Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Why the University of Florida are "Gators"


Why the University of Florida are “Gators”

The University of Florida football team played without a nickname during its first five seasons of football, from its founding in 1906 through 1910.  In 1911, following a 6-6 tie in a game played at the University of South Carolina (the only blemish in their first undefeated (5-0-1) season) sportswriters in South Carolina referred to the team as the “Alligators.”

COLUMBIA, S. C., Oct. 21. – The University of Florida and the University of South Carolina today played to a tie, 6 to 6.  Taylor, right half, for the visitors, played sensational ball, his long end runs netting all the gains for the Alligators.

The Tampa Tribune, October 22, 1911, page 6; Atlanta Constitution, October 22, 1911, page 6.


The Gamecock (University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina), October 28, 1911, page 1.

Students at the University of Florida liked the name and adopted it as their own.  Shortly before graduation the following spring, they voted to change the name of their student newspaper from “The Florida Pennant” to “The Florida Alligator.”

A scheme to bring out a weekly paper formulated itself last year, and attracted support in the student body.  Near commencement time the Florida Pennant, the monthly magazine, then published, called a student meeting, and at this convocation was metamorphosed into “The Florida Alligator.”

The Weekly Tribune (Tampa, Florida), October 3, 1912, page 4.

The impetus for the change was explained when the first issue of the “Alligator” came out shortly before the 1912 football season.

 The first grunt of “The Florida Alligator” is the important occurrence of the week at the University of Florida.  The issue is of four pages . . . and runs long articles on the Florida football prospects . . . .

The Tampa Tribune, September 30, 1912, page 12.

A rousing meeting has also been held in the interest of the “Alligator,” the new student weekly publication. . . . The name “Alligator” was adopted because the South Carolina newspapers, at the time of the football games last year with Clemson and the University of South Carolina, thus dubbed the Florida team, and the students body accepted the term.

The Tampa Tribune, September 29, 1912, page 9.

Florida newspapers followed suit, referring to the team as the “Alligators” throughout the 1912 season.

Tampa Tribune, October 17, 1912, page 4.

The longer form, “Alligators,” predominated during the 1912 season, although the now-more familiar short form, “’Gators,” quickly made its way into print.

Tampa Tribune, October 20, 1912, page 6.


Tampa Tribune, December 15, 1912, page 86.

Coach Pyle and his Florida Alligators appeared upon the field first, and after a short signal practice returned to the bench.

The Tampa Times, December 28, 1912, page 9.


By the end of the 1913 season, the names “Gators” and “Alligators” appeared in print with nearly the same frequency.  

The Tampa Tribune, December 1, 1913, page 4.

“Florida Alligators” maintained a slight edge through the remainder of the 1910s, with “Florida Gators” taking the top spot in the 1920s by about a 3-2 margin (based on the number of “hits” in searches in an online newspaper archive).

This account of the origin of the “Gator” nickname runs counter to the traditional origin stories.  The traditional origin stories appeared decades later and are not consistent with contemporary reporting of the circumstances and timing of events. 


The Can’t-all-be-true Tales[i]

There are four traditional origin stories for the University of Florida nickname, the “Gators”; Miller’s Tale, Corbett’s Tale, Van Ness’ Tale (the Cannon’s Tale) and Storter’s Tale.  Austin Miller, the son of a man who owned a student hangout near campus, claimed in 1948 to have coined the name in 1907.  Roy Corbett, a member of the University of Florida’s first football team in 1906 and captain in 1907,[ii] claimed in 1928 that the name had been derived from the nickname of a backup center, “Bo Gator.”  Carl Van Ness, the Curator of Manuscripts for the University of Florida, added a twist to the “Bo Gator” story in 2012, claiming that the “most likely source” for the nickname was a quasi-mythical club on campus called the “Bo Gator Club.”[iii] 

But for his part, Neal “Bo Gator” Storter, who played center and was captain of the Undefeated Florida team in 1911 when the nickname “Alligators” first appeared in print, denied that he or his nickname was the source, attributing it instead to out-of-town sportswriters calling the team “Alligators” on a road trip.  He stuck with his basic story throughout his life, although he vacillated on the location, first saying it happened before a game against Mercer College in Macon, Georgia in 1910 (sometimes reported as a game against the University of Georgia in 1911[iv]) and later changing his story to South Carolina in 1911.[v]

Storter’s version of the story agrees with the contemporary reporting showing the earliest examples of “Alligators” in print following their game in Columbia, South Carolina in 1911.  As for the version of the story claiming it happened at University of Georgia, Florida didn’t play a game there in 1910 or 1911.[vi] 

The other stories have more glaring problems. 


Miller’s Tale

The “most commonly accepted version”[vii] is Miller’s tale.  Phillip Miller (or his son Austin) supposedly coined the name in Virginia in 1907 while ordering school pennants to sell in his shop located near the University in Gainesville, Florida.  In later retellings of the story, they are said to have selected the team colors of blue and orange colors at the same time, because they were cheap and available in Virginia since they were the colors of the University of Virginia. 

