Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Patent Medicine and Baseball - Wahoo's Deep Roots in Cleveland

The Great Wahoo Polka – 1863.

The Makio - 1906 (Ohio State University Fraternity Yearbook), Columbus, Ohio, 1906, page 12.

In the opening sequence of Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, Magnolia, the narrator recites a series of bizarre coincidences in which seemingly unrelated events intersect in apparently random, unexpected, almost unbelievable ways.  In retrospect, however, each coincidence seems preordained.

The narrator refuses to accept the apparent coincidences as just “one of those things”:

And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that this is not just "something that happened."  This cannot be "one of those things."  This, please, cannot be that. 

Similarly, the history of the Cleveland baseball’s “Indians” nickname and “Chief Wahoo” logo is laced with uncanny coincidences too bizarre to believe; a whole can of worms tied together in one continuous thread.

In 1915, Cleveland’s National League baseball team selected a new nickname – the “Indians” – in honor, they say, of a former star player, Louis Sockalexis, who in 1897 was the first Native-American to sign a major league contract.

And yet newspapers referred to the Spiders as “Tebeau’s Indians” (after their manager Olliver Wendell Tebeau) as early as 1895 – two years BEFORE signing Sockalexis.

“This cannot be “one of those things”.  This, please, cannot be that.”

In 1947, the Cleveland Indians hired a young artist to design a new Indian head logo.  After some revisions, the logo more-or-less reached its current look by 1951.  Sportswriters dubbed the logo “Chief Wahoo.”

And yet, when the Cleveland Plain Dealer published cartoon images of Indians in 1915, along with some “new rooter’s lingo” suitable for a team now called the “Indians,” the word “Wahoo” appeared twice.  And, in 1915 rooters for the Ohio State University football team had been yelling “Wahoo, Wahoo, Rip Zip Bazoo” for at least twenty-five years.

This cannot be “one of those things”.  This, please, cannot be that.

An article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1950 referred to New York Yankees pitcher Allie Reynolds, a former Cleveland Indian and actual Creek Indian, as “Chief Wahoo.”

And yet, a Chippewa Indian catcher, who played games throughout Northern Ohio from 1906 through 1908, was widely known by (and frequently referred to himself as) the one-name moniker – “Wahoo,” and sometimes “Chief Wahoo”.

And, if you believe the old histories, Samuel Dickason, one of the early pioneers to settle in Somerford Township, Madison County, Ohio, built his first cabin in about 1814 – “on Wahoo Glade , so called for Chief Wahoo, whose camp was not far distant.”[i] 

This cannot be “one of those things”.  This, please, cannot be that.

In 1936, an artist from Toledo, Ohio created the nationally syndicated comic strip, “The Great Chief Wahoo.”  The Chief Wahoo character invented patent medicine sold by his partner, J. Mortimer Gusto.

And yet, decades earlier, you could buy “Wa-Hoo Blood and Nerve Tonic” from the “Wahoo Remedy Company” of Detroit, Michigan, “Wahoo Bitters” from the E. Dexter Loveridge Company in Buffalo, New York, and some sort of “medicine” from the “Wahoo Medicine Company” of Hamilton, Ohio.  Detroit, Hamilton and Buffalo are all nearly equidistant (by land) from Cleveland, Ohio. 
 This cannot be “one of those things”.  This, please, cannot be that.

And, perhaps most unbelievably, the word “Wahoo” was associated with Cleveland’s National League baseball team in 1893 – two years BEFORE they were first known as “Tebeau’s Indians”:

Over half the teams in the big League started off last week with new commanders. . . .  Oliver Wahoo Tabeau is the Cleveland captain . . . . 

Hamilton Evening Journal (Hamilton, Ohio), May 20, 1893, page 6 (citing Sporting Life).   

The Narrator, Magnolia, New Line Cinema, 1999, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. 

Wahoo’s Roots in Cleveland

When sportswriters called the Cleveland Indians’ new logo “Chief Wahoo” in the early 1950s, the most likely pop-cultural influence on the name seems to have been the well-known, nationally syndicated comic strip “Chief Wahoo,” which had recently finished a twelve year run (1936-1947).  The roots of the name of the comic strip character can be traced in a straight line (with a few detours) to Native-American and Early-American natural medicine practices of an earlier century.

