November 26, 2010

Chief Caddo football trophy

A press release from 11/19/10:

Annual Battle for Chief Caddo fuels NSU-SFACollege football teams across the country play for trophies in rivalry games, but none is harder to cart off afterwards than the one at stake when Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin meet Saturday at 2 in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Chief Caddo is the world's largest sports trophy, standing 7-foot-6 and weighing over 320 pounds. He was once 400 pounds, but he's dried out a bit over the years and supposedly went on the Pritiken Diet during the great Natchitoches experiment in 1980.

The tradition originated in 1960, when longtime rivals Northwestern and SFA decided to award the winner of the game with a trophy. They settled on a statue of a legendary Indian chief whose tribe was responsible for settling in the locations that became the English-speaking towns of Natchitoches and Nacogdoches. The loser of the 1961 game would have a tree chopped down from its nearby forests to be sent to the winning school, who would have a statue carved. The Demons won that 1961 game 35-19 and SFA delivered a 2,000-pound black gum log to Northwestern. Wood carver Harold Green of Logansport spent some 230 hours on the statue.

He was named "Chief Caddo" to honor the native Americans that not only first settled the two communities, but provided safety for the early white settlers in the area. Historians say had it not been for the Caddo Indians, the Spanish and French colonists who came to the area would not have survived the onslaughts of the Apache and Comanche warriors from the west and the Natchez from the east. Also, French and Spanish writers of the time said certain wise Caddo chiefs made it possible for the two European colonies to live as neighbors while their mother countries were at war against each other.
Comment:  Unfortunately, the trophy is a life-sized wooden Indian with a stern, stoic visage. He looks like a stereotypical Plains chief; I doubt the Caddo Indians wore such headdresses.

It's a bit unsavory to be playing for ownership of an Indian. Imagine if the statue was a black man. "We won Aloysius (or whatever) fair and square! We own him now!" How do you think that would go over?

The schools should retire this ugly hunk of wood to a display case and create a new trophy. If you want to honor the Caddo, make it a sculpture that's realistic or abstract, not phony. Teach football players and fans some genuine Caddo lore while you're at it. Whatever you do, don't reinforce the belief that all Indians are stone-faced Plains Indians.

For more on wooden Indians, see Native Humor for Thanksgiving and Roadside Indian Stereotypes.

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