The Oorang Indians were a traveling team in the National Football League from LaRue, Ohio (near Marion).
The team was named after the Oorang dog kennels. It was a novelty team put together by the kennels' owner, Walter Lingo, for marketing purposes. All of the players were Native American, with Jim Thorpe as its leading player. They played the 1922 and 1923 NFL seasons. Of the 20 games they played over two seasons, only one was played at "home" in nearby Marion.
With a population well under a thousand people, LaRue is the smallest town ever to have been the home of an NFL franchise, or probably any professional team in any league in the United States.
Lingo and Thorpe
The Indians franchise began when Lingo first met and became friends with Jim Thorpe, a future NFL Hall of Famer and who was considered the greatest athlete of his time. Thorpe first came to Lingo's defense after neighboring farmers accused the Lingo's Oorang Kennels of raising a nation of sheep killers. Thorpe came to Lingo's aid by testifying that he once knew an Oorang Airedale that had saved the life of a 6-year-old girl, named Mabel, from being trampled by a bull. After that, Lingo and Thorpe became hunting buddies.
Purchasing the team
In the winter of 1921, Lingo brought Thorpe and Pete Calac, who was a teammate of Thorpe's at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, to his plantation in LaRue to hunt for opossum. Lingo would purchase a franchise in the National Football League. At the time, the franchise was priced at $100. However just one of Lingo's Airedales sold for $150. Lingo saw the idea of a franchise as a way of touring the country’s leading cities for the express purpose of advertising his Airedale dogs. Therefore he placed two conditions on the team. The first was that Thorpe had to field an all-Indian team. Secondly, Lingo wanted the team to help run his kennels in addition to playing football. Thorpe and Calac agreed to both terms.
In June 1922, Walter Lingo travelled to Canton, Ohio and purchased an NFL franchise for $100.00. He named his team the Oorang Indians after his kennels and favorite breed of dog. The name stood out to sports and dog fans alike. Lingo also served as the team's business manager.
Fielding the team
Jim Thorpe served as a player-coach and recruited players for the team. In keeping with Lingo's wishes that franchise be an all-Indian team, the Oorang Indians consisted of members that were Cherokee, Mohawk, Chippewa, Blackfeet, Winnebago, Mission, Caddo, Sac and Fox, Seneca and Penobscot. The team roster included such names as Long Time Sleep, Joe Little Twig, Big Bear, War Eagle, and Thorpe.
Since Lingo’s plan was to advertise his dogs and kennel, the Indians were a traveling team, having only played one home game. That one "home" game was also played in nearby Marion, instead of LaRue since the town did not have a football field. This caused the team to travel week after week to many of major cities in the country. However, despite the hectic schedule, Lingo insisted that the Indians received the very best of care. The same dieticians and the same trainer who fed his Airedales and cared for their well-being, also tended to the Indian team members.
1922 and 1923 seasons
There were two future Hall of Famers on the roster, Thorpe and Joe Guyon, but they did not play much. Thorpe sat out quite a few games and never played more than a half, while Guyon did not join the team until midway through the first season. The Indians defeated the Indianapolis Belmonts, in a snowstorm, 33-0 in their inaugural game, taking home 2,000 in profits and a Cherokee tackle named Chief Johnson, who Thorpe recruited at halftime.
However football was not a priority for Lingo, promoting his kennel was. The pre-game and halftime activities were considered more important than the results of the game, and this entertainment was provided by the players and the Airedale dogs. Because of this lack of interest by Lingo, the Indians turned out not to be a very good team. In fact, they won only three games in two years.
At first the Oorang Indians were an excellent gate attraction. However most fans knew that the team wasn't very good, and they'd already seen the halftime show, so they stayed away. Lingo didn't renew the franchise in 1924. The novelty wore off and Lingo pulled his financial backing. So, at the end of the 1923 season, the Oorang Indians shut down for good. Although the team disbanded in 1924, Lingo’s kennels continued to thrive until the stock market crash of 1929. Lingo then traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota to promote Oorang dog biscuits. Back in LaRue, Lingo’s wife, Beryl, office secretary Belva Bowdre, and kennel superintendent Carl Sharpe revived the kennels. Although never reaching the success enjoyed in the 1920s, The Oorang Kennel Company continued until Walter Lingo’s death in 1966.
First ever halftime shows
Rather than retiring to the locker room at halftime, the Oorang Indians showed Lingo’s Airedales to the crowd. It was debatable, though, whether the Indians were there to play football or give Airedale exhibitions at halftime. In addition to the exhibitions with the dogs; the Indians, including Thorpe, participated in helping the Oorang Airedales perform tricks for the crowd. However, it was their halftime entertainment that made them such a huge attraction in the early 1920s. There were shooting exhibitions with the dogs retrieving the targets. There were Indian dances and tomahawk and knife-throwing demonstrations. Thorpe would often repeatedly drop kick balls through the uprights from midfield. Nikolas Lassa, also called "Long-Time-Sleep," even wrestled a bear on occasion.
The whole purpose of the Indians was to advertise Lingo's Airedales. The Indians knew that football wasn't important to the owner, so they spent a lot of their time partying and drinking.
In 1922 the night before a game with the Chicago Bears, the Indians went to a Chicago bar called "Everyman's Saloon." At 2:00 a.m., the bartender stopped serving drinks since Illinois law prohibited the sale of alcohol after 2 a.m.. This action upset the Indians who stuffed the bartender in a telephone booth and turned it upside down. The Indians were defeated by the Bears 33-6 just a few hours later.
Another instance in St. Louis occurred when several of the Indians went out drinking for the night. As the night came to an end, the players decided it was time to return to their hotel. They soon found a trolley that could take them back to their rooms, however that particular trolley was headed in the opposite direction. To solve this problem, the Indians players picked up the trolley, and turned it around on the tracks. They then told the conductor the address for their hotel.
Pro Football Hall of Famers
- Joe Guyon
- Jim Thorpe
- Nick Lassa
- Stan Powell
- Emmett McLemore
- Stillwell Saunooke
- Napoleon Barrel
- Leon Boutwell
- Ted Buffalo
- Xavier Downwind
- Gray Horse
- Joe Guyon
- Ted St. Germaine
- Baptiste Thunder
- Reggie Attache
- Pete Calac
- Bob Hill
- Joe Little Twig
- Eagle Feather
- Elmer Busch
- Sac and Fox
- Bill Newashe
- Jack Thorpe
- Jim Thorpe
- Bill Winneshiek
- Al Jolley
- Ohio Historical Marker Text
- History at Hickock Sports
- At the Pro Football Hall of Fame
- Pigskin: The Early years of Pro Football, Peterson, Robert, Oxford University Press US, 1997, ISBN 0-19-511913-4, 9780195119138
- What's an Oorang?
- The Oorang Indians
- Jimmie Tramel, "NFL's Indians were rich in Oklahomans", Tulsa World, September 13, 2009.