Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a four-part series on the history and origins of the Pocatello High School Indians mascot. The first article in the series was printed in Sunday’s edition and the next installments will be published on Wednesday and Friday.
The man behind the Pocatello Indians baseball club of 1900 was a local celebrity named Billy Trapp. Billy first appeared in Hailey, Challis, and Clayton in the 1880s as an amicable gambler, saloon owner, and musician. He eventually moved to Pocatello where his reputation grew. Billy loved horse racing, loved women and loved baseball.
How Billy Trapp decided on the nickname “Indians” for his club is not recorded, but their exploits on the diamond is and the team played well enough to survive a few years. Newspaper reporters loved the team name because it gave them so many opportunities to use terms like scalped, warpath, braves and Chief Billy.
A Salt Lake report from July of 1900 was full of such references. The Pocatello pitcher was injured and forced to watch the game from the stands. “General Well-in-Hand Kleiber, father of the Indians from the north, observed the battle from afar. ... At its conclusion he wrote a report to Billy Trapp: ‘I wasn’t able to be in the game myself owing to a bum [arm], but, strange as it may seem our forces easily vanquished the enemy. During two hours of conflict we captured twelve of their scalps, while they succeeded only in getting a half dozen of ours. We then trekked to our [camp].’”
Such wording sounds grating to the modern ear. However, Americans have identified themselves off and on with Indians since the first colonies were established on the Atlantic shores. American identity was not simply European, but also tied to the frontier and the strong men who could survive there. Native Americans were considered either “friendly” or “war like,” but never “weak.” To be friends with them or seen as an “Indian fighter” was to be seen as equally strong and deserving of respect.
By 1900, America had a strange commercial relationship with the aboriginal inhabitants of the continent that has no parallel anywhere in history. Products appeared everywhere with Indian names and faces as symbols of the essence of America. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show was at its height with nightly performances played in cities across the country, refighting the epic battles of days gone by. To most of the world “Indian” was personified by the plains tribes who had defeated Custer in their last great victory against the white man. Yes Indians were consigned to reservations, yes the white people believed Indians were all vanishing, but they had been a brave and even terrifying foe and deserved to be remembered, for in their defeat the Manifest Destiny of America was realized by the hard men who finally won the west. So, Drink Cherokee Porter and take your Seneca Plate Camera when you go out to watch the ball game.
For men like Billy Trapp and his baseball club, taking the name “Indians” not only fit with the name of their city, but it was also a continuation of the persona of the Indian as a noble and athletic warrior who could strike fear into their enemies. Billy could not legally serve an Indian in his saloon, but he wanted his team to be Indians on the baseball diamond. The name “Pocatello Indians” became cemented in the mind of the young city. While Trapp’s club eventually folded, other clubs would snap up the “Indians” name and continue on.
There is another important date to mention in 1900. On June 6 Congress ratified a second treaty to reduce the size of the Fort Hall Reservation to its current boundaries. This was not completed until a presidential proclamation in 1902 and the subsequent land rush in 1903, but the June 6, 1900 Congressional announcement was celebrated by the citizens of Pocatello who felt cramped inside the original townsite. Perhaps their presence in the heart of a Reservation and the news of the agreement helped inspire the name.
But what about Pocatello High School? Was it not a high school in 1895, five years before Billy Trapp’s Indians swung a bat? After all, was not Poky High known as “the Indians” from the beginning to honor Chief Pocatello and the Shoshone and Bannock who lived nearby? In a word, no.
It is true that the High School was formed prior to 1900. The building itself was constructed in 1892. Originally it had a two-year high school curriculum with the first class of three graduating in 1893, but students of all grade levels attended school in the same building. Two years later it became known as the West Side School because it had a new companion building on the east side of the tracks. Since the older students attended the West Side School it became known as the “high school” even though there were lower grades still educated in the same building. The Pocatello High School curriculum was soon expanded into a four-year degree with the first graduates receiving diplomas in 1897. That year there were nine graduates.
However, in the beginning, Pocatello High School had no sports teams, no nickname, and no mascot. After all, with a graduating class of nine it would have been hard to pull together a decent baseball, basketball or football team. That is not to say that the students did not participate in athletics. They simply joined city clubs along with adults.