Phillip Miller’s life and career in and around Gainesville, Florida before, during and after 1911 i fairly well documented in the archives of local newspapers.  But his connection to the University of Florida’s nickname did not appear in print until 1948, nearly four decades after the University of Florida became the “Gators.” 

Miller’s alleged role in the coining of the name was first laid out in an article in the Jacksonville Times-Union.  The story was reprinted, at least in part, in the Tampa Tribune. 

An Oldtime Florida Football Fan, who has seen most of the Gators’ games for the past 30 years, sends in a clipping from the Times-Union giving an account of the acquisition of the team nickname, something that few University of Florida alumni knew.

It reads in part:

“A Jacksonville lawyer ‘christened’ the University of Florida’s football team 41 years ago when he gave a pennant-designing firm in Charlottesville, Va., the spur-of-the-moment suggestion of ‘The Alligators.’

“Austin Miller, who has practiced law here since shortly after his graduation from the University of Virginia in 1910, yesterday recalled the circumstances surrounding the choice of a name for Florida University’s athletic teams.  It happened in the Fall of 1907, a year after the University at Gainesville had fielded its first football team.

“Miller, a native of Gainesville, was enrolled in the University of Virginia at the time and was visited by his father, Phillip Miller, a Gainesville merchant.  The elder Miller, who died nine years ago, then owned and operated a combination drug store and stationery store in Gainesville, a popular rendezvous for university students.

“While in Charlottesville the father decided to order some pennants and banners for the University of Florida from the Michie Company, which was engaged in the manufacture of such items.  The Millers went to the firm, where they were shown samples of pennants which featured the Yale bulldog, the Princeton tiger and other school emblems.  When the manager asked for Florida’s emblem, the Millers realized the school had none.

“Austin Miller said the name ‘Alligators’ occurred to him as a suitable emblem, both because the Michie manager said no other school had adopted it and because the alligator was native to this state.  ‘I had no idea it would stick, or even be popular with the student body,’ Miller said.  ‘We wanted to get the Michie firm started on the pennants as quickly as possible, though, so they would be available in time for the opening of the 1908 school term.’”

The Tampa Tribune, August 26, 1948, page 15.

A shorter version of the story from a decade later suggests that the team colors had already been determined before the name was chosen in 1907.

It was a Gainesville druggist who named Florida the Gators.  The college pennant craze raged in 1908, and Phillip Miller ordered Florida pennants from the Michie company.  They had none, and asked Miller for the school colors and emblem.  Florida had colors, but no emblem, so Miller proposed the alligator. It stuck.

Fort Lauderdale News, December 30, 1955, page 6.

Pat Dooley’s 100 Things Florida Football Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (Chicago, Triumph Books, 2013, page 81), on the other hand, maintains that “there seems to be a consensus that the colors orange and blue came from that meeting at the Michie Company.  Because Virginia had those same colors, those choices were the most plentiful.”  But Dooley does not explain who came to that consensus or why.  It is possible that the “consensus” is simply hindsight speculation based on the coincidence that Virginia and Florida have the same colors. 

The “consensus,” however, conflicts with contemporary evidence that the school colors had already been selected before Phillip Miller ever purchased his store. 

Phillip Miller owned a “book and stationers” shop within walking of the University.  It sold books and magazines, had a large soda fountain and a small Ferris wheel.[viii]  It appears to have been just the kind of place that might easily have become a college hangout, and where one might buy a school pennant.

Phillip Miller’s son, Austin, studied law at the University of Virginia, which is located in Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of the Michie Publishing Company.  As the owner of a “book and stationer’s” shop, it would make sense for Phillip Miller to take a meeting with a major publishing company located near his son’s school.  But that’s where the story starts to fall apart.

Long before purchasing his book store/soda fountain near the university, Phillip Miller operated a wholesale and retail grocery store located at the southeast corner of East Main and Liberty Streets[ix] (now University Avenue[x]) in Gainesville.  He operated the grocery story for more than twenty years, beginning in the 1870s, before “retiring” from the business for health reasons in about 1897.  Either feeling better or simply not enjoying the sedentary lifestyle, he went back into business in 1898, but this time in “the stationery business.”[xi]

Miller left Gainesville in 1904, moving to Jacksonville, where he became a partner in at least two business ventures; a real estate investment firm with fellow Gainesvillian B. F. Hampton,[xii] and in a grocery business with the best grocery store name since (well, actually before) Piggly Wiggly – Miller and Mallard wholesale grocers.[xiii] 

Phillip Miller moved back to Gainesville in 1906, apparently to take advantage of the improved economic prospects of the city due to the new university.  In 1905, the state of Florida had passed the Buckman Act, consolidating four separate state-run schools into a single school, to be located in Gainesville and called the University of Florida.  One predecessor institution, the East Florida Seminary, had been located in Gainesville.  Another, the Florida Agricultural College in Lake City had already been known as the “University of Florida” for two years before consolidation.  The two other predecessor schools were the South Florida Military College (or Academy) in Bartow, and the Industrial and Normal School inTalahassee.

