Leon Worden

The proud, the mighty, the Indians of Hart High School

Leon Worden · September 24, 1997

Local history is a funny thing. Unless you've tried to write it, you can't really appreciate how difficult it is to know for sure what is fact and what isn't. Just because you repeat a story over and over doesn't necessarily make it true.

Last Saturday I repeated for the umpteenth time the story of how William S. Hart High School was named for the local cowboy actor shortly after he died. Come Monday, I found out that probably isn't correct. Another local historical factoid blown to bits!

Gwen Booth Gallion says the school board chose the name "Hart" for our valley's first high school in March or April, 1946. Bill Hart didn't die until June 23 of that year. "He definitely knew about it," Gallion says.

She should know. Gallion was a member of Hart's first graduating class, the famous '49ers, and served on the committee that chose the school colors and the Indian as the mascot. Which was the real reason I phoned her.

If the school was named for a cowboy actor, wouldn't something like the "Hart Cowboys" have made more sense? I asked. (For the uninitiated, Canyon didn't come along until 1968.)

"It wasn't called Hart when we selected the mascot," says Gallion. "It was still called Santa Clarita" -- the school's original name, which referred to the local river. "Nobody really liked that name."

Gallion explains that the students picked the nickname "Indians" around January, 1946, before they moved to the high school campus and before it was renamed to honor its chief benefactor. "If we had known that it was going to be named for Hart, we probably could have been the Cowboys."

But why Indians?

"We wanted a name that was appropriate for the area," Gallion says. "The Indians were our explorers, and there was certainly nothing wrong with being Indians. There was an Indian settlement at Castaic, and at the Highway 126 junction, and at Agua Dulce.

"In the late 1940s all the mascots were animals or people. We thought about the Panthers, but there weren't any panthers around here. We wrote on a chalkboard all the school colors and nicknames of every school that we might be in a league with, and nobody had 'Indians.'

"We wanted a name that would sound good in a yell, too, and with three syllables it was an easy one to put in a cheer."

Gallion says the students didn't vote on the name, as is commonly believed. Although the students had been given the opportunity to vote on the mascot and the school colors, they opted to let the committee make the final decision. Maroon and grey stood until the 1960s when the colors were changed to red, white and black. The maroon hues were just too hard to match.

This passage from the very first edition of the Hart High School Smoke Signal, dated Friday, March 22, 1946, discusses the selection of the mascot and school colors:

Mr. Johnson has been indirectly receiving objections to the school's nickname, "Indians." The source of the protests seems to be from the same people, while other students do not object. The main reason that the few dislike the name is because it is too common. Secondly, some of you didn't like the idea of a committee to decide the name, although you didn't want the popular vote at the time.

A change in the nickname would mean a necessary change for our cheers.

There is also a minor objection to the selection of our colors.

The above are open to debate. It is your representative's duty to reveal what you, as students, feel about the school's ways and means to the Student Body, so act now before the name and colors become too accustomed to us. See a member of the Student Body!

-- Editor [Jerry Wiles, Editor-in-Chief]

So there you have it. Straight from the source. There was no disrespect in choosing the Indian as Hart High's mascot. Far from it. It was "appropriate for the area," given our rich local Indian heritage.

Bill Hart himself -- like all real cowboys -- had nothing but respect for the American Indian. Hart knew Indian sign language and spoke some Sioux. His regard for Indians was widely known during his lifetime. It is evident today in his films and in his home high atop the hill in Newhall where glorious artwork by Frederic Remington and James Montgomery Flagg celebrates the passion and traditions of the great Indian nations.

I graduated from Hart High School in 1979. We were the proud, the mighty, the Indians. Nobody will ever take that away.

* * *

Bill Hart's personal collection of beaded Indian clothing will be on display for the first time in a decade at the Hart mansion this weekend during "Hart of the West," where representatives from several tribes come together each year to give our kids a hands-on lesson in the ways of the American Indian.

The event runs from 9 to 6 on Saturday and 9 to 5 on Sunday in Hart Park, with Indian pow-wows, crafts and food, living history tours, authentic mountain men and Civil War reenactments at the Saugus Train Station. An antique sale will be held both days in Heritage Junction. Saturday evening will feature the popular Autumn Moonlight Dance, with western swing and big band tunes and a catered barbecue dinner.

Parking and admission to most events are free. Call (805) 259-0855 for details.

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Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears on Wednesdays.

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