Category Archives: Uncategorized

Reclaim “Redskin”: An Indian expression, not a slur!


NC Wyeth – Last of the Mohicans, cover illustration (1919) oil on canvas, Brandywine River Museum. Source

Only one of these is proven harmful to children Smokin_joes_brand_full_flavor_ks_20_h_usa

The Oneida Indian Nation reaps millions of dollars a year from the cigarettes it makes and sells. “We tried poverty for 200 years. We decided to try something different,” says Ray Halbritter, CEO of the Oneida corporation that also owns a resort casino and five golf courses and has struck a deal with Gov. Andrew Cuomo that would give it a monopoly on casino gambling across a swath of central New York State.

The Oneida cigarette-and-gambling conglomerate has launched a media campaign to force the Washington Redskins to change their name. Some see this as a bid by the Oneidas’ CEO to increase his national visibility as a spokesman for American Indian causes, at a time the tribe’s bid for a gambling monopoly in upstate New York has led them to be sued by other Native Americans.

Their campaign to force a name change on the NFL team has included commissioning a psychologist’s study that maintains the word “Redskin” is harmful to children.

Meantime, the casino Oneidas hope to stake their tribe’s economic future on encouraging people to gamble and smoke cigarettes.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among American Indians.

One wonders: If the Oneidas are so opposed to playing football in helmets decorated with a picture of an Indian, why don’t they have a problem with making and selling cancer sticks in little packages decorated the same way?

The curious math of the anti-mascot people


In today’s fast-moving social-media world, public debate is waged by clickable meme. And it doesn’t have to be logical to be shareable.

Take the controversy over the Washington Redskins’ name. Critics who take offense at the name regularly condemn the word through an interesting exercise in guilt by association. They note the team’s founder, George Preston Marshall, personally was a notorious segregationist. Thus, they assert, the team’s name is racist.

Segregationist team owner = racist Redskins. QED.

It stands to reason, then, that a similar equation should be able to be applied to the case of the Cleveland Indians, to which the tide of the anti-mascot battle is already turning. Opponents of Native American-themed team mascots can’t abide the Indians’ grinning cartoon logo character, Chief Wahoo, described by critics as “Little Red Sambo.”

As it happens, Chief Wahoo was commissioned for the Indians’ sleeves in 1947 by then-team owner Bill Veeck. Veeck was a committed integrationist. He tried to buy the Philadelphia Phillies in the early ’40s so he could stock it with Negro League players, but was foiled when National League owners caught wind of his plan. He signed the first black player in the American League, Larry Doby, for the Indians not long after Jackie Robinson broke the color line, and later signed famous Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige.

Bill Veeck = big integrationist. Integrationist team owner = non-racist Chief Wahoo. Right?

The anti-mascot people don’t spin it that way.

Which shows how illogical the guilt-by-association tactic is that is being used against the Redskins’ team name.

If George Preston Marshall was a racist — and on the question of white-black social relations he certainly was — that has nothing to do with the meaning of the word “redskin,” which simply was a synonym for American Indian when the then-Boston Football Braves moved across town to Fenway Park in 1933 and chose a new tribal-sounding name that would echo that of their new baseball landlords the Red Sox.

The word “redskin” is an archaic expression for Indian that actually originated among the Indians themselves, and was introduced to wider usage in the 1800s when incorporated by James Fenimore Cooper in books such as Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer. It entered the language as another word for American Indian. The term was a neutral expression, not a pejorative.

If some critics today take offense at the word, that does not mean it was widely considered offensive in 1933 when it was chosen the team’s name, because it was not, as an entry from the old Century Dictionary indicates, and as a survey of newspapers in the early 20th century shows.

George Preston Marshall indeed was a segregationist. He notoriously quipped that he would add a black player to his team when the Harlem Globetrotters added a white player to theirs. He considered the Redskins the “team of the South” and struck an intransigent tone during the civil rights era by changing the final words of the team song to “Fight for Old Dixie.” When he finally did integrate the team it was only under pressure from the Kennedy Administration, which threatened to bar the team from playing in the new DC stadium on federal property.