Three predecessor schools, East Florida Seminary, Florida Agricultural (or the University of Florida), and South Florida Military, had fielded football teams.  Tallahassee Industrial and Normal had a baseball team, but does not seem to have had a football team.  None of those teams seems to have had a nickname or mascot, so the University of Florida did not inherit its nickname from one of its predecessor schools.

With Gainesville property poised to increase in value, Phillip Miller purchased a large tract of land in North Gainesville in early 1906.

The vote of the joint Board of Control and State Educational Board decided long ago that Gainesville should have the University, but those who opposed the measure sought refuge and protection from the Supreme Court, with the Buckman bill as a shield, with the result that the decision was made in favor of the bill, and as a consequence Gainesville has won honorably the honors which were originally conferred.

. . . [A]mong the most important within the past few days was the sale of the James Proud place, comprising thirty-five acres, and owned by M. B. Saunders, to Phillip Miller.  This is one of the prettiest, most fertile and most desirable places in this ection, and friends of Mr. Miller are congratulating him upon the purchase.

Gainesville Daily Sun, January 4, 1906, page 11.

Six months later, Miller signaled his intent to move back to Gainesville, where he was apparently still well known and well liked.

Phillip Miller, who has been engaged in business in Jacksonville for the past two years, has disposed of all his interests there, and is now looking for a new location.  Inasmuch as Mr. Miller is well known and has valuable property interests here, he will no doubt decide to remain permanently.  His friends, and the citizens generally, would be glad to welcome him again.

Gainesville Daily Sun, July 12, 1906, page 16.

This time, he bought a smaller lot in town on Liberty Street (now University Avenue), the same street where his old Gainesville grocery store had been located. 

Phillip Miller, who has lots of confidence in Gainesville and its people and future, has purchased a valuable lot on West Liberty street. 

Gainesville Daily Sun, July 29, 1906, page 3.

Six months later, Miller was looking to open a new book and stationery store.  But instead of opening a new store, he bought out the “stock and fixtures” of an existing store.  The deal apparently closed in the first week of 1907.

Phillip Miller, having purchased the stock and fixtures of A. L. Vidal & Co., booksellers and stationers, proposes to devote his personal time to the management of this resort.  Mr. Miller, who intended to open a new place about the 15th inst., had ordered an up-to-date sanitary soda fountain of the handsomest and latest design.  He will install this fountain in place of the one now in use, which is also a handsome one, and the fountain now in use is for sale.  The stock of Vidal & Co., which has been advertised at greatly reduced prices for the past month, will continue to be sold that way, in order to make room for the large line of new goods which had been ordered by Mr. Miller, and which have already been shipped.  This line comprises books, fancy goods, souvenirs, cut glass, and in fact everything usually found in a first-class book and stationery store.  Now is the time to buy if you want bargains.

Gainesville Daily Sun, January 4, 1907, page 3.

His new store was centrally located “on the north side of the courthouse square,”[xiv] which today would be on the north side of University Avenue, between Main and 1st Streets.  As the streets were named at the time, however, it would have been on the north side of West Liberty Street, between West Main and East Main.  It was very close to the corner of “East Main and Liberty” streets where his grocery store had been located nearly a decade earlier.  As the city was then laid out, the courthouse square was situated between West Main (now Main Street) and East Main (now 1st Street) on the south side of Liberty Street, now known as University Avenue.  Efforts to rename Liberty Street in honor of the new school were already underway when Miller bought Vidal’s store.[xv]

Gainesville, Florida, Sanborn Map Company 1922, HistoricMapWorks.com.


The timing of the opening of Miller’s store disproves the team-color variant of Miller’s tale.  The day after the news broke about Miller buying out Vidal, an article recounting the 1906 football season and looking forward to their prospects in 1907, revealed that the colors of blue and orange were already established as the school colors before Miller took over as new owner.  

The University News, January 5, 1907, page 5.

Carl Van Ness, the University of Florida archivist, however, entertained the possibility that the color portion of the story was true.  He wrote that “in 1907, most people thought the school colors were Blue and Gold, and they well have been.  Others thought the colors were Blue and Orange.  If Miller ordered Blue and Orange pennants in 1907, he may have influenced the decision to go with orange over gold in 1910.”[xvi] 

In addition to the several references to the school colors as “blue and orange,” there are a few references to the school colors being “blue and gold” or “blue and yellow,” but not many.  And in any case, the school colors of “Blue and Orange” as described in the January 1907 headline in the University News came straight from the horse’s mouth.  The article was written by the team captain Roy Corbett, who also served as the sports editor for the student newspaper, The University News. 

