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Remembering the 1904 Fort Shaw Indian Girls' Basketball Team

Remembering the 1904 Fort Shaw Indian Girls' Basketball Team
Posted at 8:48 AM, Jun 09, 2024

FORT SHAW — One hundred and twenty years ago, the Fort Shaw Indian School was the source of an incredible story.

The Fort Shaw girls basketball team made history when they traveled to St. Louis, Missouri for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World's Fair.

While at the fair, the ten members went undefeated in basketball exhibition matches, earning them the title of champions.

“In 2004, the monument was dedicated. It was the first time it appeared,” said Ardis Cecil, a decedent of Lizzy Wirth Smith, a woman associated with the 1904 team. “And then nothing has been done since then.”

Cecil worked with the Sun River Valley Historical Society and the Great Falls History Museum to bring the story of the 1904 women’s basketball team back to the spotlight.

The 120th anniversary event took place at the Fort Shaw Elementary School gymnasium, which was overflowing with people who wanted to learn more about the story.

Some of the attendees were descendants of the basketball players themselves. Cecil recognized the descendants with small gifts of painted rocks and chokecherry syrup.

“It was heartwarming, It was overwhelming,” Cecil said, “And I was just glad, I thought even for my family to come was enough for me. So to have this many people… it was pretty amazing.”

Linda Peavy, author of “Full-Court Quest: The Girls From Fort Shaw Indian School, Basketball Champions of the World,” was also in attendance, stressing the importance of keeping the story alive and doing our part to remember our past. Because the monument for the women’s team is not on a reservation, it is up to the people of Fort Shaw and the rest of Montana to remember the team’s story.

“I just so…appreciate this community since it's off the reservation that they've taken care of the story and they're here for us,” Cecil said.

You can learn more about the team and connect with descendants of team members here.