Early American settlers learned the medicinal value of the Wahoo root from Native Americans.  By the 1860s, technological advances made it possible for entrepreneurs to manufacture, bottle and sell “patent medicines” and other types of “snake oil” on an industrial scale.  In a nod to the origin of the medicinal practices, many such products were marketed using Indian imagery on the labels, and sold by “snake oil salesmen” in travelling medicine shows.  A common feature of the medicine show was a character called a “medicine show Indian”:

A band of stockyard cowboys and medicine show Indians have been engaged to play a prominent part in the great Fourth of July daylight parade. 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri), July 3, 1900, page 3.

A “patent medicine show Indian Chief” near Cincinnati, Ohio – 1920s or 1930s.[ii]
The bark of the root of the Wahoo tree was popular ingredient (or purported ingredient) in “patent medicines.”  Numerous patent medicine companies used “Wahoo” in their company names and/or sold products with “Wahoo” in the name.  The Native-American origin and marketing of Wahoo-based medicines may have created the association between Indians and the name, “Wahoo.” 

The business of making and selling Wahoo-based medicines seems to have been based in and around Western New York, Ohio and Michigan.  The word or name “Wahoo” may therefore have been even more familiar to people in places in and around the Southern and Eastern Great Lakes; places like Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio. 

Zanesville Signal (Zanesville, Ohio), March 24, 1938, page 6.

A minor-league professional catcher widely known as “Wahoo” picked up his nickname while playing for the Carlisle Indian school in Western Pennsylvania.  “Wahoo” played for three seasons in towns throughout Western Pennsylvania, Northern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan. 

“Wahoo” – Cincinnati Enquirer, April 29, 1906, page 33.
Elmer Woggon, the artist who created the “Chief Wahoo” comic strip, was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, and spent his entire life there.  Woggon was a young boy of nine to twelve years old when “Wahoo” played baseball throughout the region.  He would also have been generally familiar with medicine show-style marketing of patent medicines, including many “Wahoo” medicines, manufactured and sold throughout the region.

Pittsburgh Press, November 16, 1936, page 1.

Elmer Woggon may have been even more familiar with Toledo’s own “Wa-Hoo Bitters,” manufactured and sold by the Old Indian Medicine Company of Toledo:

C. K. Wilson's Original Compound Wa-Hoo Bitters, Peachridgeglass.com

How and why Oliver Wendell Thebeau was called Oliver “Wahoo” Tebeau in 1893 is a bit more of a mystery. 

But it did happen, and it happened in Ohio, where Wahoo medicines had been made and sold for several decades, and where the official cheer of the state’s largest university included the phrase, “Wahoo! Wahoo! Rip-Zip, Bazoo!”

The Oberlin Review (Oberlin, Ohio), Volume 17, Number 34, June 3, 1890, page 491.
While it is difficult to sort out the influence any particular one of these various threads may have had on the eventual naming of the Cleveland Indians’ logo, any of them, alone or in combination, may have played some role.  Whether or not any of this influences your opinion on the continued propriety of keeping the logo or the name is another question. 

You be the judge. 

The Battle of Wahoo Swamp
In 1836, during the Second Seminole War, US Army Captain David Moniac was killed in the Battle of Wahoo Swamp in Sumter County, Florida.  Captain Moniac was a Creek Indian and graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point.  He was the first Native-American to graduate from the school, and the then new state of Alabama’s first cadet to be sent to West Point.

There is no obvious connection between the Battle of Wahoo Swamp and later Wahoo medicines, but it appears to have been the first time that an event of national prominence created an association between the word, “Wahoo” and American-Indians. 

If Florida’s Wahoo Swamp was named after a tree, it would likely have been named for the Ulmus Alata, more commonly known as the winged elm or wahoo, found in the Southeastern United States from Missouri to Texas and across to North Carolina to Florida. 

The Wahoo root that became so popular in Ohio is from a different species.

Wahoo Root

Euonymus atropurpureus (eastern wahoo, burning bush, bitter-ash)

Early American settlers learned the medicinal value of the Wahoo tree from Native Americans:

Sir, I invite you to a thorough examination of the virtues of the Wahoo tree I saw mentioned in the Recorder. . . . I obtained, thirteen years ago, and fifteen hundred miles northeast of this, a knowledge of its use from a tribe of Indians, together with their mode of steaming and system of medicine . . . .

