Monday, the William S. Hart Union High School District invited locals to speak at a Zoom meeting. Those who couldn’t participate or fit in the electron-sized boxes on their computer screens were invited to submit written arguments, pro or con, on a controversial subject.
Should the 76-year-old Hart High School mascot — The Indian — be exterminated?
Me? I’m from Hart, couldn’t be prouder. If you can’t hear me, I’ll type a little louder. I’m a Mighty Hart High Indian. Class of 1968. I still have the last maroon and grey letterman’s jacket. Some butthead back then changed the school colors to its current red, black and white. My jacket has the huge Indian chieftain’s head stitched on the back. I’m deeply proud of that. Others aren’t. Therein lies the conflict.
A terribly rough estimate? I’d guess a quarter of the country are as theatrically insane as Dracula’s hysterical and fly-eating minion, Renfield. They topple statues. Know little. Thump chests and scream virtues from street corners. They fan themselves, clutch their pearls and love calling people not present to punch them in the nose — “racists.” Another quarter of the country are cursed with common sense. The 50% in the middle? The Great Vanilla are about as involved in their communities as dairy cows in Thursday night pinochle.
The first students — freshmen, not “freshpeople” or “persons of fresh” — attended the brand-new Hart High in September 1945. It wasn’t until a few months later when a scant handful of parents and teachers got together to vote on a mascot. It was to be not a mascot du jour. It was meant to be a symbol for the ages, to link these squeaky clean 9th graders with Hart students yet to be born. I’m recalling this off the top of my head, but it seems the “Indian” narrowly beat out the “Buckaroo,” 8-6 in the tally.
Honestly? I’d KILL to be a Hart High Buckaroo. Great name.
Way back when, some wide-eyed so-and-so in a powdered wig asked: “Hey guys!! Whadya say we call it — wait for it — ‘The United States of America!!??’” Likewise, I wasn’t born when a long-forgotten local committee settled on The Indian.
It’s heritage. Heritage should not be blind flag-waving. Heritage is all the parts — good, bad, devious, saintly, heroic, cowardly, shameful, humble — that make us who we are. The smarter of us can learn from that. The stubborn, surrounded by grace, ideas, books and PowerPoint presentations, can stumble woeful and blind to their graves. God help me. I hope I’m not one of the latter.
Not too many people know this. But the silent film star whose castle sits 1.1 miles east of the high school named after him was one of the most famous and influential people in the world in his day.
You see, Bill Hart was a New York and London stage actor, classically trained. Shakespeare was his second language. So was Sioux. Hart was raised, in part, in Montana. He grew up with Native Americans, learned and cherished their culture. That complicated fabric, of American vs. Indian, of American WITH Indian, came part of the puzzle of who was Bill Hart.
I’ve been here in the SCV since the 1950s. I can tell you stories that will make you blush about current hoity-toity community mucky mucks in important positions. Besides missionary. Hart was no different. He had skeletons in his closet. It’s the rare person who doesn’t. Gasp — Indians have skeletons in their closets. But, Hart loved, cherished and honored The Indian. Add to that the highly moral literature of Bill Shakespeare and Hart created the prototype of the modern cinematic cowboy. A hero.
A hero is someone who, doomed to failure, tries anyway.
That model — part cowboy, part Indian, part Shakespeare — traveled around the world. It shaped our national and international identity of a society that strives to do the elusive right thing. For more than a century, our top Western cinema stars point to our Bill Hart as that fundamental unit upon whence all these protagonists built their characters. The world still sees, often mockingly, America as “a bunch of cowboys,” who stupidly try to not look away but do the right thing.
Over the years, it’s stunning — stunning — to me that the Hart district is so woefully ignorant on the legacy of Native Americans in the Santa Clarita Valley. They spend far too much time on chimpanzee-like state and federal testing yet are silent about the peoples who lived here for thousands of years. And now, like in much of the country, the Woke, the Politically Correct, the Cancel Culture, the shame merchants have infiltrated our own local public education. Both actively and quietly behind the scenes, they’re hell-bent on exterminating what thousands of parents and students have honored.
I can’t ever recall anyone denigrating the Hart mascot. Quite the opposite. We’ve revered The Indian.
Native Americans were, and are, profoundly big on family. They believe in honor, duty, community, courage — and heritage. All these wonderful qualities. Why. Why would anyone at the district and Hart High level be so impassioned to make ourselves, our children not forget — but never learn of their story?
This can be a transformational (in a good way) moment. Instead of — once again — eradicating The Indian, the Hart district can adopt some of the Hart mascot’s attributes. Be patient. Kick the can down the road. Concentrate on actual educational issues of importance rather than this silly parenthesis of feel-good insanity.
I’ve been writing about SCV history for 40-plus years, taught it for 20. Every semester, I’d start my classes by writing this sentence on the blackboard: “A man can live three weeks without food, three days without water and 20 minutes without a justification.”
What tragic justification is the William S. Hart High Union High School District currently plotting?
Read next week: Part II — Save The Mighty Hart High Indian.
John Boston is a local writer and, always, a proud, Hart High Indian.