On a cold Saturday afternoon November 19, 1892, Oberlin’s Yeomen football team took the field in Ann Arbor against the heavily favored Michigan Wolverines (which had trounced them handily the year before.) Oberlin’s new coach, Johann Wilhelm Heisman, brought an undefeated team with him to Ann Arbor.
(After several successful years of coaching, Heisman became director of the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan, New York. The club awarded a trophy to the best football player east of the Mississippi River.)
(On December 10, 1936, just two months after Heisman’s death, the trophy was renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy; it’s now given to the season’s most outstanding collegiate football player.)
OK, back to Oberlin and their fateful game.
One of Oberlin’s players was from Hawaiʻi, theology student John Henry Wise, half-Hawaiian and half-German; he came to Oberlin after graduating from Kamehameha Schools (he was part of the KS inaugural class in 1887.)
It is believed Wise was the first Hawaiian to participate in college football. He was considered their best lineman.
Newspapers noted Wise’s immense strength, reporting that he was “able to run with three men on his back without noticing the extra weight,” and referred to Wise and his fellow lineman ‘Jumbo’ Teeters as “two of the biggest men ever seen on a football field.”
Football was quickly becoming a dominant pastime on college campuses across the country, and this young Hawaiian was one of its rising stars. (Williams)
It’s not clear what the ‘official’ outcome of the game was. The team captains agreed on a shortened second half, to end at 4:50 pm, so Oberlin could catch the last train home. With less than a minute to go it was Oberlin 24, Michigan 22. As Michigan launched its last drive, the referee (from Oberlin) announced time had expired, and the Oberlin squad left the field to catch the train.
Next the umpire (from Michigan) ruled that four minutes remained, owing to timeouts that Oberlin’s timekeeper had not recorded. Michigan then walked the ball over the goal line for an uncontested touchdown and was declared the winner, 26 to 24. By that time the Oberlinians were headed home clutching their own victory, 24 to 22. (oberlin-edu)
(The scoring values in 1892 were five points for a field goal, four points for a touchdown, and two points each for a PAT (point after try) and safety.)
Who really won that game in 1892? The Michigan Daily and Detroit Tribune reported that Michigan had won the game, while The Oberlin News and The Oberlin Review reported that Oberlin had won. Both schools continue to claim victory. (oberlin-edu)
But being the first Hawaiian to play college football is only part of Wise’s legacy.
When Wise returned home in 1893, the Islands were in turmoil – Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown and a Provisional Government had been formed. Wise became a key member of the resistance, helping plan a January 1895 counter-revolution to restore Queen Lili‘uokalani to the throne by force.
From January 6 to January 9, 1895, patriots of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and the forces that had overthrown the constitutional Hawaiian monarchy were engaged in a war that consisted of battles on the island of Oʻahu.
It has also been called the Second Wilcox Rebellion of 1895, the Revolution of 1895, the Hawaiian Counter-revolution of 1895, the 1895 Uprising in Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiian Civil War, the 1895 Uprising Against the Provisional Government or the Uprising of 1895.
In their attempt to return Queen Liliʻuokalani to the throne, it was the last major military operation by royalists who opposed the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. The goal of the rebellion failed; Wise and over three hundred royalists (including Prince Kūhiō) were arrested.
On February 5, 1895, Wise was tried under martial law, but refused to testify against his compatriots and pleaded guilty to “misprision of treason” (knowing of a treasonous plot and failing to inform the government.)
