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On Joseph Maytubby: The first Oklahoman to play for Texas

Maytubby, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, was a football star and team captain at Duke (then called Trinity College) before playing one season at Texas in 1896.

Joseph Maytubby (left) pictured with an unidentified teammate from the 1896 Texas Longhorn football team. Maytubby was of Chickasaw ancestry and was the first Oklahoman to play football at UT.
1897 Cactus yearbook

On October 10, 1900, the University of Texas faced the University of Oklahoma on a football field for the first time, and the Longhorns emerged victorious, 28-2. The Red River Showdown serves as an annual reminder of the countless Texans who have gone to Norman and been impact players for the Sooners, while comparatively few Oklahomans — no less than 20 — have earned football letters at Texas.

With Texas having just played Oklahoma for the 117th time, and now preparing to play Oklahoma State (another school that always has dozens of Texans on its roster) later this week, this seems a good time for a history lesson on the very first Texas Longhorn from north of the Red River: a halfback named Joseph Maytubby.

Maytubby was born in what was then called Indian Territory in the late 1860s, nearly four decades before Oklahoma became a state. He was a standout football player at two well-known southern colleges that were very early in their history of fielding organized athletic teams, was an acclaimed public speaker, had a brief legal career after finishing college, was the first elected mayor of the city of Tishomingo, and was active in the affairs of the Chickasaw Nation for many years.

Very little — if anything — appears to have been written in Longhorn history books about Maytubby and his time at UT. Lou Maysel, who spent two decades as the sports editor of the Austin American-Statesman, wrote the first comprehensive historical look at UT football. The first volume of his Here Come the Texas Longhorns, published in 1970, contains a season-by-season overview of the Longhorn football team from its start in 1893 through its 1969 national championship season. About Maytubby, Maysel wrote not a word, other than to list him on the roster of the 1896 team and on a list of the school’s all-time football lettermen in the book’s final pages.

Likewise, Long Live the Longhorns!, written by John Maher and Kirk Bohls and published in 1993, offered a season-by-season look at the first 100 years of Longhorn football, and it too never mentioned Maytubby.

This post will attempt to give UT fans and history buffs an education on this notable but long-forgotten Longhorn and the time and place in which he lived.

News stories that mentioned Joseph Maytubby both during and after his college days frequently referred to him as a “full-blooded Indian”, and some erroneously said that he was Choctaw or Cherokee, though he was actually born to a Chickasaw father and a white mother. His birthplace was near the present day town of Hugo, Oklahoma, which was then a village in the Choctaw Nation called Goodland. Different sources list his birthdate as March 14 of either 1868 (according to his obituary), 1869 (the year on his gravestone), or 1870 (the birth year given on his Social Security application).

Some articles shortened his name to Joe, or J.S. Maytubby. Records and publications dating back to his college years list his middle name as “Smith”, though the middle name written on his gravestone many decades later was “Sephus”.

Historian Joseph Bradfield Thoburn devoted five paragraphs to Maytubby in his 1916 book A Standard History of Oklahoma, which profiled many notable people of Oklahoma from its territorial days and into its first decade of statehood. About Maytubby, he wrote, “Few men of the Chickasaw country have had a more picturesque career”. According to Thoburn, Maytubby was orphaned at a very young age, and by the time of the book’s writing he did not remember his parents or know the exact year in which he was born, but he believed that he was about 45 years old.

He was educated at schools in the Chickasaw Nation and prepared for college at a school for Chickasaw youth in Wapanucka, an institution which went by several names in its history but was known as either the Rock Academy or Wapanucka Institute during the time Maytubby was a student. There he was taught by a professor named James Scarborough, who had recently graduated from Trinity College in North Carolina, which would later become Duke University.

Possibly due to Scarborough’s influence or recommendation, Maytubby entered Trinity College himself in 1892, the year that the school opened at its present location in Durham, North Carolina after moving from its original campus some 65 miles away in the town of Trinity, North Carolina. Maytubby established a reputation as a gifted public speaker and a talented athlete while at Trinity.

