Swickard: Roping Roy, The Wonderful Western Mascot

© 2014 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. - Sometimes things matter little in the grand scheme of things but matter much to me. Historical truth is one of those things. Last week Oklahoma State University and New Mexico State University got officially crossways over their mutual mascot Pistol Pete.
      Truth be known I know the story better than most since it is my article from the 1980s that touched this dispute off. You might wonder: why it took twenty-five years to come to lawyers? That is not what bothers me. For me the problem is: when NMSU was made aware they decided to lie their way out rather than be a stand-up institution.
      As to Pistol Pete, I thought years ago NMSU would say, "Whoops," and pick a better mascot such as my suggestion "Roping Roy, the Wonderful Western Mascot." Best I can tell the name is still open if NMSU can muster a "Whoops" about Pistol Pete.
      Pistol Pete is one of five historical issues I have had with NMSU over the years. One was NMSU celebrating its centennial on the wrong year. Seriously. Worse, they were two years off. The way I discovered it was that I was hired to write an article about how NMSU celebrated in the then year of 1988, along with 1938 and 1913. I was supposed to document how institutional celebrating changed over the years.
      To my surprise in the 1930s and the 1950s NMSU (known then by a different name) quietly moved their start date back a year each time. The undisputed fact is NMSU was started by Hiram Hadley, the first university president. And, he was in charge of the 25th year celebration which he held in 1915.
      That is a fact. He knew when the university started because he was there. And the 40th anniversary celebration was held in 1930. Nothing but facts. Both stolen years were done for a "Good reason" much like stealing Pistol Pete along with stealing "Crimson Pride" from the Crimson Tide. Not that it really matters. It just looks stupid.
       Another controversy involved the NMSU yearbook, The Swastika. In 1983 the "Flan hit the fan" about NMSU having a yearbook named The Swastika. I was the head photographer of the 1969 Swastika so I thought I knew all about it.
      The Albuquerque Journal's Impact Magazine hired me to cover the controversy. Seems the first yearbook in 1907 had no Swastikas in it, rather, the name was a Sanskrit word meaning "An auspicious beginning." Along the way Swastika symbols were added and when Hitler ruined the name most organizations quietly cast it off. Not NMSU. The made up a new history: it was a Navajo word meaning "Peace and harmony for all people."
      The Navajo Language Dictionary says it is a symbol with no meaning. The core issue is that no one thought of NMSU when they saw the Swastika. But there was a brisk battle between the people thinking they were supporting the Native Americans and people wanting to support the protesting Jewish community. After my story came out NMSU changed the name of the yearbook to the Phoenix, and killed the yearbook shortly thereafter.
      About that same time I noticed that the NMSU's War Memorial had one name that should not be there and was missing a very important name. It had the name of a graduate who was killed in the Pancho Villa Raid, but was not in the military so that name should not be there. And little Eugene Casey from the Class of 1898, who died in the Spanish American War was entirely left out. I was told it was too expensive to correct it.
      Finally, there is a Kent Hall on campus named for Harry Kent, a beloved president who had a credential problem that showed up his 14th year as president. The powers that be let him leave quietly and named a building for him.
      Each of these historical issues are not particularly egregious, but they do tarnish the reputation of a research university. Worse, in each case the NMSU leaders have known the truth but decided to lie rather than just say "Whoops" and then correct the issue.
      I like Roping Roy, the Wonderful Western Mascot.
Dr. Michael Swickard is co-host of radio talk show News New Mexico 6 to 9 a.m. Monday - Friday on a number of New Mexico radio stations and through streaming. Email: michael@swickard.com