Benjey reveals a fascinating, little-known slice of American history with this exhaustive examination of the football team at the Carlisle Indian School, a federally funded Pennsylvania boarding school for Native Americans that opened in 1879—and, before its closure in 1918, shocked the nation with its sports teams’ athleticism and competitive spirit. Those qualities are exemplified by the football program’s most famous alumnus, Jim Thorpe, a three-time All-American at Carlisle. Benjey tells the story of Carlisle’s football team, the “Indians,” season by season, drawing from press accounts and painting it all with a sportswriter’s sense of drama and color, while also explicating controversies and challenges the program faced, the intentions of its founders, and the stories of its participants.

As the title suggests, this work is written in the spirit of the times it surveys. Benjey’s use of “Indians'' throughout (not just as a team name) reflects the tenor of the century-old press accounts that he draws on, which tend to sound like this: “Hoodwinked and hypnotized by the native trickery and masterful strategy of the aborigines … St. Louis University went down to an ignominious defeat.” The accounts of games and seasons are engaging and exciting, bursting with fascinating revelations, like Carlisle losing to Harvard 12 to 11 in the last-ever game at the original Soldiers Field, as Benjey charts the team’s growth from underdogs to powerhouse.

Benjey’s focus is on the games themselves, two decades’ worth recounted with vigor and attention to the history of college football and Carlisle itself. Especially interesting is America’s response to Carlisle’s success and the question of what a Carlisle education offered its students—and whether and how they benefited afterwards. Abundant photos, newspaper cartoons, and other well-selected visual documentation fill out the story, both celebrating these athletes and offering an illuminating (and sometimes upsetting) glimpse of bygone attitudes.

Takeaway: The fascinating history of a Native American college football program founded in 1879.

Great for fans of: Wade Davies’s Native Hoops, Steve Sheinkin’s Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team.