Louis Sockalexis of Indian Island appears in a team photo with the Lowell (Mass.) baseball club in the New England League in 1902. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CLEVLEAND PLAIN DEALER) Credit: Courtesy of Cleveland Plain Dealer

In March, a group of Mainers announced a plan to begin raising money to erect a statue in Maine honoring Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian who was the first Native American to play a professional sport in the United States.

Recently, the Louis Sockalexis Monument Fund, a nonprofit association created to make the statue a reality, received a significant gift.

Fund director Ed Rice announced Tuesday that the Cleveland Indians professional baseball organization has made a $10,000 donation.

Robert DiBiasio, senior vice president for public affairs for the Cleveland Indians, told Rice the donation was made “for the express purpose of establishing a monument in honor of Mr. Sockalexis in his home state of Maine.”

However, DiBiasio told Rice the Indians organization would not make any formal statement in regard to the donation.

Rice explained in a release that he and DiBiasio have a relationship dating back to 1999, when Rice was invited to correct a number of myths and inaccuracies for the Louis Sockalexis biography in the team’s media guide.

Cleveland’s $10,000 donation represents approximately one-eighth of the minimum $80,000 the Sockalexis Monument Fund hopes to generate in order to commission and erect a statue in Maine.

Rice explained that a Maine sculptor has suggested such a monument be at least eight feet tall and be made of bronze and placed on a large foundation. The project could cost as much as $100,000.

Rice, the author of the 2003 Sockalexis biography, “Baseball’s First Indian,” helped bring to light the fact that it was Sockalexis who inspired Cleveland’s nickname in 1897 and that he also paved the way for other American Indian stars such as Jim Thorpe and Hall of Fame pitcher Charlie Bender.

Rice said Sockalexis was “legendary in his own time and, because of his sterling play in two seasons at Holy Cross College, he is considered one of the greatest college and town ball baseball players of the 19th century.”

A re-issue of “Baseball’s First Indian,” as a revised paperback manuscript with new material, will be produced by Down East Books of Maine some time during the summer of 2019. Rice will donate all of his royalties from sales of this edition directly to the monument fund.

The statue could be erected in the Bangor area or Indian Island.

In an effort to promote a greater appreciation of the historical significance of Sockalexis and the monument campaign, Rice will soon embark on a speaking tour that he hopes will include stops at one public library in each of Maine’s 16 counties. He has already scheduled talks as follows: Nov. 15, 7 p.m., South Berwick Library; Nov. 17, 6 p.m., Bangor Public Library; Dec. 4, 6:30 p.m., South Portland Library; and Dec. 6, 5:30 p.m., Blue Hill Library.

Rice welcomes other communities interested in hosting the Sockalexis talks contact him at ed.rice257@gmail.com. For more information about the campaign or to make a tax-deductible contribution, write to the Louis Sockalexis Monument Association at louissockalexismonument@gmail.com or: Louis Sockalexis Monument, in care of Ed Rice, P.O. Box 1172, Calais, ME 04619.

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