Peter Gorton presenting his program on baseball great John Donaldson at the April 28, 2019 annual meeting of the Old Wadena Society. He is saying how the discovery of a 1920’s era movie film of Donaldson pitching in a ballgame provides video proof of the Donaldson Networks argument that Donaldson deserves a spot in the baseball’s nation Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

John Donaldson’s career brought him to Area
Old Wadena program to spotlight baseball great!

A Staples native will report on his efforts to get a black baseball player enshrined in baseball’s National Hall of Fame, at the annual meeting of the Old Wadena Society on Sunday, April 28.

The Old Wadena Society meeting will be held at 1 p.m. in the lobby of the Historic Northern Pacific Depot in Staples, with Peter Gorton providing an entertaining program on John Wesley Donaldson, including his progress toward the making of a movie on Donaldson, called “39 Seconds.”

The general public, especially baseball fans, history nuts and people just wanting to hear a great story, are encouraged to attend. The Old Wadena Society meeting will also include election of board of director members, reports on this year’s plans for the Old Wadena Rendezvous and Chautauqua on August 10 and 11 and other annual business items. The local non-profit group is working to have an artistic memorial to the late Dr. Duane Lund finished and installed at the Old Wadena park prior to this summer’s Rendezvous.

Peter Gorton will describe his 18-year effort to resurrect the story and legacy of John Donaldson, whom Gorton considers one of the greatest black baseball players to ever play the game. He was one of many black athletes who at that time were banned from playing in the major leagues. So instead Donaldson spent parts of nearly 33 years playing for town teams scattered across central and southern Minnesota, including more than three years playing for the Bertha Fishermen.

The Missouri-born Donaldson discovered around 1920 he could make more money barnstorming and playing with town team baseball clubs around the Midwest. In1924, that led him to the Bertha Fishermen.

“I never saw him play, but my father and my grandfather both saw him play,” John Blashak, one of the officers of the Bertha Historical Society, said when asked about Donaldson’s records. He has helped Gorton with research on Donaldson’s seasons with the Fisherman.

The Fishermen played an independent schedule, not involved with any league. “A league would not allow a black player to be on one of their teams,” Blashak said. “The Bertha folks offered Donaldson a job and paid him $325 a month. The difference was here in Bertha he got a regular check while other places only offered to pay him on commission.”

Gorton created The Donaldson Network, a group of like-minded researchers, with a mission of telling the story of John Donaldson to as many people as they can. “Because Donaldson is someone we should know,” Peter said. “His sacrifice and contribution to baseball and society are significant beyond what history has thus far recognized.”

Gorton has verified, as of this past February, 407 Donaldson victories, more than any segregated pitcher in the history of baseball. His network has also documented Donaldson playing in 683 different cities. In one of Donaldson’s earlier games, on Sept. 12,1913, the Nevada, Iowa Republican reported, “Donaldson, the colored pitcher for the visitors, struck out three Nevada men in succession inning after inning.”

The 500 member Donaldson Network has documented Donaldson’s career that spanned from 1908 to 1940. Their research also found over 5,000 strikeouts and 14 no-hitters pitched by the left-handed Donaldson.

The Bertha Fisherman team traveled to surrounding towns, playing against Morris, Little Falls, Moorhead and any other towns where they were able to strike a deal on either a flat fee or a split of the gate. Likewise, Bertha was able to attract large crowds to come to their city as well, once word of the team and their ace pitcher spread around the baseball-crazy area. Bertha had to add on to their baseball field’s wooden bleachers to accommodate the larger crowds.

“We’ve got pictures of cars parked, surrounding the ball field and people standing on the sidelines,” Blashak said. “My uncle and his dad played on the team.” According to Blashak, the Fishermen attracted crowds of 3,000 spectators a number of times when Donaldson was pitching.

Probably the largest turnout came when Donaldson’s fame was matched with another Minnesota hero in 1927. Blashak and Gorton uncovered newspaper records showing over 10,000 people came to Little Falls in August, 1927 and saw Donaldson’s Fishermen team play against the all-black House of David squad, from Minneapolis. The size of the crowd also reflected that the game was part of the massive homecoming celebration the same weekend for a Little Falls hero, Charles Lindbergh, when he returned home after making the first successful flight from New York to Paris in May of 1927.

Donaldson didn’t return as a player to the Bertha team after 1927, playing instead for a number of other town teams from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to Lismore, Minnesota.

Gorton’s goal is to have Donaldson enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, which is planning to consider candidates from the segregated teams in 2020. Donaldson was not included in an initial group of black inductees in 2006.

Currently Gorton and his team are in the finishing stages of producing a movie on Donaldson’s career, titled ‘39 Seconds.” The title comes from the discovery of 39 seconds of rare film footage showing Donaldson on the mound in the 1920’s.

For more info go to: johndonaldson.bravehost.com or to: oldwadenarendezous.org


John Donaldson, back row, fourth from left. Sylvester “Hooks” Foreman, front, far right, was another black player and a catcher who played with Donaldson for several years, both with the Bertha Fishermen team and with other teams.

Bertha team photo with Ernie Fisher, team owner and namesake, in the middle. Again with both Donaldson and Foreman.

Part the stadium and some of the crowd at one of the Bertha Fishermen ball games.

The ball field surrounded by a host of automobiles. Barely visible is a portion of the stadium in the lower left of the photo.

Huge Crowd.

Old Wadena Rendezvous

The new date has been decided this year for August 10th and 11th!
Check back soon for more updates!

2018 UPDATES

Our new pavilion is coming together!

Click here to go to our gallery for more photos!

Old Wadena Rendezvous and Chautauqua Celebration
August 11 and 12, 2018

The mission of the Old Wadena Society is to promote community knowledge and understanding of the history, ecology, and natural beauty of the Old Wadena County Park and the Crow Wing River.

The main way we do this is through the annual Rendezvous and in 2018 we are making it a more user friendly, interactive event by adding Chautauqua. The location remains the beautiful bur oak-tree studded bluff along the Crow Wing river at Old Wadena Park. A new permanent pavilion where the Rendezvous and Chautauqua will take place is being constructed by Wadena County with the cooperation of the Old Wadena Society this spring.

You may be asking, “What is a Chautauqua?” Here is one answer: Chautauqua was an adult education movement in the United States, highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chautauqua assemblies expanded and spread throughout rural America until the mid-1920s.

Chatauqua will become a part of the Rendezvous this year – and anyone interested in learning more about the folk arts and Old Wadena can participate. Chatauqua will provide a platform on which you can learn and practice a folk art form.

Welcome to Old Wadena

The Old Wadena Society sponsors the annual Old Wadena Rendezvous and Folklife Festival every August in the Old Wadena Park as part of its mission to share information about the natural environment and history of this area of north-central Minnesota. The park is situated on the banks of the Crow Wing River, one of the best canoe rivers in Minnesota. The festival showcases two days of great acoustic music, storytelling for all, Anishinaabe dance and drum, Rendezvouers demonstrating 1840s skills and living coniditions, and artists and artisans displaying their work. In addition the Society carries out other educational and interpretive work about the environment and history of the region.

Our location

A map and directions to Old Wadena County Historic Park will help you get to the park. Its location on the Crow Wing River between the Crow Wing's confluence with the Partridge and the Leaf Rivers in north-central Minnesota was an important hunting and trapping area for Indians and later for the French. Today the park is the centerpiece to a string of parks with campsites along the Crow Wing River in Wadena County. The Park is north and west of Staples and north and east of the city of Wadena in Wadena County.