With one of the NFL’s greatest rivalries on display this Sunday it’s worth remembering that in 1959 would-be Cowboys owners secretly purchased the rights to the Redskin’s fight song just ahead of a vote to ‘quid-pro-quo’ hesitant Redskins owner George Marshall to vote to allow the Cowboys an expansion team license or risk legal action if he ever played the fight song again. Ultimately the tactic worked – Marshall relented and voted in the Cowboys as a franchise as ransom to finally release “Hail to the Redskins”.
Sixty years later, the Center for American Progress (CAP) is running an anti-Redskins political campaign by attacking the Redskin’s name with racially heated, grossly misinformed and downright dishonest claims. Their stated electoral goal in promoting their highly negative revisionist version is to fire up an untapped voting base in order to solidify ‘4.7 million Native American votes’.
The CAP claims they can fire up this voting class through their Redskin political strategy and swing close elections their way. Ironically however, the secrets to disproving CAP’s claims can be lyrically debunked within only three of the thirteen lines forwarded of the once-ransomed 1938 “Fight” song: “Hail to the Redskins”.
Dissecting and giving historic context to these three lines will hopefully provide intellectually curious voters a better understanding of the historic importance, pride, and positive legacy behind the NFL’s most important and one-of-a-kind team fight song.
For starters, let’s look at the entire Redskins Fight Song:
Hail to the Redskins!
Braves on the Warpath!
Fight for old D.C.!
Run or pass and score—We want a lot more!
Beat 'em, Swamp 'em,
Touchdown! -- Let the points soar!
Fight on, fight on 'Til you have won
Sons of Wash-ing-ton. Rah!, Rah!, Rah!
Hail to the Redskins!
Braves on the Warpath!
Fight for old D.C.!
As an interesting side note, the song contains 13 lines – the same amount of lines as stars on the first American Flag, the same amount of arrows in the American Eagle’s talon on the backside of our one dollar note and matches the amount of letters provided in our nation’s very important motto – E. Pluribus Unum - which will be historically connected to the Redskin Warriors of the 18th century a bit later in this article.
While I can’t assume this was done on purpose, it does offer a very interesting context for which the Redskins Fight Song is explored and gives an backdrop as to why the Redskin Warrior should be “Hailed” – not diminished – by all Americans as one of our nation’s positive historic legacies.
Hail to the Redskins’ 3rd line: “Braves on the Warpath”
Like the number of the team’s Super Bowl trophies, the number three line of Hail to the Redskins is likely the most significant in detailing that Redskins are specifically “Braves on the Warpath”. The discussion starts here as the original Redskin Warriors of the upper east coast and from the team’s original home of Massachusetts is actually the name of a tribe where the state’s flag, logos and official marks still carry the image of a Redskin Warrior where the region’s rituals – not race – defined what they called themselves and were called by others.
Redskin, thus, derives not from any racial basis but based on the tradition of these warriors to demonstrate their commitment to, or communion with specific spirits, the Creator or the Great Spirit ahead of a battle.
This spiritual communion took place by shaving their head and painting their body blood red with vermillion, ochre or the aptly named bloodroot to publicly advertise their pre-battle relationship with their deity. In using red paint to mimic blood it’s important to note that Nancy Shoemaker in How Indians Got to Be Red suggests that particular tribes believed that ‘blood contained mystical powers.’ It’s this power that a Redskin Warrior, or as the fight song details as a “Brave on the Warpath”, would call upon in a pitched battle to give him an edge. Consider today that prior to going into battle many modern day warriors participate in a similar communion by drinking (vs. displaying on their bodies) the “blood of Christ” in the form of wine.
And according to the Curator of the Department of Anthropology of the American Museum of Natural History and 13 other national experts as found in America’s Fascinating Indian Heritage the name Redskin was, “…inspired not their natural complexion but by their fondness for vermilion makeup, concocted from fat mixed with berry juice and minerals that provided the desired color”. This fact is also reflected in the NFL Redskin’s 2005 Media Guide which also reflected that their “Braves on the Warpath” gained their Redskins name by the use of ceremonial red paint – not by their natural completion.
Finally, earning one’s paint was not limited to only natives – according to Gary Zaboly in the “American Colonial Ranger” non-natives occasionally earned the right wear red-paint based on their Redskin Warrior-trained skills and bravery in battle. In summary, being a Redskin Warrior was an earned accomplishment that indicated the warrior had gone through a ceremonial communion with their protective and supportive God.
Hail to the Redskin’s 8th line: “Fight On, Fight On, ‘Till You Have Won”
One of the most significant differences between the European trained military commander and a Redskin Warrior Chief was the notion of fighting and surrendering. Author Sam Gwynne in his bestselling book The Empire of the Summer Moon explored the ‘red painted’ warrior mindset and battle mentality at length; reflecting exactly the sentiment provided in the Fight Song’s eighth line that, “…Indians always fought to their last breath on battlefields, to the astonishment of Europeans and Americans. There were no exceptions.”