As it happens, Marshall seems to have been quite fond of Native Americans: his original Redskins included four Indian players and an Indian coach; he delighted in his band in warbonnets playing “Hail to the Redskins,” and his game programs in the ’50s had respectful portraits of famous American Indian chiefs like Red Cloud and Quanah Parker on their covers. If Marshall was a segregationist with regard to African-Americans, he seemed to quite admire Native Americans. Certainly, he didn’t name his team after them with the intent of denigrating them.

In any event, Marshall’s social and political views on blacks and whites had nothing — and have nothing — to do with the definition and widespread popular usage of a given word for Native Americans. The fact that, in years since, the Redskins have been able to claim the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl, among numerous other black stars, including current quarterback Robert Griffin III, would also seem to mitigate what anti-black tarnish if any remains on the name of the team founded by the bigoted Mr. Marshall.

But back to the math. If Segregationist Team Owner = Racist Word, then shouldn’t it follow that, in the case of the Cleveland baseball team, Integrationist Owner = Non-Racist Symbol?

How is it that the message that will be presented is that the Indians’ symbol, too, is racist?

This doesn’t add up. If a team owner’s political and social views determine the acceptability — or ban-worthiness — of a word or symbol, then shouldn’t the cartoon symbol commissioned by Bill Veeck — whose record on integration was praiseworthy — be considered praiseworthy?

Nonetheless, Chief Wahoo is offensive, critics will say, even if an estimable integrationist came up with him.

So isn’t it possible that George Preston Marshall’s personally racist views on matters of black-white relations had no direct correlation to the popular meaning of a word for American Indians?

Isn’t it possible that people’s actions and motivations, and the historic usage and meanings of words and symbols, are a bit more complex than the punchy formulations of snarky memes on the internet would suggest?

(Image: George Preston Marshall outside the Redskins’ office, circa 1940. Library of Congress)

A Toast to St Tammany


“What country on Earth, then, did ever give birth
To such a magnanimous saint?
His acts are excel all that history tell,
And language too feeble to paint, my brave boys.

“Now, to finish my song, a full flowing bowl
I’ll quaff, and sing all the long day
And with punch and wine paint my cheeks for my saint,
And hail ev’ry First of Sweet May, my brave boys.”

~ From “The First of May, a New Song, in Praise of St. Tammany, the American Saint,” sung to the tune of “The Hounds Are All Out, &c” ~ Via St Tammany and the Origin of the Society of Tammany, by Edwin P. Kilroe, 1913

* * *

The WPA artwork above is believed to have been inspired by the figure of St. Tammany that once stood atop an 85-foot-high pole at York Road and Wood Street in Philadelphia.

In Travels in Philadelphia (1920), Christopher Morley writes:

As I turned off Callowhill street, at the oblique junction of York avenue, leaving behind the castellated turrets of a huge brewery, I came upon an interesting sight. Where Wood street cuts York avenue and Fourth street there stands a tall white flagpole, surmounted by an enormous weather-vane representing an Indian with bow and quiver, holding one arm outstretched….

Mr. Renner, who has taken the landmark under his personal protection, tells me that the weathervane was erected many years ago to commemorate the last Indian “powwow” held in Philadelphia, and also that it is supposed to have been a starting place for the New York stage coaches. However that may be, at any rate, the original pole was replaced or repaired in 1835, and at that time a sheet of lead (now kept by the Historical Society) was placed at the top of the pole bearing the names of those who had been instrumental in the restoration. The work was done at the expense of the “United States” Fire Engine Company, that being the day of the old volunteer fire departments.

Apparently the Indian Pole became a kind of rallying point for rival fire engine companies, and there was much jealous competition, when steam fire apparatus was introduced, to see which company could first project a stream of water over the top of the staff. This rivalry was often accompanied by serious brawls, for Mr. Renner tells me that when the Indian figure was repaired recently it was found to be riddled with bullet holes. This neighborhood has been the scene of some dangerous fighting, for St. Augustine’s Church, which was destroyed in the riots of 1844, stands only a few yards away down Fourth street.

In 1894 the pole again became dangerous, not as a brawling point, but on account of age. It was removed by the city, but at the instance of Mr. Howard B. French, of Samuel H. French & Company, the paint manufacturers on Callowhill street, the Indian figure and the ball on which it revolved were kept and a new pole was erected by Mr. French and four other merchants of the neighborhood, T. Morris Perot, Edward H. Ogden, John C. Croxton and William Renner (father of the present Mr. Renner).