Thompsonian Recorder (Columbus, Ohio), Volume 5, Number 15, April 22, 1837, page 234.

The wahoo is a beautiful and ornamental shrub, attaining from six to twelve feet in height, and may be found throughout the Northern and Middle, and perhaps over the whole of the United States. . . .

The taste of the bark of the root is a pleasant bitter, slightly pungent.  It possesses a faint odor.  Both odor and taste much resemble that of Ipecacuanha. . . . Water and alcohol extract its virtues. . . .

When this substance was first known as a remedy, it is impossible at this time to determine.  It has, however, long enjoyed a reputation as a valuable expectorant in pulmonary diseases. . . .

As a Tonic, it enters largely into the various popular compounds, known as bitters, and as such, used in various conditions of the system; such for example, as rheumatism, indigestion, want of appetite, &c., and is extensively used during convalescence from autumnal intermittents.

“An Essay on the Therapeutic Virtues of the Euonymus Atropurpureus, or Wahoo,” Illinois and Indiana Medical and Surgical Journal, Volume 1, Number 1, April 1846, page 16.

Etymonline.com credits the name of the Northeastern “Wahoo” to the “Dakota (Siouan) wahu, from wa- “arrow” + -hu “wood.”  It credits the name of the Southeastern “Wahoo” to “Muskogee vhahwv.”  Given the early use of the word in the Northeastern United States, however, it is possible that the word “Wahoo” (or something like it) may have been used in other Native-American languages and dialects, as well.

Wahoo Medicines

The Evening Argus (Rock Island, Illinois), June 23, 1865, page 3.

Loveridge’s Wahoo Bitters. – Among the most healthful of tonics, the most invigorating of stimulants, and the most efficacious of anti-dyspeptics, are the Wahoo Bitters, manufactured  by E. Dexter Loveridge, of Buffalo.  They are entirely vegetable, being composed of some twenty different  roots and barks; among which the chief is the Wahoo bark, widely known as an excellent tonic and alterative.  The spirits used to preserve the bitters are pure rye whisky . . . .

Cleveland Morning Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), July 13, 1864, page 4.

One of the early, commercially successful “Wahoo” medicinal drinks was “Wahoo Bitters,” manufactured and sold by E. Dexter Loveridge of Buffalo, New York.  The “Great Indian Beverage” was marketed using Native-American imagery in ad-copy and artwork. 

The “The Great Wahoo Polka” (1863) was dedicated “To E. Dexter Loveridge Esq., Buffalo, N. Y.”:

Loveridge’s “Wahoo Bitters” were sold from as early as 1864 and as late as 1870.[iii] 

Loveridge’s was  not the only “Wahoo” bitter on the market: 

Wahoo! – Eating much of the many vegetables and fruit which now flood the market is a great instigator of biliousness, people should provide themselves a remedy against such disagreeable attacks, and none better can be obtained than Pinkerton’s Wahoo and Calisaya Bitters which are becoming all the rage just now.

The Daily Journal (Ogdensburgh, New York), September 15, 1864, page 3.

The exclamation point near the beginning of this notice suggests that the word, “wahoo,” already had the alternate sense of an enthusiastic yell, like “yahoo” or “yee haw.”

Jacob Pinkerton manufactured Pinkerton’s Wahoo and Calisaya Bitters in Syracuse, New York.[iv]

Shepard’s Wahoo Bitters – 1880. See PeachridgeGlass.com.

Dr. Shepard’s “Wahoo Bitters” company was located in Grand Rapids, Michigan as early as 1880. [v]

Beginning in about 1889, Johathon Primley of Elkhart, Indiana went into business with Alfred Jones of Grand Rapids, Michigan manufacturing Jones & Primley’s Iron and Wahoo Tonic.[vi]

A “Wahoo medicine company” was located in Hamilton, Ohio in 1898.[vii]

Yale Expositor (Yale, Michigan), November 7, 1902, page 7.

