Couldn’t we be a little more original with the team and school mascots?
By Allen Best
Mascots: Will we ever stop arguing about them? Consider Teton County in Idaho, where school Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme said he was replacing the Redskins with a mascot less offensive to the Shoshonean people who originally inhabited that part of Idaho.
His announcement outraged many locals. Alumni protested loudly that their parents had been Redskins, they had been Redskins, and by golly, their children would be Redskins, too. For now, Woolstenhulme, who has deep roots in the area, has retreated, but says he plans to revisit the issue.
Others besides Teton County residents have been struggling to decide what is an acceptable mascot. Protests continue about the Washington Redskins, the professional football team in our nation’s capital. Among us we also have various Savages, and you can be assured that the images are not of mortgage bankers.
In Colorado, the Lamar High School Savages use an Indian profile similar to that of Teton County’s. As is common in high schools, the female teams are called the lady this and that, giving us the jarring juxtaposition of the Lady Savages as well as the Savage Cheerleaders.
No doubt, most locals in Lamar mean no disrespect to Native Americans when they use the name and mascot. Most schools choose something snarly and rambunctious to represent themselves. Unique are the Fort Collins (Colo.) High School Lambkins, although the original gentle lamb has been replaced with a snarly face.
But consider this about Lamar: in 1864, one of the most horrific days in the history of the West occurred about 40 miles to the north. There, along Sand Creek, hundreds of defenseless Cheyenne and Arapaho, some waving flags, were killed by invaders from Denver who had betrayed promises of safety and sanctuary. If savage has any meaning, should it not be a profile of one of the blood-lusted cavalry members?
But then, that is usually the bizarre way of conquerors. We honor our vanquished foes with names, though with Native Americans we were from the start conflicted, as evident in the common phrase of the time: the noble savages. In Colorado, we named some of our mountains after the Utes who were forced to leave. In Montana, it came in a different form. While part of the effort to rid the landscape of ursus horribilis, the state made its university home of the Grizzlies.
In the Denver suburb of Arvada, where I live, the high school was originally the Redskins. While this was once the province of Arapahoe and other tribes, the story that has passed down was that the red dye from football clothing had rubbed off on the skin of players. The Redskins in the 1990s became the Reds, a name that surely would not have been accepted during the height of the Cold War, and that too has been replaced by the top-hatted, toothy but ultimately bland Bulldogs.
Most schools go for the generic, missing obvious opportunities. Colorado has the Deer Trail High School Eagles, instead of the Bucks and Does. In Casper, Wyo., the Natrona County High School Mustangs could instead be the Drillers or Roustabouts. And why should Roswell, N.M., be home to the Coyotes when it could be the Aliens, Extraterrestrials or Bug-eyed Invaders?
Occasionally, local heritage is acknowledged. Price, Utah, has the Carbon County Dinos, reflecting the area’s riches of dinosaur bones. Arizona has the Yuma Criminals, because the state penitentiary is there, which is the same reason for the Rawlins (Wyo.) Outlaws. Elsewhere in Wyoming are the Big Piney Punchers, a nod to local ranching.
In Colorado’s mountains, we have the Aspen Skiers, the Clear Creek Golddiggers, and the Steamboat Sailors. On the plains, it’s the Rocky Ford Meloneers and the Brush Beetdiggers, the latter a nod to the sugar beets grown where I was born.
Maybe Idaho’s Teton County should take a cue from these farming communities. It’s now something of an exurb of Jackson Hole, but it wasn’t long ago that students were dismissed for a week each October to help root out the seed potatoes that were, and still are, a big part of the local economy. Why not the Teton High School Spuds? Or Tubers?
Come to think of it, Arvada High School missed a big opportunity when it chose Bulldogs as a mascot. This area once prided itself on growing Pascal celery. In my way of thinking, that would make us the Arvada Stalkers. Sounds menacing, the very point of high school mascots.
This was originally distributed by Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News.