George Gates Bristow
born George Gates Howlett
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 10", Weight 170 lb.
- Debut April 15, 1899
- Final Game May 8, 1899
- Born May 13, 1870 in Paw Paw, IL USA
- Died October 17, 1939 in Bellingham, WA USA
George Bristow played three games in the outfield for the infamous 1899 Cleveland Spiders, going 1 for 8 with a double. He was from Paw Paw, IL. In addition to a partial minor league playing record, this summed up the extent of what was known about him for the next century. It would take dogged research by Peter Morris to uncover the story behind the line of statistics in 2010.
One of the major problems about Bristow is that he only appears in the 1900 census, but in no previous or subsequent ones, as if he had fallen to earth. The answer to that mystery was found in a note in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1899, which stated that Bristow had enlisted in the 1st Arkansas Infantry regiment at the outset of the Spanish-American War. Army records do show a "George G. Howlett alias George G. Bristow" as part of that unit, enlisting on May 4, 1898 and being discharged on May 20th. That brief record of service unveiled the man's birth name.
With that information, Morris was able to retrace Bristow's family to Wyoming Township, in Lee County, Illinois (to which Paw Paw is the closest town), in the 1870 census. He is listed as 1 month old Grant Howlett, born in May of 1870. In the 1880 census, he is "George G.", living in Willow Creek, IL, in the same county. According to a contemporary biographical sketch in the Sporting Life, he began his playing career as a pitcher in the Chicago, IL City League in 1889, then played in various minor leagues around the Midwest and in Texas until 1897. By 1894, he was also playing in the outfield. He skipped 1898, likely because of his commitment to Uncle Sam, then started the 1899 season with Cleveland. He was released to the minor league Kansas City Blues of the Western League soon after, where, if he played, it was fewer than 10 games. In 1900, he was the second baseman for St. Joseph of the same league. In various records, he is listed alternatively as George Briston as well as Bristow. On June 20, 1895, while playing for Galveston of the Texas-Southern League, he maried Emma Gates, sister of his teammate George Gates.
After that period living as George Bristow, he went back to his birth name for the remainder of his life. In 1910, he is shown living back with his parents and a second wife, Nellie, in Willow Creek. He has a seven-month old daughter Dorothy born in Washington State, and records from that state show a daughter born to him and Nellie Boninger in Seattle in 1905, who must have died in infancy. By 1920, he is living in Seattle with his wife and daughter and is listed as a surveyor. In 1930, he is a general construction inspector, with a wife named Elizabeth. There is a death record from him dated October 17, 1939 in Bellingham, WA, where his wife is now listed as Ada. Various newspaper clippings from Seattle mention his participation in old-timers' games during the period, including one in July 1932 featuring Amos Rusie and Fielder Jones.
What is also interesting is that there is a minor league playing record for a George Howlett, with a matching date of birth - although in the wrong city, which covers the years 1902-1906. From 1903 onwards, he is playing in the Pacific Northwest. He is almost certainly the same person. While the sources unearthed so far show Bristow's middle name as "Gates", it most likely was "Grant", as shown in the initial census record.
- "George Bristow Found", in Bill Carle, ed.: Biographical Research Committee Report, SABR, January/February 2010, pp. 1-3.