Moreover, Armstrong Starkey in European and Native American Warfare 1675-1815, explained that these warriors had the best discipline and a great tendency to save their own men. “In contrast to European armies,” he explained, “Indian discipline was founded on individual honor rather than corporal punishment; leaders were chosen according to merit based on courage and experience instead of privilege of purchase. They practiced running and marksmanship and they became accustomed to endure hunger and hardship with patience and fortitude,” wrote Starkey. “The Indian warrior’s moral advantage was enhanced by his physical endurance, which only the hardiest European could equal.”
Willard E. Yager in The Red Man as Solider similarly detailed these findings in claiming that The Battle of the Falls was the fiercest ever fought where “The Red people of the mountain region who there proved their skill and valor on the English…continued from that day forth, ably, with unvarying courage, and against all comers to maintain their cause.”
Finally, a little discussed but greatly important accomplishment occurred at the Battle of St. Clair’s Defeat where the Redskins were so superior in gaining a total victory that a military expert called it not just a “tactical masterpiece” but one - in terms of loss-to-strength proportions - which “probably ranks as the worst defeat [of the U.S. Army] in U.S. history.”
With such moral, tactical and leadership advantages, the Redskins clearly earned their remarkable reputation that they would...“Fight On, Fight On, ‘Till You Have Won.” Finally, a single line doesn’t seem to go far enough in extolling the warrior virtues that the most elite warriors in the United States – the U.S. Special Forces at Fort Benning Georgia - are still being taught the Redskin’s Woodland Warrior doctrine today.
Hail to the Redskin’s 9th line: “Sons of Washington”
According to Robert A. Williams, Jr., in Linking Arms Together – American Indian Treaty Visions of Law and Peace 1600 – 1800 the use of familial language in treaties such as children, brothers, cousins or father conveyed natural and precisely understood relationships as well as rights and responsibilities. “In this sense, these terms could assume legal significance,” explained Williams.
“Father”, for instance, was formalized diplomatically to convey that the bearer of the title would be expected to be benevolent in a diplomatic relationship and became part of a give-and-take relationship with their “children”. Colin G. Calloway’s The Indian World of George Washington provides an example where Chief Corn Planter - a Seneca War Chief - wrote to Washington as the diplomatic son:
“Father your speech, written on the great paper, is to us like the fist light in the morning to a sick man, whose pulse beats so strongly in his temples and prevents him from sleep. He sees it, and rejoices, but he is not cured.”
In this case Cornplanter was celebrating Washington’s honoring of the treaty protections embedded in the British Treaty of Fort Stanwix. This was a pivotal moment as Iroquois who had fought against the Colonial forces as British allies could not reasonably defend against Washington’s Army at the end of the Revolutionary War should he wish to subdue this once-powerful confederacy. But Washington instead took the path of peace, maintained the British treaty rights and added even more rights while also fending off land claims from New York State.
With such diplomacy and respect, Washington thus earned the title “Father” among the Iroquois. But his reputation had already been made as a field commander where Washington had previously been called “Brother” by his allied natives due in part to his high level of respect for the Indians. For instance, a 1932 National Geographic story quotes Washington as calling his Shawnee, Seneca and Delaware (Lenape) allies “great men” while the magazine routinely describes the Indian warriors with Washington (appropriately) as “redskin(s)”.
Finally, the “Sons of Washington” may also be viewed as inscribed into the new nation’s family themed motto “E Pluribus Unum,” or “From Many (we are) One”. One of the first standard Indian Peace medals bore an image of Washington standing with a feathered and head-shorn Redskin Warrior. These medals specifically recognized Village Chiefs, Principal War Chiefs and Warriors. So popular were they that an 18-year U.S. Indian Agent feared a delay in recognizing distinguished “Red Skins of various nations” could have national repercussions. An example had Potawatomi Chief New Corn requesting Washington’s medals to emphasize to his warriors that they would no longer take orders from the British and they “Will view the Americans as their only true friend.”
Finally, the familial slogan E. Pluribus Unum also appeared on Washington’s Indian Peace Medals a full three years before being inscribed on U.S. coins and currency and today this motto survives on coins and dollar bills thus forever memorializing this special relationship even today.
While all NFL Redskins fans will hope to sing Hail to the Redskins Sunday against their long-time rival Cowboys as an inspiring post-touchdown tradition. But the song itself stands alone as a testimonial to a proud and very real tradition that lives on today.
And while the CAP will continue to attempt to politically extinguish this living spirit for a short-term electoral advantage, they should worry that despite their expensive campaigning, a super majority of Native Americans recently selected “Proud” as their descriptor of choice (among 40 choices) in describing their feelings about the Redskins. This amazing response should demonstrate that there are a majority of Americans who will “Fight On, Fight On, ‘Til [They] Have Won” in promoting important national tradition above the ugly political fray.
Hail to the Redskins.
Andre Billeaudeaux is a retired military journalist and has published extensively on topics centered on social science, psychology, politics and history. He is the author of How the Redskins Got Their Name and the prior founding Executive Director of the Native American Guardian’s Association. He is considered an “expert” on Redskins history by the State of Pennsylvania.
Posted on September 13, 2019
by Andre Billeaudeaux