With the time period I’m exploring right now, it only makes sense that I’m also finding my interest in the roots of six-man football being piqued, as well.
The late 1930s and early 1940s were an amazing time for the development of six-man football in Wyoming. The six-man game, of course, started in 1934 in Chester, Neb., the brainchild of coach Stephen Epler. The first six-man game was played on Sept. 26, 1934, and by the late 1930s the game had spread across the Midwest states — including Wyoming.
Actually, the game didn’t take long to cross the eastern border from Huskerland. The Moorcroft Chamber of Commerce page references Moorcroft beating Gillette in Wyoming’s first six-man game in 1934 — the year of the game’s introduction. I haven’t dug into finding out more about this game yet, but you can bet I will soon…
Anyway, the six-man game really took off, and by 1941, more than 30 teams in the Equality State were playing the sport. In fact, in 1941, some of the smaller schools in the southeastern corner (Yoder, Veteran, Chugwater, Hawk Springs, Huntley and LaGrange) organized a TOUCH six-man league. LaGrange beat Chugwater 7-6 in the championship game that year… but Hawk Springs was so intrigued by the game that the Hawks actually suited up and played a couple full-contact games that season (they lost to Glenrock, one of the best six-man teams in the state that season, 20-16, then later lost again to the Herders 25-0 and to Albin on Armistice Day).
This research also turned up something interesting: a school in Fort Washakie. I didn’t know Fort Washakie had a high school before the current incarnation of Fort Washakie Charter, but apparently it did. I don’t know much about the school — the team was generically referred to as the Indians, their colors were never listed and photos of the team never appeared, so if you know more about the Fort Washakie school, let me know.
Who was all involved in this? Well, by 1941, Byron, Cowley, Deaver-Frannie, Burlington, Meeteetse, Manderson, Ten Sleep, Worland Institute (the boys school), Shoshoni, Pavillion and Fort Washakie out of the Northwest; Big Piney, Pinedale, Lyman, Reliance, Superior, Snake River, Saratoga, Encampment, Farson and Hanna out of the Southwest; Arvada, Big Horn, Dayton, Ranchester, Clearmont, Moorcroft and, sometimes, Upton out of the Northeast; and Glenrock, Manville, Glendo, Burns, Carpenter, Pine Bluffs, Albin, Guernsey and Hawk Springs out of the Southeast, were playing six-man with some form of regularity.
Then, on Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor happened, and America reorganized its priorities, nearly snuffing out six-man in Wyoming for good. Many small schools postponed play for the duration of the war, or played seasons in which travel restrictions limited the squads to one or two games for the entire season. The programs in Fort Washakie, Carpenter and Hawk Springs didn’t survive past the war; the others came back, eventually, but only a select few survived intact in either six-man or 11-man forms through to today.
There are a couple reasons I am so interested in six-man’s history. One is pretty clear: Six-man football came back to Wyoming in 2009. The new classification has renewed my interest in digging into the archives. Second, it seems like every time I find something, it leads me somewhere else. The intertwining paths these schools followed are pretty amazing. Third, as I work backward, I keep searching for indications that I’m coming close to the end of this research… and if I can get to 1933, I can probably come close to closing the history on 30-some Wyoming football programs… and that gets me jazzed.
Anyway, here are some more six-man linkages:
Click here for a story from American Profile with a reference in the comments section to the six-man winning streak record Byron set back in the day (and how it was broken by some school in South Dakota)
Click here for a historical six-man page with copies of some of the original news articles from 1934
Click here for a Sublette.com page that references Pinedale’s first six-man game in October 1938