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Butte Colored Giants

Butte Colored Giants. Courtesy of the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.
Butte Colored Giants. Courtesy of the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.

The Butte Colored Giants was a Negro baseball team based in Butte, MT, that competed independently from 1917-1921, in the Butte Independent League from 1922-1923, independently in 1933, in the Butte Intercity League in 1934, and in the Montana State League from 1935-1936, and independently from 1937-1939. The team had strong ties to Arkadelphia, AR.

History

The Butte Colored Giants originated in the latter 1910s at the peak of Butte's prosperity as a mining town. Frank Yamer, proprietor of the Silver City Club, a local black nightclub, operated the team during its early years in which it was often called the Silver City Giants. From its beginning, the team had strong ties to Arkadelphia, AR. Among the team's first and most prominent members were Girlie Fenter and his brothers-in-law McKinley, Ernest and Hobart Walker, all of whom were residents of Butte but natives of Arkadelphia. By 1919, the team included another Arkansan, Codie "Stack" Spearman, who was a member of Arkadelphia's remarkably athletic Spearman Family. With success leading into the early 1920s, the Colored Giants became well-known and respected in Butte and its surrounding mining communities despite a local black population of less than 1%. Competition from local white teams comprised the majority of the Colored Giants' schedule. In 1922, the team entered the otherwise all-white Butte Independent League, defeating five other local teams to lay claim to the league championship. Returning to league play again in 1923, the Colored Giants successfully defeated Meaderville in the playoffs, securing back-to-back championships and a place in Butte baseball lore.

Yet, the Colored Giants achieved their greatest significance in the mid 1930s. The team was reorganized in 1933 with Arkadelphia native Doug Jackson as manager.1 Veteran McKinley "Mac" Walker reprised his role on the team, as did Stack Spearman, who brought with him from Arkansas a collection of Arkadelphia's best black baseball players, including his brothers Allen and Hayes. After a successful season playing independently, the Colored Giants joined the Butte Intercity League race in 1934. In preparation, Manager Jackson arranged for a full team of players from Arkadelphia to come north. After practicing together in Arkadelphia, the team traveled more than 1,700 miles by automobile from Arkansas to Montana, well before the modern highway system was in place. With the help of the additional players, the Colored Giants became popular for their entertaining style of play and comical antics.2 Yet, the team also proved to Butte baseball fans that it was more than a mere novelty by performing well against other league teams and ultimately finishing first in the second half standings. After a lopsided 7-37 loss in the opening game of the playoffs, the Colored Giants came back to win the next three games against the Anaconda Laurel Leafs to win the 1934 Intercity League championship.3 Once the season concluded, most of the team returned to Arkansas.4

The following spring, the Colored Giants were given the privilege of becoming the only black team to enter the 1935 Montana State League. The eight-team league represented the highest level of baseball in Montana, and so to help the Colored Giants compete, additional talent was added to the team's roster. To supplement the main team of players who returned to Butte from Arkadelphia, several professional players previously with the Colored House of David club were added to the Colored Giants during the season. Together, the team secured a first place finish in the first half, leading to a playoff series with the Butte Freebourns, which the Colored Giants lost. Nevertheless, the runner-up Colored Giants returned to the Montana State League again in 1936, though this time without the assistance of several key players from Arkansas, including the Spearman brothers. Fielding a combination of players from Arkadelphia and players formerly with the Colored House of David, the Colored Giants managed to place third among seven teams in the league's first half standings. Although the team performed strongly during the remainder of the season, controversy disrupted the Colored Giant's second half. In a critical late-season game between the second-place Colored Giants and the first-place East Helena club, a disagreement concerning an umpire's call on a ninth inning play led the Colored Giants to leave the field in protest.5 League officials eventually ruled against the Colored Giants and awarded the game to East Helena. As a result, the Colored Giants withdrew from the league.6

After the fallout between the Colored Giants and the Montana State League, the team never again achieved the same status in Butte. When the 1937 Montana State League was reorganized the following spring, the Colored Giants were not invited to rejoin. Late in the season, the team was briefly revived under the sponsorship of Metals Barber shop and its white proprietor Cliff Olds, but local press paid little attention.7 More successful, however, was the team's 1938 and 1939 reincarnations in which the Colored Giants played independently under the leadership of its original founder, Frank Yamer. With many of the team's players from Arkansas now residing in Butte, the Colored Giants continued to compete with the region's best white teams for two final seasons. In 1940, one last attempt to reorganized the team as the Butte Colored Stars was unsuccessful.

Although the black population of Butte declined in subsequent years to a nearly infinitesimal amount, the Colored Giants were remembered as some of Butte's greatest baseball players,8 and today remain perhaps Montana's most significant Negro baseball team. Remembered also for an important role in Butte's black community, author Loralee Davenport states that "[t]here is no doubt that the Colored Giants had a positive influence on the community of Butte. These black athletes gained respect that left a positive impact on both black and white citizens."9

Seasons



Players from Arkansas



Other Players

The following individuals are among those who played with the Colored Giants but did not have any known connections to Arkansas. Several of the players were previously members of the Van Dykes' Colored House of David (CHoD) team or another professional team (Pro).