Page created May 18, 2020. Updated June 26, 2020.
History of Red Raiders
Editor’s note: Working with local historians, information was obtained regarding the history of Bellefonte Area school colors, logos, nicknames and more. You may find a list of available resources at the bottom of the page and more documentation can be found, here: Documents. Some documents date back nearly 100 years ago.
By definition, according to the Oxford dictionary, a “raider” is a person who attacks an enemy; a marauder. It’s also a name that often identifies with Bellefonte Area School District.
Dating prior to 1929, however, the Bellefonte High School football team was referred to as the “Red and Whites” with red as the dominant color as it currently is. The “Red and Whites” was a name given to the team in the mid-1930s by a reporter from the Centre Daily Times. For many years, Bellefonte High School was also simply known as Bellefonte or nicknamed after coaches "Big John" Miller, also known as the Millerites or Millermen, and Fred Bell, also known as the Bellmen.
The “B” logo can be found on athletic uniforms and other school apparel since at least the 1920s. The earliest known photo of students wearing the Bellefonte "B" can be found in the 1925 LaBelle yearbook, however one photo is believed to be taken in the fall of 1924. Bellefonte's football team was also referred to as the Cheetahs (1929, 1934), the Red and White Cheetahs (1930, 1935), the Governors (CDT: Sept. 17, 1935) and the Red and White Warriors (1937). The term “warriors” was also used in other Bellefonte sports references, but not as an official nickname.
According to LaBelle yearbook staff, the name Red Raiders was first known to appear in a school document in 1936 when Bellefonte High School sophomore Bob Hoffer wrote an article about the football season. This is highlighted in its 100th anniversary issue released May 2020. A year prior, however, a reporter from the Centre Daily Times referred to the team as such.
Red and white school colors, originated in the mid-1920s, predate known documented association with the school and Native Americans. In 1936, when the color “Red” was added with the “Raiders” nickname (in the school's publication), it alluded to the color of Bellefonte High School uniforms.
According to Centre County historian Hugh Manchester, “at this precise moment in time (1936) the jerseys of the Bellefonte High School football team were red, with a white trimming here and there. They were a fearsome bunch on the gridiron and needed a spirited name.”
The school’s first known written association with Native Americans was identified May 16, 1938. The Red and White student newspaper said “Home of Bellefonte's Fighting Indians, the Red Raiders.” A logo also first appeared in a BHS band photo this same year. Bellefonte High School teams were later cited in newspaper articles as a the "Tribe" and "Indian Gridders," and descriptions were used to accompany those terms. Such descriptions included “War Path” (1947) and was found in print columns titled "The Inquiring Indian," "The Moccasin Slipper," "Tepee Sweepings" and "Wigwam Weepings." In a Red and White newspaper article published on Nov. 11, 1947, the history of the Red Raiders name was further explained. It said:
“The term Bellefonte Red Raiders originated in 1935 when Ralph 'Buck' Toner was writing sports for the Centre Daily Times. At the time, the Colgate Red Raiders had a successful team and Buck was an ardent Colgate fan. Consequently, he named Bellefonte’s football team the Red Raiders. Later, Bob Hoffer was sports editor for the Red and White news staff. It was at that time that the paper added 'Home of Bellefonte's Fighting Indians, the Red Raiders' to the masthead, and so sports writer Bob started calling the team the Indians.”
This came as an intended sign of respect for the first inhabitants of the area, and, according to a plethora of alumni, meant as a way to keep Native American history and memory alive, while showing the courage and tenacity of the school’s football team and mimicking the strength of those who came before.
The article in the Red and White newspaper also correlates with Manchester’s history. To further elaborate, Colgate had a college football team in Upstate New York with an undefeated, 9-0, season in 1932. In 2001, the Colgate University Red Raiders dropped the term “Red” leaving only “Raiders” in its nickname. In 2006, its mascot was changed to a pirate.
One of the district’s logos – used with intended honor and respect – is a representation of an American Indian chief who led Native Americans that occupied what is now the Nittany Valley Region of Centre County that is served by Bellefonte Area School District. The image is first known to appear on a drum in a BHS band photo taken in 1938. Some chiefs known to the area include Chief Woapalanne, which translates to Bald Eagle. He was a Lenape (Delaware) Indian tribal leader in the 18th century who occupied what is now the area of Milesburg. Another is Mingo Indian Chief John Logan, who resided in Hecla Gap near what is now Mingoville in Walker Township. He is also known as James Logan or Logan the Orator.
