I’ve been researching the subject on the origins of African American baseball on the West Coast where league play is concerned, and I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter where the information is found, the players themselves were men, who for the most part barnstormed heavily in the very early years. They played games wherever they could. Access to parks was hard to obtain, which is what was needed for league play to occur. I ran across an article mentioning a very early Negro League in California, comprised of only four teams in the San Diego area.
California Eagle, February 1914
The four teams that were involved were, the “Bumble Bees“, “Gechie’s Euchres” or “Gechie Easbis“, the “All-Stars” and the “Outlaws“. They played at a park called Logan Park, which I believe is now called “Chicano Park“, in Barrio Logan, bordered by Logan Heights and East Village to the North, Shelltown and Southcrest to the East, and San Diego Bay to the West, and I-5 to the Northeast. The neighborhood was established by Congressman John A. Logan, who in 1871, tried to create a transcontinental railroad terminus in San Diego, possibly vying for a Southern railroad route, similar to the path of the once followed by the Butterfield Stage Company. The transcontinental railroad terminus would of course end at The Mole in West Oakland, because of its secured Northern route through Promontory Pass, Utah. John A. Logan’s long war record afforded him a great personal following, and it would seem he influenced major developments in the Southwest during the Reconstruction period in American history. In its early beginnings, Logan Heights was known as the East End. It was a multicultural community, which flourished during its early days, and soon became home to thousands of refugees from the Mexican Revolution.
The thing that caught my eye from this little article, was the the name of the team called the Gechie Euchres.
Even though “Gechie” is misspelled, it is not a term often used outside of the South, and particularly the South Eastern seaboard.
The Geechee language is derived from the descendant of slaves, who came to American from West and Central Africa, and the people who resided in this small area located on the South Eastern seaboard of America are referred to as Gullahs. They created a language, an African and America patois combination, that is limited to their specifically their culture. Sometimes, among themselves, they refer to each other as Geechees. There are major differences between the two concepts, and exactly where their language originated from during the slave trade, having once landed in America is a mystery. Yet their culture, and language origins are often lumped together for the purposes of simplifying their American heritage and birth origins. I can’t begin to explain how complicated the language sounds to those who did not grow up speaking it or hearing it. The Smithsonian Institute has documented for posterity, through the works of linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner, that the Gullah/Geechee language s a complex dialect comprised of 3800 words, developed from 31 different African languages.
I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to located more information about the “Gechies” league play, as well as the other teams, but to no avail. A lot of this has to do with the fact that even though there’s a mention of a game between the Bumble Bees and the Gechie Euchres “next Sunday”, the Associated Negro Press didn’t come into effect until 1919, and tracking down most league play across the nation from African American newspapers is difficult, because the information given seems to be by word of mouth at best, or not at all.
Willie Simpson was a pitcher, who obvious possessed a mean “spit ball”, and who seemed to have played the game bare handed. Carlile Perry played short stop. Cash Burns, Arthur Arbow, and Claude Johnson were all heavy hitters for the day.
I could only track down some history on Arthur Arbow. His WWI Draft registration has his race listed as “Ethiopian“, which was quite unusual to see. During this time, there were African American pride movements, where those involved were putting forth an effort to reconnect with their African roots. The Gullah/Geechee people prided themselves by holding on to their African heritage and traditions, so the name of this team was a significant find. Arthur Arbow was born in Baton Rogue, Louisiana in 1893, which would make him twenty years old at the time the article above was written by George Ramsey, a correspondent reporter for the California Eagle.
Arthur Arbow’s WWI Draft Registration Card
Arthur was married, and he supported his three brothers along with his wife. At the time of his Draft Registration, he resided in the Imperial Valley near San Diego. Although the Imperial Valley was a large farming community that recruited African Americans after the Civil War as cheap farm labor, Arthur was a employed as a waiter at Barbara Worth Hotel in El Centro, California. It was a world class hotel for its time.
Barbara Worth Hotel, Exterior, El Centro CA 1920’s
Barbara Worth Hotel, Interior, El Centro CA 1920’s
It seems that Arthur Arbow would eventually move to Phoenix, Arizona for a short stay, and then end up in Los Angles, only to open his own night club on Central Avenue, called The Sawdust Trail. He’s mentioned in an California Eagle advertisement in 1934 below.
California Eagle, March 30, 1934
About four years later, he would give up on his own business venture and manage the Yacht Moderne during the day shift, not very far from where he had previously owned his own establishment on Central Avenue in Los Angeles, California.
After that, at age 44, the Arthur Arbow’s trail runs cold. They say he lived out the rest of his years in Phoenix, Arizona, until the age of 66. There are two marriage records for him, but he left no children that I know of. He was a twenty-something-year-old “fence buster“, who traveled as a barnstormer down near Calexico way on Highway 8, between El Centro, California and San Diego. He played in a small league that had no name, that was at the very beginnings of African American baseball on the West Coast. He ended his days as a manager of a restaurant slash night club, and soon fell into obscurity.
He left the South at a young age and decided to remain West of the Mississippi forever, because the opportunity to do so presented itself.