staff writer Bradford Doolittle consulted following sources:
- The microfilm libraries of "The Kansas City Star", "The Kansas City Times", "The New York Times", and "The Washington Post".
- "The 1884 Kansas City Unions: A History of Kansas City's First Major League Baseball Team", by H. L. Dellinger
- "From Dust to Dust: An Account of the 1885 Western League", by H. L. Dellinger
- "The Ballclubs", by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocelia
- "At the River's Bend: An Illustrated History of Kansas City, Independence, and Jackson County", by Sherry Lamb Schirmer and Richard D. McKinzie
- "Baseball: An Illustrated History" by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns
- Harold Dellinger, the Society for American Baseball Research and Laurie Horton and Richard Stewart from Elmwood Cemetery
To learn more about local and baseball history, visit www.sabr.org and www.historickcelmwood.org.
OLIVER CLEVELAND McWILLIAMS
Obituary for O.C. McWilliams, "The Kansas City Star", Sunday, Oct. 14, 1894, page 8:
"O. C. McWilliams, Pioneer Kansas City, Missouri Banker is Dead"
"Oliver C. McWilliams, a well-known resident of Kansas City, died at his home, 3115 Troost Avenue, at about 7 o'clock last evening of inflamation of the glands of the throat. Mr. McWilliams was 67 years of age. He had been ill for about four months. During his illness he was attended by Dr. C. Lester Hall, George Halley, and Dr. Merriam. From the first Mr. McWilliams condition gradually became worse and one week ago last Thursday an operation was performed by the three physicians. The operation was successful and it was believed that Mr. McWilliams would recover. Friday morning he began to grow worse and his physicians announced to the family that the end was drawing near. All day yesterday he grew weaker... and at a few minutes before 7 o'clock he died
About his bedside were gathered Mrs. McWilliams and the children, Mrs. Pearl Barton and George A. McWilliams; his nephew (Lucian) D. Cooper and Mrs. (L.) D. Cooper, Dr. C. Lester Hall and J. M. Lowe.
The funeral will be held from the residence at 2 o'clock tomorrow under the auspices of Lodge No. 220, A.F. & A.M., of which the deceased was a member. Rev. J. O'B. Lowry, pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church, will conduct the services. Internment will be at Elmwood Cemetery."
From "Kansas City Genealogist, Vol. 44, #1, pages 19-20:
O. C. McWilliams Pioneer Kansas City, MO Banker is Dead, by Fred L. Lee...
Oliver Cleveland McWilliams was born in Madison County, KY, on June 20, 1827. His parents were Alexander C. and Jane C. (Breedlove) McWilliams, native Virginians. He attended school near his home and obtained a common school education.
In 1860 he moved to Breckenridge, Missouri, where he engaged in the banking and general mercantile business. Breckenridge had been laid out by his brother, Sidney McWilliams, a short time prior to his brother's arrival there.
During the War of the Rebellion O.C. McWilliams acted as government telegraph operator in Breckendridge. A few months before his death he received a notice from the authorities in Washington stating that there was still back pay due him for his services in that capacity.
In 1865 O.C. McWilliams married Miss Kate George of Caldwell County, Missouri, in Ray County, Missouri.
In 1878 O.C. McWilliams came to Kansas City, Missouri where he became active in the wholesale selling of hats, caps, gloves and furs at 308 Delaware. His brother-in-law Brutus Crooke was his partner in business. The firm name they adopted was that of "McWilliams, Crooke & Co.,", the "& Co." in the name being that of David Russell. Mrs. Jane McWilliams, his widowed mother, was at that time residing with her daughter, Ophelia, and her husband Brutus Crooke at 1315 McGee in the city with O.C. McWilliams and his family living a short distance away at 1109 McGee.
According to Kansas City's Vital Statistics and her obituaries of the time, Jane McWilliams died of "a disease of the heart" her death comeing at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. Brutus Crooke., Saturday evening, 11 Dec. 1880. She was over 80 years of age at the time of her passing.
In time O.C. McWilliams sold his interest in the wholesale clothing business and became involved in real estate and property acquisitions in the city. Subsequently he was involved in the organization and incorporation of Citizen's National Bank, which for many years was located at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Delaware in Kansas City.
His brother, Sidney McWilliams, who'd been residing in Chillicother, Missouri, removed to Kansas City at this time and together joined his brother in the banking enterprise.
"The Citizens' National Bank", writes Carrie Westlake Whitney, "was organized in 1882." Also involved in the bank's founding were Phil Chappell, Dr. D. W. Hooker, J.J. Squier, and Joseph A. Cooper, the latter in addition being related to O.C. McWilliams. Upon the death of Joseph A. Cooper, in 1883, Sidney McWilliams became bank presidnet serving as such 1884-1886. During most of this time O.C. McWilliams' obituaries state he was, in addition to handling his real esate transactions and acquisitions, a director of the bank.
In 1898 the Citizens' National Bank was sold to the Union National Bank. O.C. McWilliams spent his final years primarily attending to his investments and their management.
He was a Democrat in his political beliefs although he took little interest in politics. In addition he was a Mason and was a member of Lodge No. 230 of Kansas City.
He was survived by his wife and two children, his brother Sidney, by then being described as "a well known banker and capitalist in the city", his wife Fannie and their son Homer McWilliams, a "maiden sister" and Mrs. Ophelia Crooke of Kansas City. Sidney McWilliams, whose death occurred on March 6, 1910, is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Kansas City, MO.
O.C. McWilliams' nephew, Lucian D. Cooper, who with his wife was at his uncle's bedside at the time of his death, was paying teller at the Citizens' National Bank in 1882, a cashier at the Aetna National Bank, 1200 Main Street in 1890; a teller at the Citizens' National Bank in 1892; and a teller with the Union National Bank in 1900. He and his wife resided at 1109 McGee (1882); 1118 Tracy (1890 & 1892), and 1110 Tracy Ave. (1900).
Joseph A. Cooper (12 May 1844 - 29 Nov 1883) is buried in Elmwood Cemetery with Mrs. Pocohantas Bell Cooper (25 Jan 1851 - 3 Jan 1920) in Block N, Lott 44. (BCM)
Sidney McWilliams was a well known banker and capitalist in Kansas City, Missouri. Early in his career he laid out the town of Breckenridge, Missouri. (See notes for Oliver Cleveland McWilliams for more informatin about his brother Sidney).