The “Wa-Hoo Remedy Company” was headquartered in Detroit, Michigan as early as 1902.[viii]
and had offices in Sandusky, Ohio in 1901.[ix]

C. K. Wilson’s Old Indian Medicine Company manufactured and sold “Wahoo Bitters” and other remedies in Toledo, Ohio from about 1910 and into the 1940s.[x]  

Old Indian Medicine Company, Toledo, Ohio (PeachridgeGlass.com).

C. K. Wilson, Toledo, Ohio – 1930s (Note the NRA logo) (PeachridgeGlass.com)

Other “patent medicines” sold under Native-American names and imagery included, Dr. Wonser’s Indian Root Bitters, Old Sachem Bitters andWigwam Tonic, Objibway Bitters and the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company.

Baseball “Wahoos”

Oliver “Wahoo” Tebeau
In 1893, Sporting Life magazine listed the seven new managers of the twelve National League teams; among them was “Oliver Wahoo Tebeau” of the Cleveland Spiders:

Over half the teams in the big League started off last week with new commanders. . . .  Oliver Wahoo Tabeau is the Cleveland captain . . . . 

Hamilton Evening Journal (Hamilton, Ohio), May 20, 1893, page 6 (citing Sporting Life).   

Two years later, the team was called (on occasion) “Tebeau’s Indians”:

The Orioles have played good, steady ball, and as their pitchers were in good shape until the shank of the season, they have gained the honor, though not without having a close finish with “Patsy” Tebeau’s Indians.

The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee), September 30, 1895, page 6.

Two years after that, the Cleveland Spiders signed Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscott Indian from Maine who was believed to be the first Native-American in the major leagues:

New York, March 12. – . . . “In the future,” said Mr. Robinson, “the Clevelands will be known as Tebeau’s Indians.  For the life of me I do not see how they were ever called the ‘Spiders,’ for certain it is they never crept.”

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer (West Virginia), March 13, 1897, page 3.

How and why Tebeau, whose real middle name was Wendell, was called “Oliver Wahoo Tebeau” in 1893 is a complete mystery.  Was it because he liked to yell “Wahoo” to encourage his players during games?  Was it because he liked drinking “Wahoo Bitters”?

And, how and why his team became known as “Tebeau’s Indians” even before they signed Sockalexis in 1897 is also a complete mystery.  Did his nickname “Wahoo” suggest the association with Native-Americans, and his team tagged “Indians” as a result?  Was he, as the manager – or chief, of the team considered “Chief Wahoo” long before the team was called the Indians?

I do not know.  But there seem to be several explanations available, any one of which alone, or in combination, might have triggered the names.

Charles “Wahoo” Guyon

Charles Guyon was a Chippewa Indian from White Earth, Minnesota who attended the Haskell Indian School in Kansas from about 1900 to 1904, and enrolled at Carlisle, in Pennsylvania, in the fall of 1905 at the age of 19.  In 1900, at the age of 15, he played for the Haskell football team that beat Kansas State and Missouri. 

In 1901, he reportedly ran away from school and went home to Minnesota.  Whatever else he was up to Minnesota, he was slated to return to the team for the Haskell-Minnesota game in November 1901, but ran into trouble of his own making.   Guyon showed up at the University of Minnesota game, where he worked as a ticket taker but did not play in the game.  A post office agent recognized him and reported him to Federal authorities.  He returned with the team to Kansas and played for Haskell in a game against the University of Kansas the following week.  He was arrested a few days later.

In the weeks leading up to the Minnesota game, Guyon purchased two postal money orders, one for $6.00 and one for $8.00.  He added an extra zero to each one and cashed them for $60.00 and $80.00, respectively.  An investigation into one of the checks identified two postal agents as prime suspects.  But when a second check showed up, payable to Charles Guyon, the focus of the investigation shifted.  The agent who sold the money orders to Guyon just happened to go to the game in Minnesota and recognized Guyon.  The gig was up.

He seems to have turned his life around after that.  He was captain of the Haskell football team in 1904 when they beat Washburn 14-0.  A local newspaper depicted the Washburn "Sons of Ichabod" making their “last stand” against the Indians:

In 1905, at the age of 19, he enrolled at Carlisle University where he became a multi-sport star and unofficially changed his name to “Wahoo.”  