The timing of Phillip Miller’s son Austin’s enrollment at the University of Virginia Law School also disproves the school-color element of the story, and may cast doubt on the pennant-ordering story in its entirety.  Although Austin Miller would eventually study law at the University of Virginia Law School,[xvii] he was still enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of the South, at Sewanee, Tennessee when his father purchased his bookstore in January of 1907, and was still enrolled there as late as October of 1907.

Austin Miller, after a pleasant visit to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Phillip Miller, in this city, expects to make his departure today for Sewanee, Tenn., where he will resume his studies at the University of Sewanee.

Gainesville Daily Sun, June 27, 1907, page 8.

Mrs. Phillip Miller and daughter, Miss Mercedes, are at home again after spending some time at Sewanee, Tenn., where the former’s son, Austin, is attending college.

Gainesville Daily Sun, October 4, 1907, page 8.

But change was in the offing.  It was announced the following day.


Austin Miller, a Gainesville boy of whom all Gainesville feels proud, has entered the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where he will finish his education. . . . [He] has been a student of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tenn. for the past three or four years.

Gainesville Daily Sun, October 5, 1907, page 2.

The timing of the move seems unconventional.  He left for Tennessee in June, and his mother visited him there in early-October.  It is not clear whether he was announcing in October that he would attend Virginia the following semester, or whether he was pulling up stakes immediately to head off to Virginia, in what would presumably (at least by modern standards) be in the middle of an academic semester. 

Assuming he was still in Tennessee when his mother and sister reportedly visited him in October, the earliest possible date that Phillip Miller could have visited his son at school in Virginia (assuming he moved immediately) would have been some time after early-October of 1907.

A second reference to University’s colors which appeared at about the same time confirms that orange blue were firmly established as traditional school colors before Austin Miller enrolled at the University of Virginia Law School, again disproving the school-colors aspect of Miller’s tale.

A Brilliant Reception Given to University Community by the Baptist Young People.

A few married ladies served most delicious orange sherbet and cake, in blue saucers, thus carrying out the University colors of orange and blue.

Gainesville Daily Sun, October 13, 1907, page 2.

A final factor weighing against Miller’s tale is that the Michie Publishing Company of Charlottesville, Virginia published primarily legal digests, case reporters, legal treatises and the occasional history book; on the surface an odd place from which to order pennants.  They also appear to have published various publications for the University of Virginia, however, so it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they also handled the occasional fan souvenirs, so it remains a possibility.[xviii]  

University of Virginia Alumni News, Volume 5, Number 1, September 22, 1916.

There is, however, no evidence that it ever happened.  The Curator of Manuscripts and Archives for the University of Florida, for example, wrote that although “we have a number of photographs of people holding pennants from that time period” he had “never seen a Gator on a pennant.”[xix]

We could accept Austin Miller’s word for it.  As a Jacksonville attorney, his word would be his bond (isn’t that what they say about attorneys?).  But as someone who shot a police officer four times (not fatal) and nearly got away with it, and who enjoyed a reputation for whipping his classmates, perhaps we should be more cautious. 

Austin Miller shot a policeman four times without any legal consequences because chivalry was not dead.  The shooting was even celebrated in the press at the time.  He was, after all, defending his mother’s sacred honor. 

Terre Haute, Ind., Aug. 7. – Austin Miller, 19 years old, shot and wounded Lon Howe, a night watchman, at Winona, last night, for making remarks derogatory to his mother. . . .

Miller had been spending the winter months at Gainesville, Fla., where his parents had a cottage.  The young man is a student of the University of Virginia, where he is taking a law course.  He always has shown pronounced affection for his mother, and during his younger school days is said to have had much trouble with schoolmates because of his custom of whipping every boy who spoke ill of a girl. . . .

Howe is one of the police officers of Winona Lake and should have been among the last to cast remarks, and the lesson of young Miller is commended by a large number here who are glad that he will experience no trouble in getting out of the difficulty.

The Ocala Evening Star, August 7, 1909, page 1.


The shooting occurred at 11 o’clock last night at a lonely bridge in Winona and was not reported to officers here until 6 o’clock in the morning.  The youth had accused Howe of making remarks about Mrs. Miller touching upon her character.

Her son bought a blacksnake whip and met the officer on the bridge with the intention of giving him a whipping such, as he said, “men got for such offenses in the South.”  The officer was in the act of lighting a cigar when Miller ordered him to throw up his hands and be whipped.

Howe refused and is said to have tried to draw his revolver.  Miller abandoned the whip and drew a revolver, firing quickly, the bullet piercing the officer’s right shoulder.

Miller fired again three times, the next shot striking the officer’s left shoulder, the next nipping his ear and the last grazing his breast and striking against his watch.

Miller then produced a paper, which he forced Howe to sign.  This paper denied the statements said to have been made by Howe.