In June of 1893 at the Freshman Declamation contest held near the end of the school term, his speech on “The Hand of God in History” was unanimously judged to be deserving of the top prize. A local news story reported that “everybody cheered and clapped their hands and the boys rushed upon the platform and congratulated Mr. Maytubby” after his win was announced. That story went on to condescendingly say of Maytubby:

He is a young man of splendid physique, but is easily recognized as an Indian by his features. He spoke in a clear and distinct manner, without hesitating or repeating, his elocution and jestures [sic] being good. All joined with the judges in saying he was entitled to the honor of the evening.

Many longstanding stereotypes about Native Americans were still commonplace, and an “Indian” winning a public speaking award was considered a novelty at the time. News of Maytubby’s win in Trinity’s Freshman Declamation contest was reported in newspapers far and wide, reaching places like California, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Vermont, and even the Nottinghamshire Guardian across the Atlantic in England. This was almost certainly the first time that editors at those newspapers had judged the results of a speech contest at a small North Carolina Methodist college to be noteworthy.

Most American papers that shared the news printed an identical one-sentence report: “The highest honor of oratory at the commencement of Trinity college, in North Carolina, was carried off by a full-blooded Choctaw Indian of the name of Joseph Maytubby.” Other papers printed a slightly different version, stating that Maytubby “has helped to prove the worthiness of his race by winning the prize”.

But the September 30, 1893 Nottinghamshire Guardian had its own unique take.

The noble Red Man is coming to the front rapidly in the United States; he has turned farmer, become possessed of a bank account and a vote in certain sections, and now it is announced that the highest honour for oratory given this year at the Trinity College, North Carolina, was secured by a full-blooded Choctaw Indian, rejoicing in the name of Joseph Smith Maytubby.

To put this time in its historical context, it should be noted that several wars fought between the United States Army and the Comanche, Sioux, Apache and other plains tribes had happened very much within living memory, and the massacre at Wounded Knee in South Dakota had occurred less than three years earlier.

In the fall of 1893, Maytubby suited up for the football team of the Trinity Blue and White (the Blue Devils moniker was not used until the 1920s), playing left halfback. He scored the only touchdown of Trinity’s 6-4 win over North Carolina on October 28 in a game newspapers referred to as “the state championship”. He likely played a prominent role in Trinity’s 70-0 win over Tennessee on November 4. And he was singled out for praise in Trinity’s 30-0 loss to Virginia on November 11, a game Trinity’s players reportedly quit in protest of what they believed to be unfair officiating.

In June of 1894, Maytubby’s speech on “Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra” won the top prize at the sophomore class’s oratorical contest. At least one newspaper that reported on Maytubby’s excellence at both football fields and podiums couldn’t resist resorting to stereotypical metaphors. The June 12, 1894 New Berne Weekly Journal included the following paragraph in its “Happenings of the day” column:

The North Carolina, and other Southern States white boys at Trinity college, Durham, let a western Indian walk away with them for the declaimer’s honor in the Sophomore Class. He took their oritorical [sic] scalps, and left their heads sore, and worst of all his name is Maytubby.

On October 1, 1894, he was elected president of Trinity’s junior class. Three weeks later, Trinity played its only football game of the 1894 season, a 28-0 loss in “the state championship” to North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Asheville Daily Citizen named Maytubby as one of two players who “did the best playing for Trinity”. Wake Forest, an opponent in a prior season, had opted not to play football that year, and Trinity evidently had no other games scheduled.

In November of 1894, the members of Trinity’s football team elected Maytubby as their captain for the 1895 season. At that time and for several decades afterward it was common for a college team’s returning lettermen to gather shortly after the conclusion of a season and elect their captain(s) for the following year. But four months earlier, another election had taken place at Trinity that would result in football being absent from its campus for a quarter-century: the Trinity Board of Trustees’ election of John Carlisle Kilgo as the college’s new president.

Kilgo would serve as Trinity College’s president from 1894 to 1910, and during his tenure he was known as a staunch defender of academic freedom and did much work to build up the school’s high academic reputation to a level that it still enjoys to this day. Trinity was also the first southern white college to host African-American leader and education pioneer Booker T. Washington, who visited and spoke at the campus in 1896 on President Kilgo’s invitation.

