Bold Women: Fort Shaw Indian School, basketball & bridging cultural divides
Around 1892, two new entities serendipitously collided. One was Fort Shaw Indian School west of Great Falls. The other was the sport of basketball.
Fort Shaw was one of those boarding schools that took native kids from their homes for assimilation. So the school’s boys and girls did know stress and homesickness.
But many were biracial and already spoke English, which helped. And most chose to be there because it was better than the school at home.
Kids from 7 tribes attended Fort Shaw. It was a Blackfeet girl, Josie Langley, who introduced basketball from another school she’d gone to out east.
The girls at Fort Shaw picked it up quickly. It was a little like Doubleball, a field-game their grandmothers had played.
Soon, the team was playing other high schools and even college teams from Missoula and Bozeman. Their speed, skill, and teamwork drew hundreds of fans. They lost a few games at first, then never lost again.
In 1904, the girls were invited to the St. Louis World’s Fair. For five months, they demonstrated their sport and other arts, broadening 3 million minds from around the world about the possibilities of their gender and race.
Six years later, Fort Shaw school closed. Teammates dispersed. But for an amazing few years, the girls forged a family and a team — the best women’s basketball team, at the time, in America. And, the Fort Shaw Indian School girls helped Americans fall in love with basketball.