This signed, Miller walked Howe to his home and placed him on a porch and went for a surgeon, whom he took part way back to the Howe home.

Oklahoma City Daily Pointer, August 5, 1909, page 3.


Young Miller, who has only recently graduated from a university of law, was in the Indiana town taking a special course, spending the time with his mother and sister, and it was some careless remark made by the officer about Mrs. Miller that led to the shooting.

Gainesville Daily Sun, August 9, 1909, page 2.

Despite early reports that he would escape punishment, he would eventually be sentenced to ten days in prison and paid a $300 – but he did it for his mother.

Daily News-Democrat (Huntington, Indiana), January 5, 1910, page 7.

Several details in the story are curious.  Austin Miller was 19 or 20 in August 1909, which would have made him about 17 or 18 years old in October of 1907 when he left Tennessee for law school in Virginia.  He also reportedly graduated from law school before the shooting in August of 1909, suggesting he spent less than two years in law school.  He wouldn’t pass the bar exam in Florida until 1912, and when he did, the report of his admission to the bar described him as one of “twenty-one graduates of the law departments of Stetson and the University of Florida,”[xx] generating more questions about what sort of education he received at the University of Virginia. 

None of which bears directly on his story about the origin of the University of Florida’s nickname, but it does provide a colorful backdrop to the now-mostly discredited story.  Absent better evidence to the contrary, the inconsistencies between Miller’s origin story and the written record seem too much to overcome.


Corbett’s Tale

The most commonly repeated version of the origin story is Corbett’s tale.  Corbett said the name was derived from a substitute center named Neal “Bo Gator” Storter.  Later retellings added more detail, tying Storter’s nickname to a popular school cheer, “Go Gator,” and even describing the particular play that inspired the name, a fumble recovery which Storter ran for a touchdown with the crowd yelling, “Bo Gator’s got the ball. Go Gator!” 

The story first appeared in print in 1928, when Roy Corbett, captain of the University of Florida’s 1906 football team, sent a telegram to the team, encouraging them to beat the Tennessee Volunteers, and explaining his version of how and why the University of Florida became the Gators.

Incidentally ‘Gators came from nickname given substitute center (Bogator Storter).  This boy, who had his first train ride coming to Gainesville – he didn’t know what a football was – finished school as captain of the varsity.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tennessee), December 7, 1928, page 25.

In the 1950s, a sports correspondent for the Tampa Tribune gave a similar explanation, with the addition detail that Storter’s nickname was also tied to the “popular cheer, ‘Go Gator.’”

The popular cheer, “Go Gator” is attributed to Storter, for it’s actually a distortion of his college nickname, “Bo Gator,” tagged to him by students because he hailed from Everglade, a city in the heart of the Glades.

Tampa Tribune, May 19, 1951, page 11.

Additional details were more than a decade later, describing the particular play that inspired the cheer and the name.  The new version of the story made its way into several newspapers in 1966, from the book, Go Gators!, written by a graduate of Florida State University named Arthur Cobb (it’s OK Gator fans, he also did graduate work at the University of Florida).[xxi] 

In 1907 when a slow-moving football player finally got into a game, picked up a fumble and lumbered down the field.

His name was Neal S. Storter – nicknamed Bo Gator because he came from the Everglades where alligators abounded.

When Bo picked up the fumble the fans were as surprised as he.

“Look! Bo Gator’s got the ball!” they yelled. And then as Bo started to run, a mass yell:

“Go Gator!”

And 59 years later Florida fans are still saying: “Go Gators!”


Pensacola News Journal, August 4, 1966, page 1.

Like Miller’s tale, Corbett’s story has a good pedigree, coming from an early University of Florida football captain.  But the story also has problems. 

For starters, the story is premised on the idea that the team’s original nickname was “Gators,” from “Bo Gator.”  But the earliest examples of the team’s nickname in print refer to the longer form, “Alligators,” which is not what one would expect if the name were derived directly from “Bo Gator.”

Furthermore, Corbett’s last year with Florida was 1907.  He left the school for good in December of 1907,[xxii] so he could not have been an eyewitness to the nickname being coined at a later date.  But if it happened in 1907, when he and Storter were both at the school, it would have happened years before the name appeared in print, and years before the student body changed the name of the school paper from Pennant to Alligator.  Ironically, perhaps, Roy Corbett was the first sports editor of the Pennant when it was founded in 1907.[xxiii]  He had also contributed sports stories to the occasionally published University News in 1906 and 1907.  The five issues of the University News available on Newspapers.com newspaper archive (as of this writing) are all dated before Storter arrived on campus, and do not reflect use of the nickname. 

Finally, Storter himself denies the story.

But true or not, the story of the history of the Storter family and “Bo Gator’s” career at the University of Florida provides a colorful backdrop touching on the histories of the southern Gulf coast of Florida and the University of Florida.

