Much of the information in this article was kindly provided by MSU alumnus Craig Kirwin, whose research ability is only surpassed by his willingness to help.
Ahead of the 2022 season, the 125th anniversary of Montana State’s first football season, we’ll be looking at 125 of the greatest Bobcats. You can find details
here and a directory here.
Fred Ervin, G/T/HB, 1899-1903
ALL-TIME TEAM: 1933 Exhibitor 2nd team
HONORS: None available at the moment
TO LOOK CLOSER: Fred Ervin presents an unusual but illuminating case as a member of Montana State’s all-time team. He joined the Montana State football team in the fall of 1899 when he enrolled in the school’s preparatory academy, which appears to have been a boarding school accessible to outside students by Bozeman designed to prepare them for the rigors of a college education. In other words, it was a high school necessitated by educational limitations inherited from a large, mostly unstable state. For example, Richard Flaherty “has entered the preparatory course and made a valuable man for the football team”, according to the exhibitor, joining his brothers Will and Charles. William J. Adams also entered the prep course after transferring from Notre Dame and would become the school’s coach at the start of the season. To give some context, enrollment at the school was 170 this fall (which did not include music students), all but 50 enrolled in the preparatory academy.
Listed as starting right guard “F. Ervine” in the October 1899 Exhibitor, Ervin’s name was misspelled in as many ways as can be imagined during his time on the football team of the MSAC. His career came mainly during his time in the preparatory academy because college football passed a rule limiting eligibility to four seasons in the middle of his career.
Arthur Frederick Ervin was born November 10, 1876, in Trenton, Missouri, one of 10 children born to Silas and Mary (Tabor) Ervin. In 1885 the family moved to central Nebraska, where his father would reside for the rest of his life. A maternal uncle, Stephen Tabor, served as a Methodist minister in Bozeman, and Fred lived with him and his wife Laura at least during his early stay in the state of Montana. In the summer of 1900, following his sophomore year at Bozeman, Ervin drove stagecoaches of tourists to Yellowstone National Park. On the back of a family photo that once belonged to Hullie Ervin Newman, Fred’s sister, an inscription reads, “His stage trainer was robbed by an armed shooter and some time later when the shooter was found dead, he always wore Fred’s jewelry.” “
In addition to playing on the football team, Ervin played catcher and first baseman for the school baseball team. He also competed in the school’s annual Field Day in the spring, an intracampus track competition that included other competitions, such as bicycle races. He remains the only man to have captained the Bobcat football team three times and also served as captain of the baseball team.
Ervin played all-court at the MAC (as it was known then), beginning his career as a guard and later playing both halfback and tackle. Playing left halfback and against Montana School of Mines (now Montana Tech) in 1902, according to October 19, 1902, Butte Miner, Ervin “jumped over the line for another five (yards). He liked the experience and attempted it twice more in quick succession for good wins, crossing the line for another touchdown after (Willis) Ray, (William) Schbarker and (Henry) Gardiner made good gains This time, Ervin scored the goal (what we now call the PAT).”
Ervin’s eligibility expired after the 1903 season—his freshman year in college after taking the preparatory course—due to the new “four-year” rule which set limits on seasons played. Coupled with the departure of John Flynn, this allowed Ervin’s transition into the role of Bobcat coach, the school’s first alumnus to hold that position. The following notice appeared in the Butte Miner of September 17, 1904: “The first step in starting football interests in the college this autumn was taken today when a meeting of those interested was held, and Dexter Moser has been named temporary chairman Practice will begin The team will be coached this year by Fred Ervin, who has played on the team for several years, and is expected to arrive next week.
Agricultural College rode a nine-game unbeaten streak (dating back to a 1901 season-opening loss at Butte Business College) in Fred Ervin’s head coaching debut and beat Billings High in its only game. at home before winning at Montana College at Deer Lodge and losing at the University of Missoula. Ervin was not a coach in 1905, and the exhibitor lists him as graduating from the school in 1906. After leaving Bozeman, he had moved to central Arizona in 1915, residing there when he married Florence Slaven of Van Buren, Arkansas (originally from Ervin’s hometown in Missouri). An “Arthur Ervin” is recorded as a guide to the Grand Canyon in 1910, and given how often his name is misspelled, it’s possible this is our Fred, but there’s no confirmation. By 1918 the couple had moved to Custer County, Nebraska (just north of North Platte), where her father had remained since the 1880s and where six of his siblings lived. Fred worked as an auto mechanic and later as an electrician. By 1930 the couple had moved to Van Buren, Arkansas, where they resided for the rest of their lives. Florence died in 1956 and Fred died on December 14, 1960, aged 84.
There is no record of him returning to Bozeman once he left, although he was well known at the College well into the 20th century.
FROM DECEMBER 1899 EXHIBITOR: “F. Ervin has proven to be a rock wall at right guard. He weighs 175 pounds and is 5-foot-11. He’s a new man in the game and has many more years to go. 22 summers. He has a bright future in the world of football.”
FROM 15 OCTOBER 1902 BUTTE INTER MONTAGNE: “Captian Irvin (sic) has extensive experience on the gridiron and is well versed in the intricacies of the game that help win games. The boys playing in the College of Agriculture forces are a raucous set and are already showing the effect of The careful training they received from the hands of Captain Irvin Now that the team is in good shape, it’s obvious the college is going to have one of the strongest gridiron aggregations of the season in Montana.
FROM A. FRED ERVIN’S OBITUARY IN THE ARGUS PRESS OF VAN BUREN, ARKANSAS, DECEMBER 22, 1960: “The elderly gentleman (Ervin) was widely known and loved by many people. He was retired as a rural electrical worker in Ozark and lived with his late wife, Mrs. Florence Slaven Ervin, a sister of the Slaven, in the Rena community for many years. many years. “