The 1895 season was one of the the first good seasons for football at the University of Minnesota, and one that would have a dramatic impact on the growth of college football. The Gophers beat Chicago and Wisconsin, (even winning against something called "Boat Club"!) in route to a 7-3 record. Even better, coming off of some tough financial years, the 1895 season ended with a surplus of money for the program. However the game then was drastically different than it is today. There were no rules about basic things like player eligibility. Hell, 120 years ago touchdowns were worth 4 points while field goals counted for 5, and many teams punted on the first down. There weren't even any rules about paying players. However rules across the country were beginning to become standardized, and journalists were weighing in with their opinions about the future of the game.
Caspar W. Whitney (1864-1929) was a reporter and in 1889 had published the first list of All-American players. In the 1890s Caspar was writing for Harpers Weekly magazine with a special focus on weeding out corruption in amateur athletics. His article "Amateur Sport" appears in volume 39 from 1895, in the article he slams western schools (basically any school west of the Ivy League) for paying 'tramp athletes'.
Yellow journalist, Caspar W. Whitney, 1897.
Caspar saved his most damning criticism for the University of Minnesota. Accusing the Gophers of paying $500 to H.A. Parkyn, and $250 to a man only known as "Hoogland". H.A. Parkyn was the teams full back and a medical post graduate student, Hoogland does not appear on any official U of M rosters. Caspar alleges that Parkyn was promised $500 (around $14,000 today) for the entire season, while Hoogland was to receive $250 just to play against Chicago (I can't find any reference to anyone named Hoogland playing a single down for Minnesota in 1895). Minnesotans called bullshit immediately, they had to.
Response to Caspar's allegations, Minneapolis Tribune, November 27, 1895.
In 1895 there were no rules about eligibility in college athletics, and most teams were run by students. Schools would often field teams with players who had left the University and some who had never even attended. Caspar seemed to target western schools for using these underhanded yet legal tactics, even though east coast schools were just as bad or worse. Since schools like Minnesota learned about football from Ivy league graduates who spread their love of the game around the country, it's plausible that these same football evangelicals brought these strategies with them also.
Gophers 1895 team photo. Parkyn is the dude with the mustache in the last row third from the left. Not pictured, Hoogland.
National media as we know it was just beginning in the 1890s with magazines becoming popular and widely read from coast to coast. With mass circulation turning up, big time journalists had a platform like never before. Harper's only had around 100,000 subscribers in the 1890s, but local and national newspapers picked up Caspar's accusations and ran them to an even wider audience.
Minnesota responded immediately. George A.E. Finlayson President of the Athletic Association and team manager Grant Van Sant both put out statements refuting these claims. Finlayson goes so far as to say that he has never even heard of anyone named Hoogland. Even the Minneapolis School Superintendent wrote in to the Minneapolis Tribune and accused Caspar of libel. Eventually the University got involved and compelled Caspar to respond via sworn affidavit.
The Varsity Eleven from the 1895 Gopher.
Caspar admitted to not having talked with anyone in or from Minnesota before writing his story. Basically making up the details but maintaining that the spirit of the article was true. The truth didn't matter though, public opinion had turned against western schools. This resulted in rules defining eligibility and paying players which manifested itself in the formation of Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, what would eventually become the Big Ten Conference.
So did the University of Minnesota pay tramp athletes? Man, I don't know, probably. There were no rules against either paying players or player eligibility, combined with students running a program that had money to burn seems like a recipe for shenanigans. Caspar clearly made most of the details up, but there could have still been a kernel of truth to the whole thing.