Storter’s Tale

George W. Storter’s Trading Post, circa 1917, Wikimedia.org.

Storter’s father, George W. Storter, was variously described as the “merchant prince of Everglade”[xxiv] and a “hotel and store-keeper of the place, an old-timer in the region and one of the best friends of the Seminole Indians.”[xxv]  George Storter settled in Everglade, Florida in the 1880s, and prospered with a lucrative sugar cane and cane-syrup business. [xxvi] He also operated a hotel and retail store, and offered surveying[xxvii] and hunting guide[xxviii] services.  In 1919, he “made one of the most remarkable trips ever undertaken in Florida – walking from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic ocean over the approximate proposed route of the Tamiami Trail.”[xxix]  

George Storter also dabbled in alligator hides.  In 1898, he sent two shipments of alligator hides to New York City.[xxx]  Hi son, “Bo Gator,” may have earned his nickname honestly. 

In Roy Corbett’s version of the “Bo Gator” origin story, he described Storter as some kind of a rube, because he took his first train ride when he went to college, but that characterization is likely unfair.   The town of Everglade may have been relatively isolated at the time, but it was not detached from the rest of the world.  The Storter family ran a small shipyard in Everglade,[xxxi] which handled shipments passing through Key West, Tampa, and other ports. 

The Storters even operated their own sailing yacht or schooner, the Ethel Q., which plied the waters of the Gulf coast carrying tourists, passengers and cargo up and down the Gulf coast of Florida for more than a decade.  Captain R. B. Storter (presumably Neal’s brother) “ran boats between Everglades and Fort Myers and Key West.”[xxxii]

A brief account of the history of Naples, Florida described the boat’s importance to life in the region.

Stability for the future was the motto of the late E. W. Crayton, generally conceded to have been “boss” of Naples during his lifetime.  Arriving in the early days when Capt. C. N. Storter’s packet boat Ethel Q. was the only connection with Fort Myers . . . .

But always there were the little settlers and tradesmen like the Storters in the schooner trade that was vital to the survival of Naples in the early days. . . .

The Miami News, August 1, 1948, Sunday Magazine, page 11.  

References to the Ethel Q appear in newspapers in the region as early as 1902,[xxxiii] although not in conjunction with the Storters by name until 1912.[xxxiv]  Early references to the vessel in 1902 and 1905 give the name of the captain, but not the owners, and in 1908, there is a reference to it being sailed into Fort Myer by Captain Green, a “colored navigator,” but without naming the owner.  Captain Green does not appear to have been the owner, as the following week he was going to Jacksonville to sail a yacht down the coast to its owners in Miami.[xxxv]

There are no reports of Neal Storter, specifically, sailing on the Ethel Q. before attending school in 1907, but he presumably had significant early experience at sea.  Within just a few years after graduation from the University of Florida, Neal was the captain of the Ethel Q. making frequent trips back and forth between Everglade and Fort Myer.[xxxvi]  He was experience enough by 1918 that he was tapped to teach marine navigation at a school in Tampa operated by the United States Shipping Board in an effort to prepare more merchant captains for service in support of the war effort.[xxxvii] 

In 1919, Storter was captain of the S. S. Philadelphia when it burned down to the water line.  Perhaps it was that experience scared him into a desk job.  Or perhaps it was simply a better opportunity.  But by 1921, he was port captain and inspector for the Lykes shipping lines in Galveston, Texas, a company founded by the sons of a doctor from Tampa, Florida (coincidentally, a reference to their first ship, the Dr. Lykes, appeared in the same Tampa shipping report as a reference to a cargo consigned to G. W. Storter in 1900.[xxxviii]).  Storter enjoyed a long career with the Lykes Bros. Steamship Company, eventually managing its new Brownsville, Texas offices in 1950,[xxxix] and was still listed as a “consultant” to the company in 1962.[xl]  He died in Brownsville in 1979.[xli]

Neal Storter first arrived in Gainesville in 1907,[xlii] when he would have been about 17 years old.[xliii]  Roy Corbett’s last year with the team was in 1907, so it is possible that they could have played together during that one season.  But Storter was not technically enrolled as a university student during his first year.  He was enrolled in the “sub-freshman” class,[xliv] a college preparatory course run by University “maintained solely to prepare students for entrance to the colleges in case they have had no opportunity for preparation elsewhere.”[xlv]  It is not clear whether sub-freshmen were allowed to play football with the older, college boys. 

Neal Storter graduated from the University of Florida in 1912 with a degree in Electrical Engineering.  His electrical engineering studies would come in handy later in life as a ship’s captain, but they also came in handy as a source of extra income while in school.  State of Florida expenditure records reveal numerous payments of a few dollars at a time to “N. S. Storter” for work as an electrician during his time in school.

