Legends of the Reservation
Part 2: The bloody scalp theory
Deford uses a radically different etymology of the word: a bloody mess of Indian scalps. This version is popular on American Indian and progressive sites. I even found it on a German page for American Indian fans — a sign that legends are contagious, just like some human diseases.
There is no historical record that Indian radicals cite as a source, so the details are variable, but the underlying narrative appears to be the same:
During the French and Indian War the British Crown put a bounty on Indian scalps. Traders who were engaged as middlemen to collect the scalps started calling them "red skins" to distinguish them from bear and dear skins that they were also trading in. Some say that the traders referred to the scalps as "skins" because they did not want their spouses to know what they were dealing in.
The huge hole in the story is that there are no contemporary records to support it. Even writers sympathetic to the Indian cause fail to mention it. With nobody in the know, it remains a mystery how a term that a few traders might have been using came to be commonly accepted as colloquial term for North American Indians.
Sure, the story could have been kept alive in the collective memory of American Indians — an oral history, no less, as they had no written language until late in the 19th century — and even then, it is puzzling that nobody talked about it until about a dozen or two years ago.
The accounts all take pains in pointing out that the traders called the skins "red" because of the bloody underside of the scalp. This is a crucial point because, if they were called red in reference to the red man, the story would collapse on itself, proving that the word Red for Indian was an older, pre-existing term.
It is even doubtful that the scalps were red. Indian warriors had long black hair and, since the scalps were taken from the dead, the amount of blood staining was probably minor, comparable to animal pelts that the traders were familiar with. Moreover, dirt and oxidation of the blood should have given the underside a dark, brownish color, rather than the bright red of fresh blood.
Really, really politically correct souls do not care that the "bloody scalp" theory may be an urban legend; after all, it does not matter what we think, it only matters what the Indian thinks, even if what he believes is a myth.
Seemingly aware of this mindset, radicals fighting for the removal of Indian names and symbols quote a poll by Indian Country Today according to which 81 percent of the respondents — often referred to as Indian opinion leaders — say that the use of Indian names, symbols, and mascots is offensive and deeply disparaging to them. Of course, such surveys are of limited value as they reflect the opinions of a particular readership and only of those who care to respond.
Thankfully, the Annenberg Public Policy Center at Penn, as part of their 2004 campaign coverage, conducted a scientific poll of 768 American Indians on this subject. Just 9 percent thought that the name Redskins for Washington's NFL team was offensive; 90 percent thought it acceptable. Among self-identified liberals, 14 percent found the name disparaging, compared to 6 percent of conservatives. The liberal-conservative divide suggests to me that the bloody scalp theory is the result of political indoctrination, rather than the recovered memory of American Indians.
The Redskin and Indian War (1992 - ?)
For AIM and other Indian rights organizations, the Washington Redskins are the "grand prix" and, in 1999, they came close to winning it. After a 7-year legal battle, a three-judge panel at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled that the Washington Redskins have no right to trademark their name because it is disparaging to Native Americans. The decision was based on the Lanham Act which forbids the registration of marks that are "disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous or disreputable."
The decision broke new ground in that the office had never before canceled a trademark because of the act. Moreover, the finding that the Redskins name was "scandalous to a substantial composite of the general public" was based on a survey commissioned by the plaintiffs. Expert testimony challenging the validity of the study was brushed aside by the judges with the offhand remark "no survey is perfect."
Luckily for the Redskins, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly overruled the decision and reinstated the trademark in 2003. She argued that the Lanham Act was designed to prevent the registration of offensive marks and, thus, any objection should have been raised in 1967 when the trademark was registered. Indeed, if the protection granted by a trademark can be withdrawn at any time, it is no protection at all. The decision is on appeal.
Indian activists point to a large and growing number of English dictionaries that define the word as derogatory term for American Indians, but this is like the guy who beats his wife and complains that she is afraid of him. Merriam-Webster's online dictionary lists "redskin" as "usually offensive: American Indian." I checked my 1977 unabridged edition of Merriam-Webster and couldn't find anything untoward about the word. Tempores mutantur, et mutamur in illis — or as Bob Dylan might say: the times they are a-changin'!