“Wahoo” played only one year at Carlisle (he became ineligible based on the number of years he played at Haskell), but did well enough to be named to at least one “All-Eastern” team:

In 1910, just before Jim Thorpe set the world on fire, The Carlisle Arrow, the school’s weekly newspaper, remembered  him as, “Charles M. Wahoo, a Chippewa Indian, former Carlisle student, and one of the greatest all-around athletes . . . .”[xi]

“Wahoo” was also known for his wit.  In 1906, his anecdote about the value of form in athletics was picked up and reprinted in newspapers from New York to San Francisco:

Adair County News (Columbia, Kentucky), July 4, 1906, page 6, part 2.

“Wahoo” started the 1906 baseball season playing with Carlisle, but signed a minor league contract with the Washington Senators (Washington, Pennsylvania) of the Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan League (P. O. M. League) in mid-season.  After two seasons with Washington, he spent one season with Canton of the Ohio League.

Press accounts of his game generally referred to him by the single name, “Wahoo,” or “Chief Wahoo” on a few occasions.

He appears to have moved to New York City following the 1908 season, where he occasionally played professional or semi-professional baseball for the New York Seventh Regiment team.  In New York, he also started refereeing big-time college football games and took a job as a salesman with the Spalding sporting goods company.

Spalding promoted him and moved him to Atlanta, Georgia in 1911, where they gave him responsibility for the Southeast region.  In Georgia, Guyon continued refereeing big-time college football games and hooked up with Coach Heisman (THE “Heisman”) at Georgia Tech, where he became an assistant coach for several years. 

Charles’ little brother, Joe Guyon Sr., played for Georgia Tech while Charles coached there.  Joe Napoleon “Big Chief” Guyon” played for the Canton Bulldogs in 1919 and played for seven seasons in the NFL, where he usually shared backfield duties with his old Carlisle teammate Jim Thorpe.  The two helped the New York Giants win the NFL Championship in 1927.  Joe was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966.  A recollection published years later suggested the Charles Guyon also played professional football in Massillon, Ohio, which had a professional football team when Charles played minor league baseball in Ohio, but I have been unable to confirm it from contemporary accounts.

In about 1920, Charles “Wahoo” Guyon moved from Georgia to Washington DC, where he took a job at Eastern High School teaching typing and coaching football, basketball and baseball.  His new students loved him:

The Washington Times (Washington DC), February 24, 1921, page 15.
And he must have loved them.  He stayed at the school for at least 25 years.

After moving to DC, he continued refereeing for college and professional football games.  He refereed numerous games for the United States Naval Academy, and in 1921 refereed a game between the Canton Bulldogs and Washington DC's NFL team (who were not yet known as the Redskins). 

Charles Guyon's nephew, Joe Guyon Jr., continued in his forebears' football tradition.  He helped Catholic University of Washington DC cap off a successful 1939 season with a trip to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. 

Reports leading up to the game suggest that the younger Guyon enjoyed playing-up his Native-American heritage, and was even called “Wahoo” on occasion:

Joe Guyon, C. U. left halfback, will be renewing old friendships when he goes to El Paso.  Joe, a full-blooded Chippewa Indian, is the son of Joe Guyon, Sr., Carlisle Indian star who played with Jim Thorpe.  The elder Guyon is now in Arizona, coaching an Indian school and may come to El Paso to see his offspring play.  Young Joe plans to take his tribal feathers along on the trip, just to show the Southwesterners that the effete East can whoop it up a bit.

If he’s coaxed hard enough, Joe will give his famous Indian dance that has become a tradition at Catholic University.  Only on rare occasions has “Wahoo” Guyon danced the “Dance of Victory” and then only when the game has been important enough Joe says the Sun Bowl game calls for a special demonstration and if the Cardinals are fortunate enough to win on New Year’s Day, the handsome Indian will strut his stuff with all the trimmings.

El Paso Herald-Post (Texas), December 19, 1939, page 8.

Sadly, the game ended in a scoreless tie, so Joe Jr. had no occasion to do the “Victory Dance.” 

Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) August 13, 1945, page 9.