Neal Storter’s name first appears in connection with the team in a full roster published days before the first game of the 1909 season, against a town team called the Gainesville Tigers.  Apparently misspelled as “Starter,” he listed as a backup center behind Bill Shands.[xlvi]  He may have gotten into game as a “substitute” during a 26-0 loss to Stetson University in DeLand in 1909, a game in which a player named Baker started at center.[xlvii]  He started at center one week later, a 28-3 road win at Rollins, and stayed in the starting lineup for the remainder of his career.  In 1911, he helped flip the script at Stetson, beating them 27-0 in a rematch in DeLand, where he was one of two players who received special mention for outstanding play in a report of the game.[xlviii]

1909 University of Florida football team. Image from swampysflorida.com. 

A grainier version of this image appeared in a newspaper in 1940, on the occasion of the election to teammate Bill Shands to the Florida State Senate.  A comparison of this image to a purported graduation photograph of Neal Storter suggests that the names, as listed, may list Storter out of order.  He may be the third seated person in the middle row, not the second, who appears to be the smallest person on the team.  You be the judge (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nealstorter.jpg).

In this photograph of the 1909 “Gators” are, left to right, standing, L. E. Tenney, Jap Wagner, Rouse Skipper, Bob Pyle, Captain Ralph Rader [with ball], Pat Johnston, Barnwell Fuller, Red McMillan and Paul Parker.  Seated, in center, Bill Shands, Bo Gator Storter, Dummy Taylor, John Moody, Coach George Pyle, Jim Vidal. Bottom, George Cox, Chippy Edgerton, Bob Shakleford.

Orlando Evening Star, October 13, 1940, page 8.

By today’s standards, one might assume that Neal Storter, a three-year starting center on a major college football team, must have been a large man.  He was large relative to most of his teammates, but he tipped the scales at a mere 160 pounds during his playing days.  An account of a banquet awarding varsity letters to members of the 1910 Florida squad lists the height and weight of all of the letter winners.  Of thirteen players listed, Storter was fourth-heaviest, behind a 180, 170 and a 161-pounder.  One other player weighed 160, five in the 150s, one 140, and one each at 125 and 115 pounds.

It is not known whether Storter was as slow as some versions of the “Bo Gator” origin story suggest, but twenty years after entering school, his name[xlix] still popped up as one of the “best all-time center” for the University of Florida football team.


The Cannon’s Tale

 “Bo Gator’s” contributions to the University of Florida were not confined to the football field.  Storter was also implicated in a notorious cannon incident of 1909, in which students of the school took revenge on carnies who they believed had “swindled” them out of their money.[l]  The event is sometimes tied to the nickname origin story, although there is no indication in the story itself, or accounts of the story, that it played any role in the origin of the team’s nickname. 

A man named Carl Van Ness appears to be the responsible for connecting the “Bo Gator Club” to the “Gators’” nickname.  Carl was the Curator of Manuscripts & Archives Department for the University of Florida in 2012, when he responded to a press inquiry from the Los Angeles Times about the origin of the nickname.  Van Ness concluded that the Miller’s tale and Corbett’s tales were likely false, favoring Storter’s tale as actually jibing with the “naming of the team during a road trip to South Carolina in October of that year.”  But rather than accept Storter’s claim that the name came from the local sportswriters, Van Ness added a new twist, apparently of his own invention, to explain why the school adopted the name.

Van Ness wrote that the “most likely source for the nickname is Neal ‘Bo Gator’ Storter and a quasi-mythical student organization called the Bo Gator Club.”[li]  Apparently fictional accounts of the club and its activities (including the cannon incident of 1909) appeared in a student newspaper and the yearbook between 1907 and 1910.  But Van Ness offers no supporting evidence of anyone connecting the name of the club with the coining of the team nickname.  His acceptance of the “Bo Gator Club” story is puzzling in light of his apparent acceptance of Storter’s denial that he was the origin of the name.  One might otherwise think that denying something was named after someone would encompass a denial that the same something was named after another something named for that same someone.

In any case, there is a simpler, more plausible story available; one told by Storter himself, and which is consistent with contemporaneous accounts.  Although Storter may have wavered on the location, he always maintained that the name was first used by out-of-town sportswriters with reference to an away game; first Mercer and later the University of South Carolina. 

The earliest examples of the nickname in print appear in accounts of a game in Columbia, South Carolina following a game against the University of South Carolina, consistent with Storter’s story.  An explanation of the renaming of the student newspaper from “Pennant” to “Alligator” published less than one year later, corroborates the story, crediting the sportswriters from South Carolina with coining the name.  And finally, the earliest examples of the name in print, and the name chosen by the student body for their new weekly publication in late-1906 was “Alligator,” not “Gator,” suggesting that they were more likely influenced by “Alligator” than by a person or a club named “Bo Gator.”

It looks as though Storter may have known what he was talking about.

“Bo Gator,” Go Gators!

