Bella Fontana

A weekly column about life in Bellefonte, PA, reprinted from the Centre Daily Times

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Opening chapters of local history reduced to team mascots

An eager group awaited the presenter of "An Anecdotal History of Early Bellefonte" at the splendid new home of the American Philatelic Society at Match Factory Place on Nov. 12.

In due time, a proper Victorian lady swept into the Herman and Alice Lembersky Room and explained the difficulty of dressing when a corset is a prescribed part of the costume.

Launching into her illustrated lecture, the lady identified herself as Bonny Farmer, associate editor of "The American Philatelist." High points of Bellefonte's early history were recounted, then the talk shifted to an even earlier time, when white settlers encountered the American Indians already living here.

Chief Bald Eagle, of the Muncie Indians, a division of the Delaware tribe, made his "nest" along Bald Eagle Creek near Milesburg. Because the Delawares were allies of the French during the French and Indian War, his relationships here were uneasy. According to one account, he was murdered on Snow Shoe Mountain by Sam Brady in retaliation for chief killing Sam's brother.

Chief Logan, memorialized by Thomas Jefferson in a speech labeled "Logan's Lament," was another important figure in local history. His camp was near the Blue Spring at the present site of a Pennsylvania Fish Commission Hatchery on state Route 144 north of Pleasant Gap. Logan Branch of Spring Creek, Logan Fire Company and Logan Street ensure that his name will not be forgotten.

By 1785, Native Americans in the area were rare. By 1800, they had disappeared. Place names like Shikellamy and Kishacoquillas remind us of the original inhabitants, as do animal names like skunk and raccoon. The end of the lecture, though, was not the end of the story.

In the early part of the 20th century, schools and colleges started naming their teams and mascots after Native Americans. When a proposal was presented to the local school board to change the name Red Raiders to one more politically correct, the uproar could be heard from one valley to the next. In the end, the name prevailed, but the mascot -- a figure in buckskin wearing a cartoonish rubber mask with a huge hooked nose -- was retired.

Choosing a team mascot is like choosing your battle. When the Penn State Lions play the Florida Seminoles in next month's Orange Bowl, Chief Osceola, the great leader of the Seminoles, will ride again. His face paint and flaming spear may have nothing to do with Seminole history, but at least he is a heroic figure, not a comic one like their former mascot, Chief Fullabull.