It is not clear how or why Charles Guyon picked up the “Wahoo” nickname in the first place.  Perhaps he borrowed the name from the popular “Wahoo” medicines, based on their close association with Native-Americans.  But he played at a school full of Indians and on teams full of Indians, so that does not answer why he, of all of the players, picked up the name. 

Perhaps he liked to yell “Wahoo” when he played, to encourage himself or others.

Perhaps it was a known Indian name that he liked.  He was not the only person to study at Carlisle who had the name:

Joseph Twin, a Winnebago and a former student at the Carlisle Indian School, has eloped with pretty Lystia Wahoo, a maiden of the Cherokee tribe.

The Evening World (New York), December 3, 1908, page 3.

The name does not seem to have been foisted on him against his wishes.  He proudly signed his name as “Wahoo” in correspondence with Carlisle years after leaving the school. 

Or, perhaps Guyon, who was considered a better hitter than a catcher, picked up the name in emulation of “Wahoo” Sam Crawford, the 9th best major league batter ever (under the “grey ink test”), who finished the season at or near the top of the American League in home-runs, triples, slugging percentage and number of bases reached in many seasons over a nineteen-year career, beginning in 1899. 

“Wahoo” Sam Crawford

“Wahoo” Sam Crawford played for the Cincinnati Reds (1899-1902) and the Detroit Tigers (1903-1917) during a nineteen-year career in the major leagues.  Crawford came by his nickname naturally – he was born and raised in Wahoo, Nebraska, which, in turn, was named for the plant.[xii] 

Crawford played for Wahoo’s town-team as early as 1894.[xiii]  He was such a good player that he had his own team by 1897:

Omaha Daily Bee, August 10, 1897, page 2.

With a hometown team named for him in Nebraska, perhaps it was no shock that he took his hometown’s name in the major leagues.

The Times (Washington DC), September 27, 1899, page 6.

The “Wahoo” League

A more obscure baseball “Wahoo” appeared in the Minneapolis Journal in 1905.  An anecdote about a game purportedly played in the “Wahoo League” (wherever that was) featured a loophole in the rules, a pneumatic pitching machine, and a cat that went to sleep in the wrong place at the wrong time:

You can probably fill in the rest of the story with a quick look at the accompanying sketch.  The story itself is of little consequence, but it is interesting to see a one-off use of “Wahoo” in another baseball context.

Wahoo Cartoons


See the entire image at JoePosnanski.com, “Cleveland Indians: The name”.

In January 1915, on the day after announcing the team’s name change, from Naps to Indians, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published a cartoon with several images of Native-Americans and baseball players in Native-American dress.  The cartoon suggested that the name change might bring “new rooting lingo for the fans.”  The “new rooting lingo” included the words “wahooooooo” and “wahoo.” 

Looking back on the cartoon from today’s perspective, the word “Wahoo” might be interpreted as a specific, negative reference to Native-Americans.  At the time, however, the word “Wahoo” was not only associated with the Wahoo-root remedies learned from an earlier generation of Indians, it was also an enthusiastic yell. 

In a local football game in Indiana in 1894, for example:

Gifford made the touchdown and Parker kicked goal.  Wabash again promised to score, and the wahoo of the Crawfordsville boys was shrieked in a high key, but the ball was again lost and Butler started back.

The Indianapolis Journal, November 25, 1894, page 4.

Wahoo was also a prominent and long-standing feature of cheers at Ohio State University football games, and had been since at least as early as 1890.[xiv]

Sing along, if you’d like:

Songs of Ohio State University, New York, Hinds, Hayden & Eldredge Inc, 1916.

Ohio State’s student newspaper was briefly renamed “Wahoo” in 1892:

In the fall of 1892 the name was changed to Wahoo, and as such it was published three times a week for three months.  The name Lantern was resumed in 1893, and a new plan of publication was adopted.

Thomas C. Mendenhall, History of the Ohio State University, Volume II, Columbus, Ohio, The Ohio State University Press, 1926, page 188.

It is not clear whether “Wahoo” had been a feature of cheers at the Cleveland Naps’ baseball games before 1915, but many of their fans would have presumably have been familiar with OSU’s old school yell.  Perhaps the word “wahoo” was not the new part of the “new rooters’ lingo” referenced in the 1915 cartoon; perhaps the “new” words were the non-standard gibberish words like “weck oo” and “zoea erk.”

