Weird Scenes #098: A Truly Honorable American

The goalie committed, Buddy picked his spot / Twenty years of waiting went into that shot / The fans jumped up, the Finn jumped too / And coldcocked Buddy on his follow through / The big man crumbled but he felt all right / ‘Cause the last thing he saw / was the flashing red light / He saw that heavenly light — Warren Zevon, Hit Somebody!, 2002

Statue of General Black Hawk

You may have heard that the Washington Redskins football team finally moved to change its name a mere 72 years after its founding as the Boston Braves. They played in the same park as the baseball team of the same name. When they moved to the hallowed confines of Fenway Park, they changed their name to the Boston Redskins and took that with them to Washington, DC four years later.

That would be 1937, so the response “Well, it’s about time” is way too late. The term “redskins” is and always has been an offensive term, particularly to those people who, quite frankly, should be America’s landlords.

This is going to upset some of my liberal friends, but I don’t feel the same way about the names “Indians,” “Braves,” or “Chiefs,” et al. These names are not inherently bigoted. Yes, it is a fact that there aren’t a hell of a lot of Indians employed by professional sports teams outside of India. Then again, there aren’t a lot of lions, tigers and bears earning their livings in such fashion either… any more.

Black Hawk (right) and his Family

We can argue about our individual rights to be offended some other time. I do not believe the Cleveland Indians have a bigoted name. Its longtime mascot, Chief Wahoo, most certainly was a racist representation of those people whose lands we stole, and it, too, was changed after far too long. The Atlanta Braves… same thing, although that tomahawk chop is pretty damn upsetting. I don’t recalling them doing that when they were in Milwaukee, but I will note the team did not see any necessity to call themselves the Milwaukee Krauts.

Which brings me to a personality very high up on my list of heroes: General Black Hawk. He was a very important figure in American history, although chances are you think of his name as that of a hockey team… or of the long-running comic book series that was named after that hockey team. Here, go know.

Early Chicago Black Hawks Logo

Black Hawk, a.k.a. Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, was a Sauk war chief at the beginning of the 19th Century. He helped the British help fight the American settlers in Illinois and Wisconsin during the War of 1812, uniting his warriors with the Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, Kickapoo, and Ottawa tribes. For this he was given the rank of Brigadier General. That did not end well as the tribes were forced to the west side of the Mississippi, but Black Hawk had earned the respect of all sides. He rejoined British efforts in 1832 — the Black Hawk War — and in August he and his multi-tribal forces surrendered to Lieutenant Jefferson Davis who, at that moment in time, still was an American.

General Black Hawk toured America and even met with the loathed President Andrew Jackson. He wrote his autobiography, which some Americans said was ghostwritten because Indians could neither read nor write. Today, Black Hawk (who was not a hereditary chief) is honored with a great many schools, parks, statues and buildings — as well as a hockey team.

Yup. Not a lot of Native Americans play hockey. But when the Chicago Black Hawks (now, for some reason, the Chicago Blackhawks) team was organized, founder Frederic McLaughlin named them the Black Hawks as he had been the commander of the “Black Hawk Division” during World War I. His squad was named after the warrior general.

Something the writer kinda saw at Wrigley Field on New Years Day

If you are like me (if so … why?) and are a hockey fan, you might note that the image of Black Hawk is unlike the head found on the team’s jersey. To be completely honest, good looks were not part of General Black Hawk’s reputation. When young, he looked more like Pete Townshend after an all-night bender. McLaughlin had a lot of silly ideas about how to run a hockey team — for one thing, he only hired citizens of the United States as players — but it was his wife, noted actor and dancer Irene Castle, who designed the logo.

As a child, I noticed a whole lot of stuff was named after General Black Hawk, and I read all the historical markers I encountered. I would not have bothered if not for the hockey team. In fact, I suspect General Black Hawk largely would have been lost to history if not for the appropriation of his name for the team that represented his lands.

I am a graduate of Niles West High School, where in 1967-68 I was their sports editor. Their teams were named the Indians, which was not unusual at that time. Around 2009 my wife and I stopped at her favorite hot dog joint in the world, in Skokie, Illinois. We sat next to the coach of the Niles West football team. I noticed his sweatshirt had the likeness of a wolf. I asked him about that, and he just sort of gave a politically correct shrug. We had a nice conversation, and it turned out he, too, was a Blackhawks fan. Times change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for good reasons.

As for the question “What does a noted Indian warlord have to do with hockey?” I respond as any Boomer hockey fan should:

“Damned if I know. Why are there NHL teams in Texas and Nevada?”

Thoughts?