That pole, which is still standing, is eighty-five feet from ground to truck. The Indian figure is nine and one-half feet high; it stretches nine feet from the rear end of the bow to the outstretched hand. The copper ball beneath it is sixteen inches in diameter. Mr. Renner says the figure is of wood, several inches thick, and sheathed in iron. He thinks that the hand alone would weigh 150 pounds. He thinks it quite remarkable that though many church steeples in the neighborhood have been struck by lightning the Indian has been unscathed. On holidays Mr. Renner runs up a large flag on the pole, twenty-one by thirty-six feet.

No sign of the Indian Pole remains today. Philadelphia historian Harry Kyriakodis writes:

I liken the mysterious Indian Pole to the Colossus of Rhodes, the huge statue of the Greek Titan Helios erected between 292 and 280 BC. That hundred foot tall work was destroyed in an earthquake after standing only 56 years, but remained (broken) on the ground for 800 years–!–for travelers to see. Yet the Indian Pole, standing on the same spot in Philadelphia for at least twice as long, is entirely and utterly gone, including all memory of it. You’d think that the final removal (or the toppling over) of a 9.5 feet tall wooden Indian figure from up high would have been recorded somewhere.


“Tammany, the tutelary saint of America, as a character stands unique,” writes Edwin Kilroe:

Much has been written concerning his virtue, prowess and achievements; and about his memory a kind and bounteous tradition has woven numberless romances which rival the tales of Heracles and Theseus and give him a place in the Indian lore of America analogous to that held by those demi-gods in ancient Greek mythology.

According to Native American legend he once fought mammoths:

The Evil One sent a great drove of mammoths and other monstrous and destructive creatures from beyond the great lakes to consume the corn and fruits of the Delawares. Again Tammany was relied upon to rid the land of this plague also. He soon found that their hides were too thick to be penetrated by arrows and that some other means must be devised to destroy them. Now these animals were in the habit of going down to the salt licks so Tammany caused many great pits to be dug which he covered over with branches of trees and shrubs completely concealing them and so these destructive creatures were all caught and slain in these traps and there it is said that their bones may still be found.


So rightly we take walrus tusks and Tammany Cocktails in hand to say:

To Tammany let well-fill’d horns go round;
His fame let ev’ry honest tongue resound.

* * *

(Images: Vintagraph * American Folk Art Museum * Florida Memory)

Stag party

A stag roars while wearing a crown of bracken during the rutting season in Richmond Park. Photographer Mark Smith says: “The deer take different strategies in the rutting season. Some pick a spot, whereas others will run around following females, hoping to set up a harem. If you’re as big as this guy, you can stay put and the does will migrate to you.”

Via the Daily Telegraph

‘Politics in an Oyster House’

A painting by Richard Caton Woodville (American, 1825-55).

Presidential campaigns peaked with massive late October rallies. In a mostly rural nation, political events gathered far-flung citizens who would not otherwise have met. Campaigners became showmen, aping P.T. Barnum and inventing eye-catching contrivances to draw spectators. At first, partisans favored pastoral symbols: log cabins on wheels; smoke curling up from working chimneys; or caged (and very angry) raccoons and foxes, symbolic of the Whig and Democratic Parties. With the Civil War, they turned to ornately uniformed marching clubs, bearing blazing torches reeking of turpentine. Spectators could usually smell a procession before they could see it. And there were always barrels of cider, or lager, or whiskey, or rum, a tin dipper set out as a shinning invitation to enjoy the party’s hospitality. ~ ‘Riling up the Shrewd, Wild Boys,’ Jon Grinspan, NYT

New Year’s Eve

“We end in New York, on New Year’s Eve,” Sullivan says, “with yet another perfectly composed photograph by the great Alfred Eisenstaedt. Not a Christmas image, per se — but a wonderful holiday moment, nevertheless. In a Park Avenue apartment, the celebrants raise the roof, and toast the coming of 1957. Within days, the Christmas decorations will be taken down, and packed away … until next year. ~ Life

Hurling – The Fastest Game on Grass

To get in the St Patrick’s Day spirit.