It is also unclear whether OSU originally used “Wahoo” in its sense as an enthusiastic yell, or in reference to “Wahoo Bitters” (or the like).  Or perhaps they just copied Dartmouth:

Dartmouth. Wah, who, wah! Wah, who, wah!
Do, didi, Dartmouth! Wah, who, wah!

“American College Cheers,” Miscellaneous Notes and Queries, Volume 6, Number 6, June 1889, page 301.[xv]

The pharmaceutical sense of “Wahoo” converged with the cheering sense of “Wahoo”  at Kansas State University’s School of Pharmacy (the other words are medicinal herbs as well):

 Eriodictyon glutinosum!
Chondodentron tomentosum!
Wahoo! Buchu!
Pharmacy! Pharmacy!
K. S. U.

Iola Register (Iola, Kansas), June 10, 1898, page 5.[xvi]

Although it is possible that Cleveland’s “new rooters’ lingo” word, “Wahoo,” could have been a specific reference to the medicine (and by extension to American-Indians), it may well have had another connotations as well.  And even if the “Wahoo” was intended as a reference to medicine or Indians, it is not clear whether the word itself would have been understood as “negative,” even if other aspects of the cartoon were more clearly negative.


Four years before the syndicated comic strip, “Great Chief Wahoo,” debuted, and fifteen years before the Cleveland Indians commissioned the logo that would come to be known as “Chief Wahoo,” a cartoon Indian appeared on the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer alongside the results of the day’s game:

Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 3, 1932, page 1 (see Brad Ricca, “The Secret History of Chief Wahoo,” Belt Magazine, June 19, 2014).

Similar cartoons ran on the front page with each day’s game results for thirty years.  It seems likely that the familiar cartoon Indian image could easily have had some influence on the designer of the Indians’ new logo in 1947. 


The publicity campaign for the new “Chief Wahoo” comic strip introduced readers to the strip’s characters a week or two before its debut:

Indianapolis Star, November 22, 1936, page 33.

·      Big Chief Wahoo learned wisdom from the book of nature . . . The Great Gusto attended the University of Hard Knocks and flunked the course in common sense.

·      Big Chief Wahoo has money to throw at the birds . . . The Great Gusto couldn’t buy breakfast for a canary.

·      Big Chief Wahoo is the salt of the earth . . . The Great Gusto is the salt seller.

Indianapolis Star, November 22, 1936, page 33.

Chief Wahoo was like a Native-American Jed Clampett.  He had money from striking oil in Teepee town, but instead of moving to Beverly Hills, he romanced his sweetheart, “Minne-ha-cha,” in New York City.  His partner Gusto was so impressed with Chief Wahoo’s medicine formula that he bottled it and sold it as Ka-Zowie Kure-All.  Although Wahoo and other Indians were frequently portrayed as naïve and backward throughout the series, the white characters were more likely to be the butt of the strip’s jokes.

The broadly comic version of the comic strip lasted about four years.  The comic tone was replaced in 1940 with the introduction of globetrotting photojournalist, Stever Roper, who took the series in a more serious, soap opera-like direction. 

In 1942, for example, Chief Wahoo fought Nazis and sold War Bonds:

Pittsburgh Press, October 29, 1942, page 32.
Washington Court House Record-Herald (Washington Court House, Ohio), May 14, 1942, page 5.

Coincidentally, Chief Wahoo was retired from the strip in 1947, the same year in which the Cleveland Indians commissioned their new logo.  I guess the old saying is true, “when god closes the door on one cartoon Indian, he opens the door for another” (that is an old saying, isn’t it?).  Steve Roper, on the other hand, survived in one form or another until 2003.  

“Chief Wahoo’s” creator, Elmer Woggon, was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1897 and remained there throughout his life.  He would have been a young boy of about nine to twelve years old when Charles “Wahoo” Guyon played baseball throughout Western Pennsylvania, Northern Ohio and Southern Michigan during the 1906-1908 seasons.  He would also have been generally familiar with various “Wahoo” medicines manufactured and sold throughout the lower Great Lakes during the period.  

