William Jennings Gardner Article

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William Jennings Gardner
Born:(1884-01-23)January 23, 1884
North Dakota
Died:June 15, 1965(1965-06-15) (aged 81)
Prescott, Arizona
Career information
Position(s) Fullback, end, tackle
Height5 ft 11 in (180 cm)
Weight172 lb (78 kg)
College Carlisle
Career history
As player
1904–1907 Carlisle
Career highlights and awards
Military career
Allegiance United States United States
Service/branch United States Army seal U.S. Army
Years of service1917–1919
Battles/wars World War I: Western Front

William Jennings Gardner (January 23, 1884 – June 15, 1965) was an American football player, coach, and law-enforcement agent. He was one of Eliot Ness's " Untouchables," a group of 13 hand-picked United States federal law-enforcement agents who, from 1929 to 1931, sought to put an end to Al Capone's illegal empire. Ness chose Gardner for his team because he was an expert at undercover work. [1]


Early life

Gardner was born in North Dakota. He was the son of a half-white, half- Chippewa Indian father and a Chippewa mother. At an early age he and his brother, George, were taken from the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation and sent to Carlisle, Pennsylvania to attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

Football career and athletics

Gardner, who stood just under six feet and 172 pounds at the time, played end, tackle, and fullback from 1904 to 1907, helping the little school defeat the powers of the time, which were Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Pennsylvania—known as the "Big Four". He also set a school record in track for the half mile, and also played basketball and baseball. Gardner enrolled in Dickinson School of Law his senior year in 1907. "Pop" Warner described his 1907 team as "nearly perfect", but was upset that Walter Camp had left Gardner off his All-American team. Later in the 1930s, Knute Rockne named Gardner to his All-Time All-American team for Collier's.

Gardner then served as coach at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky from 1908 through 1911. Gardner was normally described in newspapers of the day as reserved, but sometimes he had a "wolf - like nervousness". One newspaper referred to him as "the 'Indian' athlete". Gardner had a feared trickery as a football coach. The Director of Harvard's Hemenway Gymnasium found him to be one of the strongest Americans in 1911, conferred after a series of measurements and physical tests. Gardner even outscored renowned boxers John L. Sullivan, Jack Johnson, and James J. Jeffries. Gardner then became director of athletics at Otterbein University. He then played on an all-star team in Atlanta and while in Indiana, Gardner recruited another star— Jim Thorpe.

Gardner was the head baseball coach at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas for the 1921 season. In July 1921, he was hired as the athletic director and head football coach at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. [2]

Family life and war

Gardner finished law school in 1909 and was admitted to the Louisville bar in 1910. Gardner enlisted in the United States Army as a private during World War I and became the only "Indian" to receive a captain's commission at Fort Sheridan. As usual, Gardner captained the Camp Custer football team. He fought in the trenches in France and his pension stated that he had been gassed. Gardner married Alene French, a socialite from Niles, Michigan, in 1919, and fathered one son, Frank Gardner, and two daughters: Jacqueline Gardner Carson and Alene Gardner Schnapf. The Gardner family traveled all over the United States, from Maryland to Texas, primarily because of Bill's highly mobile professional lifestyle, involved in both law and athletics.

The Untouchables

Eliot Ness was putting together a team of crack agents to combat the ruthless mob boss Al Capone. Ness wanted unmarried men who were accurate shots and could handle themselves in a fight. Gardner obtained a divorce and became a Prohibition Agent. He had been an undercover expert in a L. A. Division and participated in the raids on Capone's breweries, as well as battling gangsters.

Ness often noted that Gardner had high cheek bones and an olive complexion. He also was amazed at Gardner's large size, making a note that Gardner held a shotgun nonchalantly. At nearly 50, Gardner was the oldest member of the "Untouchables".

Later life

After Gardner left the "Untouchables", drinking, gambling, and women led to his downfall. He moved around until he died at the age of 81 from an illness at the Prescott Veterans Hospital in 1965. He was buried at the Prescott National Cemetery in Arizona, on June 17, 1965. His grave site number is 86, section number 12, row E. He was the real-life inspiration behind Abel Fernandez's character of William "Bill" Youngfellow, "full-blooded Cherokee" agent under Robert Stack's Eliot Ness in the original 1959–1963 The Untouchables T.V. series, and for Michael Horse's character, George Steelman, Native American agent under Tom Amandes's Ness, in the revived series syndicated to local stations in 1993.


  1. ^ Alfers, Kenneth G. America's Second Century. Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co., 1993, p. 106.
  2. ^ "W.J. Gardner to Coach Pirates; All-American End Will Be Mentor of Southwestern Eleven". The Waco News-Tribune. Waco, Texas. July 17, 1921. p. 20. Retrieved July 11, 2017 – via Newspapers.com open access publication – free to read.