Unfortunately for Maytubby and his fellow members of the Trinity football team, Kilgo believed that inter-collegiate football was an unnecessary money drain and detrimental to the college’s mission. Though news reports from September of 1895 indicated that games with other schools had been agreed upon, and that “Captain Maytubby is getting his material in shape and says he will have a good lightweight team”, President Kilgo ended Trinity’s football program before the Maytubby-led 1895 squad was able to play any games.

Duke University’s library has a timeline of the school’s history on its website. Scroll to 1895 and you will see an event labeled “Kilgo bans football”, and the only explanation the timeline gives for Kilgo’s decision is that he believed the sport “too dangerous” for Trinity’s students. While Kilgo had concerns about the physical hazards of football, his public comments at the time made it clear that the primary factor in his decision to axe Trinity’s football program was not the roughness of the game.

When a local reporter asked him, “What is your real position on football?”, Kilgo was quoted as giving this extended response in the Raleigh News and Observer’s November 19, 1895 edition (paragraph breaks not in the original):

As a game of recreation for college students I have no objection to it. I can see how occasionally a game, under certain limitations might be played between two neighboring colleges. It is a rough game any way you play it, but each man must consult his taste in matters of that kind. I have uncompromising objections to the modern football contests. I do not object to them on the grounds of bodily danger, though there is ground for objection there. Consider the college teams before the public at this season. They go hundreds of miles and play long lists of engagements, often in cities far away from the homes of both teams. Trinity College, while I am at its head, will not be on the road with a football team.

These games tend to disorganize intercollegiate sympathies. They engender feelings of rivalry and strife among students of the various colleges. They cause an unnecessary expenditure of money. The amount expended this season on the football games in American colleges would doubtless endow a Southern college.

These games take time from the studies. If there is already time to spare the standard might be put up to cover it. They put the wrong ideas of college life and work before the people, and beget with the masses the idea that colleges are places for frolic. They have enthroned the football player as the hero of college life. He is the student who gets the most newspaper notoriety. These games gratify the wrong tastes of the people. These are some of my reasons for objecting to the football idea as it now exists.

There is likely no shortage of teachers and administrators at both the high school and college level who would nod in agreement with much of Kilgo’s statement over 125 years later.

As a result of Kilgo’s decision, Trinity College did not field a football team again until 1920. Trinity was not the only southern school in that decade to cancel or suspend its football program for an extended period. Another North Carolina college, Wake Forest, played one game in 1895, then did not have a football team again until 1908. Tennessee, who Trinity had beaten soundly in 1893, did not have an official varsity squad in 1894 or 1895.

With Trinity having dropped football, other schools whose boosters or administrators did not share Kilgo’s views on inter-collegiate football looked to Trinity’s would-be roster with an eye toward improving their own. Though Trinity had only played five official football games during Joseph Maytubby’s two seasons with the team, his reputation on the gridiron was high enough that North Carolina and other schools reportedly attempted to recruit him.

From the October 20, 1895 News and Observer.

Mr. Maytubby, Trinity’s champion football player, has not left the college. His devotion is deeper than football renown, although he does not underrate the latter. It is reported on good authority that Chapel Hill has offered him large money inducement and guaranteed the same class rank that he has at Trinity if he will play ball there. Mr. Maytubby has also had flattering offers from the leading teams of the North, but will accept none of them.

Maytubby remained at Trinity, and in June of 1896 he was one of 24 graduates in the first class to have spent all four of its years at the college’s Durham campus. He was awarded a bachelor of philosophy degree and also the Wiley Gray medal for giving the best commencement speech out of all the senior class speakers. Trinity College became Duke University in 1924, and today Duke recognizes Joseph Maytubby as its first Native American graduate.

In the fall of 1896, Maytubby enrolled at the University of Texas as a law student, and he also played halfback and fullback for the Longhorn football team, which was then in its fourth season of existence.

He scored a touchdown and had a number of long runs in the team’s first game of the season on October 17, 1896, a 42-0 home win over a city team from Galveston, which was then either the third or fourth-largest city in Texas. That same Galveston squad (which some sources have misidentified as being from Ball High School) would play Texas A&M to a scoreless tie a few weeks later.

Organized football teams representing cities or athletic clubs were common opponents for colleges at that time. Out of the first nine seasons of Texas Longhorn football (1893-1901) there was only one in which they did not play at least one game against a city, Y.M.C.A. or club team. Games against non-collegiate foes disappeared from UT’s schedules after that.