Elmer Woggon may have been even more intimately familiar with Toledo's own “Wahoo Bitters”, manufactured by the Old Indian Medicine Company of Toledo, Ohio beginning in about 1910 and into the 1940s.  It seems plausible (if not likely) that Toledo’s “Wahoo Bitters” were the primary influence when Toledo Native, Woggon, named an American-Indian character who invented his own patent medicine “Chief Wahoo”.

“C. K. Wilson’s Original Compound Wa-Hoo Bitters,” PeachridgeGlass.com.


In1947, Cleveland Indians’ owner, Bill Veeck, hired Walter Goldbach, 17, to design a new logo for the team.  The logo was revised in 1951, taking on (more or less) its current form.  The earliest known reference to the logo as “Chief Wahoo” is reportedly from 1952.  For a comprehensive survey of the history of the logo, and earlier cartoon imagery in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Elmer Woggon’s comic strip, see Brad Ricca’s article, “The Secret History of Chief Wahoo” (Belt Magazine, June 19, 2014).

Ricca’s article also points to a few instances of the Plain Dealer referring to a former Cleveland Indian’s pitcher (and actual Creek Indian) named Allie Reynolds as “Chief Wahoo” in the early 1950s.  But since those references came just a few years after Woggon’s “Chief Wahoo” strip finished its long run, it seems more likely (to me at least) that the comic strip would have been the primary influence on both the name of the logo and the paper’s referring to the pitcher as “Chief Wahoo.”  It seems less likely that the infrequent references to the pitcher would have specifically influenced the name of the logo – but you never know.

The Cleveland Indians’ name and logo have been roundly criticized as clearly racist.  Brad Ricca’s article on “The Secret History of Chief Wahoo” and Peter Pattakos’s article, The Curse of Chief Wahoo, are we paying the price for embracing America’s last acceptable racist symbol?, Cleveland Scene (Online), April 25, 2012, lay out the position passionately with comprehensive documentation. 

Joe Posnanski strikes a somewhat more conciliatory tone (at least with respect to the name of the team) in his article,   “Cleveland Indians: The Name, JoePosnanski.com”.  He closed his article saying:

I don’t believe the Indians were named to honor Louis Sockalexis, not exactly.  But I do believe the Indians name, as long as it exists, could honor him.  That choice is ours.

Perhaps the same may be said about “Chief Wahoo”. 

I wonder what Oliver Wahoo Tebeau or Charles “Wahoo” Guyon would have had to say about it.


[i] Chester Bryan, History of Madison County, Ohio, Indianapolis, 1915, page 706.
[ii] Benjamin and Eleanor Klein, The Ohio River Handbook and Picture Album, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1950, page Z-37 (undated photograph by Mr. Lemen; other photographs in the group were dated between 1925 and 1940).
[iv][iv] For more information about Pinkerton and other “Bitters” companies, see Ferdinand Meyer V, “Jacob Pinkerton’s Wahoo & Calisaya Bitters,” PeachridgeGlass.com.
[vii] The Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio, March 28, 1898, page 4, column 1.
[viii] Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1903-1904, Detroit, R. L. Polk & Co., page 742.
[ix] Benjamin F. Prince, Editor, The Centennial Celebration of Springfield, Ohio, Springfield, Ohio, Springfield Publishing Co., 1901, page 130.
[xi] The Carlisle Arrow, Volume 7, Number 6, October 14, 1910.
[xiii] Omaha Daily Bee, September 01, 1894, Page 2.
[xiv] The Oberlin Review (Oberlin, Ohio), Volume 17, Number 34, June 3, 1890, page 491.
[xv] With the growth of intercollegiate American football after 1869, American Colleges entered into a sort-of “arms race” to create the most distinctive and ridiculous sounding cheers.  Princeton developed the first cheer, organically, in response to fireworks shows in celebration of the completion of the trans-Atlantic telegraph cable in 1851. Rinceton’s “sis, boom, bah!” cheer is now considered the proto-typical sports cheer.  The sound emulates the sound of the launch, explosion and reaction to fireworks. See my earlier piece, The Explosive History of Sis! Boom! Bah!
[xvi] Nearly the same cheer (with Buchu and Wahoo transposed) appeared three years earlier in the Topeka State Journal (Kansas), June 17, 1895, page 4.

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