In the mid-1980s, it was approved to name the school’s mascot, Chief Okocho. This was specifically a costume depicting a Native American and worn by students at activities such as athletic events. Chief Okocho is part of a 17th-century myth that said he lived with his tribe by the "Big Spring" at what is now Spring Creek. In a story published in 1911 called “Legend of Penn’s Cave,” by folklorist Henry Shoemaker, Mount Nittany is named after Okocho's daughter Princess Nita-Nee, and the seven mountains are named for his sons.
According to LaBelle yearbook staff from 1985, the "new" Red Raiders mascot was introduced during the 1984 athletic season. The first-known image of the mascot, in a school publication, was also found in the 1985 LaBelle yearbook titled, "Year of the Raider." It says: "Leading off the school year in sports was the new Red Raider mascot, Okocho. ... Okocho was embodied by (three students during different athletic events). Classes, student council, the cheerleaders and the Girls B Club donated money to purchase the costume. Booster Club paid to have the Sioux warbonnet made." (The Sioux are groups of Native American tribes located in the Great Plains, upper Midwest and parts of the Canadian Prairies).
By the early 1990s, Chief Okocho as the school’s tangible mascot was reportedly removed due to its insensitive appearance and poor representation of Native Americans. The mascot was eliminated, along with its representation of Chief Okocho, with the exception of past photos in yearbooks during the mascot’s tenure, which the district does not plan to replicate or reproduce. The last known image of the mascot in a school publication can be found in a LaBelle yearbook, taken during the 1991 football season. It was reprinted in the 2020 yearbook as part of its history section.
In 2015, the district rebranded its logos to make the chief figure the school's secondary symbol to the red and white “B.” Another image, known colloquially as the dream catcher logo, is an emblem created by a football coach and used to recognize the school's football program under direction of Coach Shanon Manning.
"We're not phasing it out so much as we are being a little more cognizant of how it's interpreted," Athletic Director Deb Moore said during a school board meeting on July 14, 2015. See a document from the presentation, here: Logos and branding. See the full presentation, here: Logo rebranding (video provided by C-NET)
According to the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association, “the earliest recorded history of the Bellefonte area goes back to 1745, when the first white man purchased land from the (American) Indians that roamed the Nittany Valley. Memories of Chief Bald Eagle and of Chief Logan are still preserved in the names of prominent local geographic features.”
Other land that now encompasses Bellefonte Area School District was purchased from the Six Nations in 1754, followed by a dispute regarding boundaries in 1768. With a survey conducted that year concerning the boundary line, both parties reportedly agreed to the purchase. In the agreement, no settler was allowed past the boundary. The area in the 1768 purchase included what is now Bellefonte and the Nittany Valley Region, and Bald Eagle Valley and Penns Valley Region.
It was not until after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783 that settlers began to move into the area with more increased numbers. According to the Centre County Historical Society, "the first settlers in Centre County in the mid-1700s encountered members of the Shawnee and Delaware tribes, who had moved here from their homelands to the southeast. By the end of the Revolutionary War, almost all Native Americans had left the territory of Pennsylvania ... By the time Andrew Boggs, James Potter and a few others had settled in the 1760s-70s in what would be named Centre County, the original inhabitants had left in response to the encroachment of colonists and other native peoples on their territory, as well as the spread of disease and conflict that ensued.”
Bellefonte was incorporated in 1795. To honor the Native Americans who lived in the area, streams and creeks were named for them, such as Logan Branch, Bald Eagle Creek, Mount Nittany, Bald Eagle Valley and more. Gen. James Beaver, a former Pennsylvania governor from 1887 to 1891, spoke much about the early history of local Native Americans in his Bellefonte centennial speech in 1895.
According to this map of Pennsylvania from 1875, Centre County’s land was purchased from the Six Nations in two transactions. The first purchase was the fourth treaty purchase of Oct. 23, 1758 and the second was the fifth treaty on Nov. 5, 1768.
See a list of sources, here: Documentation
- Native American mascot history at universities
- Native Americans in Central Pennsylvania
- Chief Logan (Mingo)
- Legend of Mount Nittany
- Chief Okocho
- Colgate sports: