Monday, February 28, 2011

The Death of "Steel Arm" Dickey

1917 Etowah Aluminum Sluggers
image from Dennis Stewart
included in a paper on the Dickey family prepared by John Harshaw

Spring had not yet officially arrived.  The temperature in the area reached the low 60s on Sunday, March 11, 1923.  Thoughts of baseball crossed the players' minds.  Then things went wrong.  Horribly wrong.

Journal and Tribune (Knoxville)  - March 13, 1923
image copied from the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection

Chattanooga Times - March 14, 1923
image copied from the Chattanooga Public Library

This was not just local news.  The Chicago Defender picked up the story about a week and a half later.
Chicago Defender - March 24, 1923
image courtesy of Gary Ashwill

So, three newspapers accounts differ.  What really happened?  Who was to blame?  To add to the confusion, we have to look at the Death Certificate.  Walter?  What happened to Claude?  Pistol wound?  Where did the knife of the newspaper stories end up?  The birth date given by Martin Dickey doesn't match up with the date on Claude's Draft Registration.  One thing that seems consistent is that Mr. Walter/Claude Dickey died as the result of profuse loss of blood.

Death Certificate - McMinn county, Tennessee
image copied from the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection

I assume that informant, Martin Dickey, is related to Claude.  There was a Martin Dickey in the 1920 census.  That family was next to the Ben Dickey family.  Fland/Claud was enumerated with the Ben Dickey family.  Martin Dickey has a son named Claud.  Was Martin an uncle to Claude the pitcher?  The 1900 census seems to indicate that.

Was "Steel Arm" Dickey a bootlegger?  A black man in the wrong place at the wrong time?  A ruffian?  A good Samaritan?  It is possible that he could have been all of those.  What I do know is that he died on March 11, 1923.

As far as the bootlegging goes, a Sports Illustrated story about "Cool Papa" Bell says:
Soon he was facing the lethal St. Louis Stars of the Negro National League. "They were a tough club," says Papa. "And mean! They had a fella named Steel Arm Dicky. Used to make moonshine as mean as he was on the side. His boss killed him when he began to believe Steel Arm weren't turnin' in all the profits."
"Steel Arm" Dickey's final resting place is at the New Zion Cemetery, Etowah, Tennessee.

image courtesy of Marian Presswood

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Life of "Steel Arm" Dickey

"Steel Arm" Dickey's name was Claude. Or Claud.  Or Walter.  Many of the documents I've seen call him Claude.  In searching on I was able to find a Claud Dickey in the 1900 Census.  He's listed as the grandson of Ben and Frona Dickey.  They were living in Fannin County, Georgia.  That is on the northern Georgia border.  Ben and Frona had only been married for nine years.  Claud is three years old at the time the census was taken, so let's call his birth year 1897.

Year: 1900; Census Place: Morganton, Fannin, Georgia; Roll: T623_195; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 23. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, 
USA: Operations Inc, 2004.

The 1910 Census finds the Dickey family no longer in Georgia.  I found them in McMinn County, Tennessee, two counties removed from Fannin County.  Claud is now 13.  And it appears that his grandmother's name is really Franie.  Claud hasn't been to school lately.

Year: 1910; Census Place: Civil District 3, McMinnTennessee; Roll: T624_1510; Page: 30A
Enumeration District: 0111; Image: 1143; FHL Number: 1375523. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006.

In 1918 Claude Dickey registered for the Armed Forces Draft.  The United States was at war with Germany.  We find a birth date and location.  Blue Ridge, Georgia, is in Fannin County.  Claude is working in the aluminium business as a day laborer.  The business was probably the Aluminum Company of America, based in Blount County, Tennessee, which is two counties away from McMinn County.

Registration Location: Blount County, Tennessee; Roll: 1852921; Draft Board: 0 World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.

I cannot find Claude in the 1920 Census.  Ben and Franie are still in McMinn County. lists a "Fland" Dickey, their grandson.  I think that this is a census taker's transcription error and "Fland" becomes "Claud".  Fland/Claud is a laborer in a Rail Road Shop.  Claud's age fluctuated since he registered for military service.  A year and a half later he's lost a year.  He's now 21.  Claude will be pitching for the Knoxville Giants a few months after this census was taken.

Year: 1920;Census Place: Civil District 3, McMinnTennessee;
Roll: T625_1753; Page: 24B; Enumeration District: 57; Image: 307. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

I have not traveled to McMinn and Fannin Counties to look for more information on Claude and the Dickey family.  Hopefully there will be some records that will provide a more complete look at the man who would soon loose his life in a tragic manner.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Steel Arm" Dickey in the newspapers

The Atlanta Constitution - May 28, 1920

The Atlanta Constitution - August 26, 1920

"Steel Arm" Dickey played for the Knoxville Giants, Montgomery Grey Sox, Birmingham Black Barons, and the St. Louis Stars.  A left handed pitcher whose career was cut short in March of 1923.

images from ProQuest

Friday, February 18, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 2011