Lone Star Dietz
Redskin supporters say that the name is not meant to disparage the American Indian. George Preston Marshall, owner of the Boston Braves, in 1933 changed the team's name to Redskins in honor of the club's charismatic head coach, "Lone Star" Dietz, who coached the team from 1933 - 1934. Dietz was a proud half-Indian who often wore an eagle feather headdress, beaded deerskin jacket, and buckskin moccasins. Also, Dietz brought several Indian players with him from the Haskell Indian School in Kansas, where he had coached before. In 1937, the franchise moved to Washington, D.C., and assumed its current name.
Lone Star Dietz [©Cougfan.com]
Lone Star Dietz may be the most famous Indian football coach ever, still revered by the Washington State Cougars for leading their team to the two most successful seasons ever. During his tenure (1915 - 1917), the team scored an unbelievable 497 points and surrendered only 38. His career was ended by a draft registration charge, which Cougar fans believe was trumped up to foil his planned return in 1919. Dietz, who was broke because of a failed motion picture venture, pleaded nole contendere as he was unable pay for his defense. The judge sent him to county jail for 30 days.
In a sad footnote to his life, Linda Waggoner used the largely uncontested evidence from the trial (the first trial ended in a hung jury) to take away Dietz' identity as an American Indian. In a lengthy, five-part series for Indian Country Today she concluded:
The Washington Redskins claim that the name of their franchise derives from a 1930s honoring of the teams head coach William "Lone Star" Dietz, who, they state, was Native American. In the previous four parts of this series it is learned that William Henry "Lone Star" Dietz was not Oglala Lakota, that he did not attend Chiocco Indian School, and that the romantic story of his birth and childhood in South Dakota was fabricated. [ICT, 8/2/04]
Again, the coach was unable to defend himself. He died in 1964 in Reading, Penn., as a poor man.
Plaintiffs hailed the story as yet another victory over the Washington Redskins. Obviously, it did not dawn on them that it is irrelevant whether Dietz was an Indian or not; the only thing that matters is whether team owner Marshall thought he was an Indian, and there is just no evidence that he did not. Also, Waggoner, to her credit, does not rule out that Dietz had native ancestry. Her argument is that Dietz assumed the identity of another man, James One Star, who mysteriously disappeared in 1894, after being dishonorably discharged from the U.S. army.
The Carlisle Arrow, newspaper of the Carlisle Indian School, had no idea that its famous alumnus was an imposter. Looking back on the 1915 football season the Arrow gloated:
One of the remarkable features of football during the autumn just passed is that the teams coached by the head coach and the assistant coach at Carlisle during the 1914 season have come through without a single defeat. Warner's Pittsburgh Aggregation have been invincible in the East and Dietz's Braves at Washington State have taken the scalps of everything that came their way. [1/7/1916, transcribed by Linda Waggoner]
I have no doubt who will win the war: on the one side, AIM, a determined Indian rights organization, on the other, an apathetic public that will gladly buy new dictionaries and apologize for crimes that somebody else has committed. Sure, there may be holdouts, like the Braves and Redskins fans. But the momentum is on the side of the good people, or, at least, those who think of themselves as good.
As in most wars, there will be collateral damage. After the last resolution has been passed, the last Indian symbol taken down, the costumes of the team mascots safely buried in landfills, there will be nothing left that reminds us of the bravery of the North American Indian. Of course, there will always be the love of the Germans for Karl May's Winnetou and, for us, there will be the Casino.
Chief Osceola and his horse Renegade [©Warchant]
It wouldn't take long and the American Indian Movement scored another great victory: the NCAA — the monopoly of college sports — decreed that institutions with "hostile and abusive, racial, ethnic, national origin mascots" are barred from hosting NCAA playoffs. All 18 schools cited were using Indian names for some of their teams.
FSU football fans and Florida's Seminole Indians may be fuming, but what can you do when the establishment is in bed with radicals.
The Seminoles were handed a small victory when the NCAA accepted FSU's appeal and struck the team from the list of banned schools. The use of the Seminole name and Chief Osceola mascot was made contingent on the continued "approval of the Seminole Tribe of Florida." Previously, the NCAA held that it was irrelevant that the Florida Seminoles supported the school.
The NCAA ruling has nothing to do with Native American sensibilities as the overwhelming majority of them does not object to the use of Indian names and mascots in collegiate sports. Rather, the issue is freedom of speech. Should the NCAA have the right to curtail the free expression of their member colleges? As a private organization it should, but as a monopoly — the only game in town — it should not. It will be interesting to see whether anyone will try to resolve the question in the courts.