NFL’s 100th season Super Bowl LIV will decide the champion match-up between the National Football Conference team, the San Francisco 49ers and the American Football Conference team, Kansas City.
Considering the Super Bowl is the most-watched television program in the United States — the Super Bowl has an average of 100 million viewers — and considering Kansas City has not been in a Super Bowl for 50 years, there will be a lot of eyes on this match-up.
Though the teams undoubtedly have their supporters in 2020, many fans likely don’t know the histories behind the names.
When looking back, the Kansas City “Chiefs” name has a history of appropriation while the 49ers name relative to California's genocide.
The San Francisco 49ers have a mascot named Sourdough Sam, which is described as a gold miner that loves sourdough bread and also sports a pair of Levis in tribute to the jeans company that created denim jeans for miners in the California Gold Rush.
Though the 49ers do not do much in the way of celebrating the history of the California Gold Rush or the Native genocide connected to the time period, the tribute to the character of a gold miner that searched for gold in 1849 is apparent.
Kansas City has a more overt display of Native mascotry and cultural appropriation. Many Kansas City fans go to the games dressed in various costumes they consider to represent Native culture such as faux headdresses, faux face or body paint or other adornments. During the opening activities before games, a former player or community leader will hit the Kansas City logo-emblazoned war drum, and a cheerleader will often ride “Warpaint” the mascot horse.
A history of the name “Chief”
As previously reported in Indian Country Today in 2019 as part of the several article series on the Boy Scouts, Kansas City’s name came from a non-Native businessman and former mayor of Kansas City, H. Roe Bartle.
The Mic-O-Say was founded in 1925, under the leadership of Harold Roe Bartle, a former Scouting leader for the Cheyenne Council of Boy Scouts in Casper, Wyoming. Bartle claimed he was inducted into a local tribe of the Arapaho people and according to another “traditional Mic-O-Say legend,” Bartle was also given the name Lone Bear by an Arapaho chief. Thus he went by the name Chief Lone Bear in his Mic-O-Say organization.
As a so-called chief, Bartle conducted ceremonies on new members by placing an eagle claw around their necks and giving them a ‘Native name.’
The Mic-O-Say became wildly popular and increased camp attendance in scout summer camps by young men who wished to incorporate Native American traditions into their scout activities. In 1928, Bartle was named the Scout Executive of the Kansas City area council, and Mic-O-Say had become so successful, other Mic-O-Say camps were formed.
Bartle’s Mic-O-Say camp in Osceola, Missouri, now called the ‘Bartle Scout Reservation” still exists today.
Bartle, who was known in many of his circles as ‘chief’ served as mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, for two terms and in 1962 he helped to persuade Lamar Hunt, the owner of Dallas Texans football team to bring his team to Kansas City.
As written about in a Kansas City Star article from 2016 by Rick Montgomery:
“Bartle learned on a business trip that Hunt was thinking about relocating his American Football League franchise. Not yet ready to sever his football ties in Texas, Hunt originally declined the mayor’s invitation to check out Kansas City. So Bartle promised total secrecy, which included mailing papers to Hunt from a location outside City Hall.”
Team owner of the Dallas Texans Lamar Hunt who was also the founder of the American Football League met with Bartle under a veil of secrecy that he truly enjoyed according to the article, and after what then Kansas City Star sports columnist Joe McGuff cited as “a remarkable selling job on Lamar Hunt,” the team owner agreed to have his team named the Kansas City Chiefs after Bartle.
In 1963, after Hunt had moved his Dallas Texans to Kansas City, the name ‘Chiefs’ “popped up time and again in a name-the-team contest.” Lamar Hunt’s general manager had stated years later, “I finally told Lamar, ‘There’s just no other name we can select.’”
Kansas City was Bartle’s namesake a celebration of his involvement with Mic-O-Say.
Previous story: Most San Francisco and Kansas City fans don’t know the histories behind the team names
A history of the term Forty-Niners
The history of the 49ers — specific to their team name and mascot — is a reference to the California Gold Rush of 1849, that began shortly after gold was discovered in California in 1848 and reported on by national news publications.
The gold was discovered by a man named James Marshall, a carpenter and sawmill operator who worked at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma California. After finding a gold nugget, and later even more gold after he continued searching, the news of his discovery prompted a mad rush to the state by miners in 1849. These gold-seeking miners became dubbed the ‘forty-niners.’
The California Gold Rush saw an influx of over 300,000 people to California by 1855, including 90,000 that had arrived in 1849. San Francisco as one region’s example saw an increase in population from just 200 residents to more than 36,000 in a four-year period.
