Since we at William & Mary are always touting our history as the second oldest college in the United States (happy belated 323rd!), the WMSB thought it would be particularly relevant to write an article about the history of Tribe mascots. Whether you’re a recent Tribe grad with plenty of cursive “Tribe” garb, or you’re a proud feather-wearer, this article is sure to bring back some memories.
All of this information derives from old W&M websites, Swem Special Collections, and other sources that we have unearthed throughout this process; we’re sure many of you remember and were a part of these different eras, so feel free to send us a message or post a comment if you remember something particularly awesome from that period! LET’S GO TRIBE.
The Colonial Era: 1896 – 1936
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the Colonial era. But this is going pretty far back. In 1896, William & Mary’s football team was called “The Orange and White.” Why? Well, because these were the colors the team wore. However, it didn’t take them long to realize that white is a pretty terrible color to wear if you’re concerned about constantly washing and replacing dirty jerseys. So in 1909, W&M changed its uniform colors, and the team became known as “The Orange and Black.”
It was also during this time period that child mascots were a thing. For whatever reason, early football teams at W&M thought that it was an awesome idea to make kids their mascot; and somewhere deep within the recesses of ancient Colonial Echo’s, you might even be able to find some examples. In addition to children, William & Mary sported “Dammit” the campus dog as a mascot from 1922-1926. Courtesy of a 1924 Flat Hat article, Dammit was used as both a mascot and advertiser for W&M football games!
But the most interesting mascot from this time period just may have been an alligator. Yes, you read that right, an alligator. According to a Flat Hat article, dating back to September of 1925:
“When William and Mary football takes the field tomorrow night against Catholic University, it will have a mascot in the ‘person’ of Cal. Cal, for the benefit of those who have not met his acquaintance is an alligator who measures 17 inches over all. Head Cheerleader Williams who secured Cal for this purpose states that the reason for his name is his unwillingness to say anything. Williams claims that since he bought him, Cal has not uttered a sound.”
Now why would you name an alligator that doesn’t make any noise Cal? Any ideas? Yeah, we had none either. It’s a reference to United States President “Silent” Calvin Coolidge. Who would have known.
It was also during this time period that the nickname “Indians” was first referenced when referring to the W&M basketball team; the athletic teams all took on the name and sported a logo that featured an Indian with a knife and tomahawk. However, there’s no mention anywhere as to why exactly the school chose Indians as a mascot, but we assume it may have had something to do with W&M’s history with Native Americans and W&M’s Indian School. It’s a mystery we’ll leave unsolved for the time being.
And thus, W&M’s mascot history began, with small children, dogs, and alligators. Bet you didn’t know that before you read this article! But wait, there’s more.
The Indians: Late 1937 – 1974
This is where W&M would truly become known as the Indians. It all began with a pony named Wampo–deriving from the initials of William And Mary Pony. Apparently, the pony had acquired its name through a contest on campus, in which Beverly Boone (we presume a student) won with her submission. Thus, Wampo was born and featured in each home game along with a man dressed in full Indian garb throughout the late 1930s into the 1960s.
To add to Wampo’s infamy, we dug up something special from the Swem Special Resources Center Wiki page:
“In 1937, a few days before William and Mary’s regular Thanksgiving Day football game with the University of Richmond, [Richmond] students kidnapped a pony they thought was Wampo who turned out to be a substitute pony. Wampo was [also] stolen the next year from his stable on the evening of November 17, 1938. [W&M] Students organized search parties in an effort to recover the pony. After fruitless searching for the mascot, William and Mary students started bonfires in Richmond.”
WOW, who knew W&M students were so passionate about a little pony? But don’t worry, in the end, Wampo was discovered and returned home. Also during this era, it was very common to see mascots dressed up in Native American costumes, and in fact, this tradition would carry on until the 1990s (and for some, even to this day!). The Indian tradition would continue, even influencing a redesign of the W&M athletics logo in 1974.
W&M’s Famous Feathers: 1974 – 2001
Ah, the infamous William & Mary feathers. Now while this of course isn’t a mascot, its existence is still very important to this history of the athletics program. If you meet any Tribe super fans from this era, it’s highly likely that you’ll see them sporting these until the day they die. Though eventually deemed controversial, they were the epitome of W&M’s rich athletic history and use of the Indian mascot. The “WM” with feathers logo first appeared on the helmets of the William & Mary football team in 1977, and were used for quite some time.
Even still, the following year in 1978, Indian images were taken off the athletic logo and the term “Indian” was phased out. Through all of this, the “WM” with feathers logo lived on even as W&M began to adopt the “Tribe” as its primary nickname. The feathers logo lasted a very long time, all the way up to the early 2000s, when W&M found itself at odds with the NCAA in 2001. The NCAA argued that the feathers were offensive to Native Americans, and W&M disagreed. All of this came to an end when (per this Wiki page) :
“In May 2006, the NCAA ruled that the old athletic logo for William & Mary, which includes two green and gold feathers, could create an environment that is offensive to the Native American community. The NCAA decision irked many William and Mary alumni because Florida State is allowed to retain its nickname, the Seminoles, as well as its American Indian mascot (Chief Osceola) and imagery. The College’s appeal regarding the use of the institution’s athletic logo to the NCAA Executive Committee was rejected. The “Tribe” nickname, by itself, was found to be neither hostile nor abusive, but rather communicates ennobling sentiments of commitment, shared idealism, community and common cause. The College stated it would phase out the use of the two feathers by the fall of 2007.”
Colonel Ebirt: 2001 – 2006
During this time of flux, and as W&M continued its battle with the NCAA over a couple feathers, Colonel Ebirt was born. Famously named as “Tribe” spelled backwards, Ebirt was more or less a green blob of a mascot that somewhat resembled a frog. Funny enough though, Colonel Ebirt was fully adopted by the athletics department during this time, until the conclusion of the 2005-2006 school year.
To this day, you’ll still see Colonel Ebirt references throughout social media and at various Tribe sports events. Long live Colonel Ebirt!
Present Era: 2010 – Present
In 2009, W&M’s own President, Taylor Reveley, appointed a committee to help select a new mascot for the College. After careful consideration of close to 1000 submissions, the committee assembled five finalists: a Griffin, a King and Queen, a Phoenix, a Pug, and the Wren. Not a stellar selection to begin with, over 11,000 people would go on to complete a survey to help select the eventual winner from this now famous list. We think you can guess who came out on top.
In April 2010, President Reveley announced the Griffin as the College’s new mascot, stating that the mascot symbolizes the College’s link between its historic ties to Great Britian (whose monarchy has used the symbol of the lion) and the United States (which uses the eagle as the national symbol). Since the feathers/Griffin controversy, W&M’s athletic teams have sported the cursive “Tribe” logo on their uniforms, and continue to do so to this day.
Now while the Griffin has been met with mixed reviews, it remains the mascot of the College, and can be seen at most every W&M sporting event. Even still, at every football game, you will see alums rocking the feathers. And let’s not forget those never-ending Colonel Ebirt references. So, in the end, which one is YOUR favorite? LET’S GO TRIBE!!!