He was sentenced to three years’ hard labor. Wise, though sentenced to a shorter term than many who were freed, remained behind bars. He was part of a final group of eight prisoners released on New Year’s Day 1896. (Williams)
In 1907, Prince Kūhiō, along with other prominent Hawaiian men including Wise, reorganized and restored to public light, the Royal Order of Kamehameha I. In 1917, Prince Kūhiō, along with four other prominent Hawaiian men (John C. Lane, John H. Wise, Noah Aluli and Jesse Ulihi,) established the Hawaiian Civic Clubs. (ROOK)
Wise got into politics, serving in leadership positions for all three of the major political parties of the era: Independent Home Rule, Democratic and Republican, always as an advocate fighting for the rights of native people. (Williams)
On November 13, 1914, 200-Hawaiians (including Wise) attended a meeting at the Waikīkī residence of Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole and agreed to form the Ahahui Puʻuhonua O Na Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian Protective Association), an organization which would work to uplift the Hawaiian people. US Delegate to Congress Prince Kūhiō, together with others, including Wise, were selected to draft the constitution and by-laws of the organization. (McGregor)
In December 1918, the association’s legislative committee finalized the draft of a “rehabilitation” resolution. Wise (who was serving as Territorial Representative (and later as Senator)) introduced it when the Territorial legislature opened in January 1919 – this set the foundation for the legislative effort to have the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act passed by Congress.
By April 25, 1919, the Territorial House of Representatives passed the resolution, and Wise was appointed to a Territorial Legislative Committee responsible for carrying the Territory’s legislative package to Congress.
In testimony before Congress, Wise stated, “The Hawaiian people are a farming people and fishermen, out-of-door people, and when they were frozen out of their lands and driven into the cities they had to live in the cheapest places, tenements. That is one of the big reasons why the Hawaiian people are dying. Now, the only way to save them, I contend, is to take them back to the lands and give them the mode of living that their ancestors were accustomed to and in that way rehabilitate them.”
“We are not only asking for justice in the matter of division of the lands, but we are asking that the great people of the United States should pause for one moment and, instead of giving all your help to Europe, give some help to the Hawaiians and see if you can not rehabilitate this noble people.” (Congressional Record, 1920)
The effort to pass the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act took from December 1918 to July 1921; on July 9, 1921, the bill passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law. The US Congress set aside close to 200,000-acres of former Crown and Kingdom lands for exclusive homesteading by Hawaiians of at least half Hawaiian ancestry.
It called for the formation of the Hawaiian Homes Commission to administer the homesteading program and noted that lands would be parceled out for homesteading under 99-year leases at a charge of $1 per year.
Wise retired from politics in 1925 and took up the quiet life of a farmer on Moloka‘i, where he raised pigs and grew taro. But he soon returned to Honolulu – there, he helped restore Hawaiian language instruction at his alma mater, Kamehameha Schools.
Frank Midkiff, KS president and later trustee, reminisced: “I thought it would be good to help our young people learn Hawaiian. So we got the trustees to make Hawaiian language a required course. The students were very interested in it and happy. But soon several parents came in and objected. ‘Why do you teach our children Hawaiian? … Before, here, our children were punished if they spoke Hawaiian. They were required to speak English. That is what they need.’” (Eyre)
Midkiff continued: “I hated to give up what I knew was good for them. I took it to the trustees. … The trustees said, ‘Well, let’s make it elective. Maybe that will be acceptable.’ But before long, after it was made elective, several gave it up and before long the courses had to be withdrawn. All followed the parents’ inclination and the teaching of Hawaiian language and culture was given up for that time being.” (Eyre)
But Midkiff, a speaker of Hawaiian, did not give up. Later that year, he and Wise wrote and published a Hawaiian language textbook, “A First Course in Hawaiian Language.” (Eyre)
One year later, and two years after the first Hawaiian language course was dropped, John Wise was hired and Hawaiian was reinstated in the curriculum, using the Midkiff/Wise textbook. (Eyre) In the same year, Wise was also hired by the University of Hawai‘i as its second-ever professor of Hawaiian language. (Williams)
John Henry Wise was born on July 19, 1869 in Kapaʻau, North Kohala; he died of pneumonia on August 12, 1937, at the age of 68. At a meeting soon after his death, the University of Hawai‘i, which he helped found by sponsoring the bill that created it in 1919, named the school’s athletic field Wise Field (it was torn up and relocated long ago.) (Williams)
Staying on the football theme … we used to have UH football season tickets; now we have Colorado State football season tickets. Today, UH plays CSU in Colorado – we’ll be there. Go RamBows!
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