The influx of interest in the state and revenue increase related to gold helped California gain standing with the federal government. In 1849, a state constitution was written, and with the assistance of the Compromise of 1850, it became a state.
Though the Compromise of 1850 helped to secure California borders, and the delegates of California has previously voted unanimously to outlaw slavery, the Native populations did not have such protections and the numbers of Native people were drastically reduced due to mass killings, disease brought by the influx of people, and the literal pushes off of their lands by forty-niners, and law enforcement.
At the time of the Gold Rush, there were no specific laws prohibiting how interested land-seekers could obtain gold or limitations on where. Prior to the Compromise of 1850, California was still considered Mexico and the process of ‘staking a claim’ was not bound to many legalities.
The genocide of Native people
As reported by many historical and news sites to include History.com, after the influx of the forty-niners in 1849, 80 percent of Native peoples living in the newly christened state of California had been killed or died from diseases. Historical accounts document that between 9,000 and 16,000 were murdered.
Such actions were recognized, and as some historians suggest, were encouraged by the legislators of the day. The first Governor of California, Peter Burnett, an Independent Democrat addressed California’s Native people in his 1851 State of the State Address.
Burnett said in part:
“The love of fame, as well as the love of property, are common to all men; and war and theft are established customs among the Indian races generally, as they are among all poor and savage tribes of men, as a means to attain to the one, and to procure a supply of the other. When brought into contact with a civilized race of men, they readily learn the use of their implements and manufactures, but they do not readily learn the art of making them...Considering the number and mere predatory character of the attacks at so many different points along our whole frontier, I had determined, in my own mind to leave the people of each neighborhood to protect themselves, believing they would be able to do so, and that a regular force would not find employment in the field.”
On April 22, 1850, legislation known as “An Act for the Government and Protection of Indians” was used as a way to stop the livelihood of California Native people. The act allowed anyone to declare a Native person as a vagrant or take Native children to be servants.
As historian James Rawls told PBS’ American Experience, “The name of the law sounds benign, but the effect was malign in the extreme degree. Any white person under this law could declare Indians who were simply strolling about, who were not gainfully employed, to be vagrants, and take that charge before a justice of the peace, and a justice of the peace would then have those Indians seized and sold at public auction. And the person who bought them would have their labor for four months without compensation.”
The act, which essentially removed all rights from Native people and stated they could be moved from their lands if a white person made a claim, also allowed a white person to obtain legal custody of a Native child. A female until she was 15, and a male until he was 18.
The third item in the act reads as follows:
“Any person having or hereafter obtaining a minor Indian, male or female, from the parents or relations of such Indian Minor, and wishing to keep it, such person shall go before a Justice of the Peace in his Township, with the parents or friends of the child, and if the Justice of the Peace becomes satisfied that no compulsory means have been used to obtain the child from its parents or friends, shall enter on record, in a book kept for that purpose, the sex and probable age of the child, and shall give to such person a certificate, authorizing him or her to have the care, custody, control, and earnings of such minor, until he or she obtain the age of majority. Every male Indian shall be deemed to have attained his majority at eighteen, and the female at fifteen years.”
Frank LaPena, a professor of Native American Studies told American Experience in an interview regarding a story about that time period.
“There was a person, up in Humboldt County, who was found with a small child, a young Indian child. And they ask him, ‘What are you doing with this child?’ He said, ‘I am protecting him. He's an orphan.’ And they say, ‘Well, how do you know he's orphan?’ He said, ‘I killed his parents.’
At the time of the California Gold Rush, the Forty-Niners were not the only ones responsible for the genocide against Native people. Burnett set aside what would equate to nearly two-million dollars today to local militias to raid tribal outposts — which included the scalping of Native people. There were also bounties placed on Native people egging on the fights from residents of the state.
There are also a plethora of historically accounted massacres of Native people in the state. In 1850, approximately 100 Pomo people were killed at Bloody Island. There were 150 Wintu killed in 1852, and an approximate 450 Tolowa people were killed in Yontocket in the year of 1853.
In 1850, a little girl by the name of Sally Bell, Sinkyone, told the news a tragic account, “My grandfather and all of my family — my mother, my father, and we — were around the house and not hurting anyone. Soon, about ten o’clock in the morning, some white men came. They killed my grandmother and my mother and my father. I saw them do it … Then they killed my baby sister and cut her heart out and threw it in the brush where I ran and hid. My little sister was a baby, just crawling around … I was so scared that I guess I just hid there a long time with my little sister’s heart in my hands.”
An estimated 100,000 Native people were killed or died in the first two years of the Gold Rush. Countless numbers of Native people were killed by gold seekers called the forty-niners.