The October 18, 1896 Austin Daily Statesman published a detailed rundown of the Texas varsity’s lopsided win over Galveston the previous day, which it referred to as “a veritable Waterloo for the visitors”. Interestingly, Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo 81 years earlier was, at that time, a more recent historical event than Texas A&M’s last national championship in football is today.

Later in the 1896 season, Maytubby was named as one of three “distinctive stars” in UT’s 0-0 tie against a city team from Dallas. He scored the second touchdown in Texas’s 12-4 win over Tulane on November 14, and his play throughout the course of the game was described as “steady and brilliant“.

Just two days after the win over Tulane, Texas traveled to Baton Rouge to play LSU, which had itself beaten the University of Mississippi 14-0 in a game in Vicksburg, Mississippi just three days earlier. A number of Longhorns were hobbled by injuries and/or the quick turnaround from their previous game, and Maytubby was named as one of four “Texas players who most distinguished themselves” in the team’s 14-0 loss to LSU.

Texas finished the 1896 season with four wins, two losses, and one tie. Joseph Maytubby was likely 26 or 27 years old when that season was played, and he did not suit up for the Longhorn football team again.

There is no film in existence showing him in action on a football field. The rules, tactics, and style of play for football during Maytubby’s time were quite different compared with how the game would be played in the years and decades after the forward pass was legalized in 1906. So just how good of a player was he, and would he have looked out of place in a Longhorn football game played 20 years later? The latter is impossible to answer, but contemporary accounts of his play on the field strongly suggest that, for his era, he was at least somewhere between “well above average” and “very good”. Four years after his lone season at Texas he was briefly mentioned in The Texan on October 22, 1900 in a section that provided life and career updates on various former students. The paper noted that Maytubby had “witnessed the game at Dallas” — referring to UT’s 22-0 win over Vanderbilt nine days earlier at the Dallas Fair Grounds — and called him “one of the best football players we ever had.”

It is unclear exactly how long he attended UT, or if he received a degree before he left. He was listed in the 1917 “General Register of the Students and Former Students of the University of Texas”, but his entry did not include a designation (such as L.L. B., or M.L.) indicating that he had received any particular degree from the school, as most other entries in that publication did. And the June 17, 1897 article in the Austin Daily Statesman that named UT’s graduates that spring did not list Maytubby as one of the recipients of a bachelor of laws or master of laws degree.

In any case, by the end of 1897 he was practicing law in Tishomingo (the capital of the Chickasaw Nation) with a man named S.L. Garrett, a former United States Commissioner who was a cousin of Charles Culberson, the Governor of Texas from 1895 to 1899 and later a United States Senator from 1899 to 1923. Maytubby was the superintendent of schools for the Chickasaw Nation for about a year, and after he resigned from that position in March of 1899, he was appointed as the Nation’s auditor of public accounts. In 1901 he was elected as the first mayor of Tishomingo after that city was incorporated.

He married the former Abigail Theodosia Kemp in 1903, and retired from practicing law two years later. He spent the rest of his life as a farmer, horse rancher, and cotton gin operator. The former Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory were merged in 1907 when Oklahoma became the 46th state in the union. Though Maytubby no longer actively practiced law by then, he filled a number of civic and educational roles at the local and state level in the years after Oklahoma achieved statehood.

He died on August 18, 1957, and his obituary in the Coalgate Record-Register described him as a “well-known Chickasaw Indian leader”. Joseph Maytubby was not the only prominent Maytubby in Oklahoma — his cousin Floyd Maytubby was Governor of the Chickasaw Nation from 1939 to 1963, and his uncle Peter Maytubby was elected to the same office in 1906 but died the following year — but he was reported to be the namesake of North Maytubby Street in Tishomingo.

He and his wife had been married 54 years at the time of his death, and she passed away the following year. Sadly, they did not have any children who survived them; they had one child who died as an infant, and a son who died in a car accident at age 27.

So as you watch Texas play the Oklahoma State Cowboys (and the 47 Texas high school products on their roster) this weekend, remember this remarkable Oklahoman and his long-forgotten contributions to Longhorn football.