American Football Database
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)
Career history
As player
Career highlights and awards
Military career
AllegianceUnited States United States
Service/branchUnited States Army seal U.S. Army
Years of service1917–1919
Battles/warsWorld War I: Western Front

William Jennings Gardner (January 23, 1884 – June 15, 1965) was an American football player, coach, and law-enforcement agent. While working as a Prohibition agent in Chicago, Illinois, Gardner served with Eliot Ness's "Untouchables," a group of hand-picked federal agents who, from 1930 to 1932, sought to put an end to Al Capone's illegal empire. Although Gardner was only involved with the group for a short period of time, he would be prominently mentioned in Ness's memoir of the investigation, The Untouchables, and inspire a recurring character in the 1959 television series based upon that book.[1]:317, 319–321, 326, 328–329[2][3]:16, 98–99


Early life

Gardner was born in North Dakota. He was the son of a half-white, half-Ojibwe Indian father and an Ojibwe 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[4]

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.[citation needed]

The Untouchables

Gardner joined the Bureau of Prohibition in 1926. Two years later, he served alongside Eliot Ness on a squad of special agents sent to Chicago with orders to combat the rampant bootlegging and lawlessness caused by Prohibition.[1]:121–125, 319–321

In late 1930, Ness was chosen to lead a smaller, select unit of Prohibition agents specifically ordered to investigate the bootlegging operations of the Chicago Outfit run by Al Capone. Gardner was one of the first six agents Ness selected for the group, which would later become known as "The Untouchables" after Ness and other agents refused large bribes from the Capone Outfit.[1]:311–314, 317–329, 360–365

Less than two months after joining the squad, Gardner absented himself from duty without official leave, then abruptly returned only to resign from the bureau three weeks later. Although Gardner did participate in the early stages of the Untouchables' investigation, he took no part in the high-profile raids that would make Ness's unit famous.[1]:317–329, 349–365

Later life

Gardner later rejoined the Prohibition Bureau but was dismissed around the time of Prohibition's repeal. Suffering from alcoholism in his later years, he died at the age of 81 from an illness at the Prescott Veterans Hospital in 1965.[1]:328–329[5]:131–132 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.[citation needed]

Despite only working with the Untouchables for five weeks, Gardner was the real-life inspiration behind Abel Fernandez's character of Agent William "Bill" Youngfellow, serving under Robert Stack's Eliot Ness in the original 1959–1963 The Untouchables T.V. series.[1]:329[3]:16, 98–99 He also inspired Michael Horse's character, George Steelman, Native American agent under Tom Amandes's Ness, in the revived series syndicated to local stations in 1993.[citation needed]


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