Epilogue – Flag not Pennant

Although the name “Alligators” can be traced to a 1911 game against the University of South Carolina, no one has explained why the University of Florida chose blue and orange for its colors.  Perhaps orange suggests the Florida citrus industry, and blue the sky or the sea, which is merely conjecture, but makes certain kind of sense.

But regardless of how or why they chose the colors, the choice was appropriate because orange and blue had a longstanding connection with the state, not as part of a pennant, but a flag – prominent colors in an early, unofficial state flag flown at the inauguration of Governor William D. Moseley when Florida gained statehood in 1845.


At his inauguration, which was attended with great pomp and civic splendor, was displayed the new state flag, consisting of five horizontal bars of blue, orange, red, white and green, bearing the significant motto, “Let us alone,” not unlike in sentiment to the “Don’t tread on me” rattlesnake emblem on the flag of the revolution, and which helped to frighten the red coats when they started out from Boston to Lexington to clear the highway of Yankee rebels . . . .

The Weekly Tribune (Tampa, Florida), September 3, 1908, page 3.

References to the flag generally state that the flag was never adopted officially by the state.  But a cursory look at the Journal of the Proceedings of the Senate of the General Assembly of the State of Florida (1845), suggest that a flag with the motto “Let Us Alone” was “received and adopted as the Flag of the State of Florida, by the House of Representatives at the commencement of this session,” and upon motion by Senator Broward, adopted by the Senate by a vote of 8-5 on December 27, 1845.[lii]  Assuming that this is the same flag known as the “Moseley flag” (other than the motto, not further description of the flag is given), the University of Florida’s colors or orange and blue have a direct connection to the founding of the state, whether intentional or not.

The flag and the motto were not without controversy.  In 1846, the state Senate voted that the “motto on the flag by the Speaker’s chair, to wit: ‘Let us alone’ be taken down, and the motto of the State, to wit: ‘In God is our trust,’ be placed in its stead.”  It is unclear whether this refers to the same flag, or to a banner with just the motto on it.  But it appears to be unilateral action on the part of the Senate applicable only to a flag by the Speaker’s chair, not a vote of both houses to become law.[liii]  Senate records refer to a “flag of the state” in 1852, which may or may not have been the same flag, although there does not seem to have been any other flag it could have been.

Let the historians quibble over whether the bill was ever finally approved or adopted by whatever procedure was in place at the time, but the Governor, House and Senate seemed to have approved of it at some time or the other, so it would not be a stretch to consider the Moseley flag as the first flag of the State of Florida.  The “blue and orange” of the University of Florida therefore hearken back to the earliest days of Florida statehood, whether that was the intent or not.

[i] Sincere apologies to Geoffrey Chaucer.

[ii] In a letter to the editor about the early use of the forward pass at the University of Florida football team, Roy Corbett mentioned that he played in 1906 and captained the 1907 team. Spokane Chronicle, November 25, 1954, page 41.

[iii] “Did the Florida Gator Originate at the University of Virginia?” Brian Cronin, latimesblogs.latimes.com/sports_blog, February 1, 20012.

[v] “Did the Florida Gator Originate at the University of Virginia?” Cronin, latimesblogs.latimes.com (quoting Carl Van Ness, the Curator of Manuscripts and Archives Department for the University of Florida, “Storter pinned the name to a 1910 football game with the Mercer Bears in 1298 . . . .  [H] e later placed the headline in South Carolina in 1911.”).

[vi] In 1911, the University of Florida tallied two home wins in Gainesville against The Citadel and Columbia College, two road wins at Clemson and Stetson, a win on a neutral field in Jacisonville over the College of Charleston, and a tie on the road at the University of South Carolina.

[vii] Pat Dooley, 100 Things Florida Football Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, Chicago, Triumph Books, 2013, page 81.

[viii] Gainesville Daily Sun, September 11, 1907, page 8.

[ix] Alachua County, its Resources and Advantages, Gainesville, Daily Sun Print, 1898, page unnumbered (Advertisement for “O’Donald & Saunders, (Successors to Phillip Miller & Co.), Wholesale and Retail Dealers in Fancy and Staple Groceries,” located at “South-East Corner East Main and Liberty Streets.”). 

[x] The Miami News, November 14, 1912, page 4 (“The heavy wagons of the show did considerable damage to west University avenue formerly known as West Liberty street.”).

[xi] Ocala Evening Star, February 23, 1898, page 2 (“Phillip Miller, an old time and successful merchant of Gainesville, who for more than twenty years dealt in hardware and groceries, and retired from business, on account of ill health, is again about to embark in the stationery business.”).

[xii] Ocala Evening Star, November 29, 1904, page 3 (“Phillip Miller and B. F. Hampton of Gainesville will start a new realty firm in Jacksonville, with a capital of $50,000.”).

[xiii] Gainesville Star, August 23, 1904, page 1 (“Phillip Miller, of Jacksonville, spent Saturday in the city.  Mr. Miller is a member of the Miller and Mallard Grocery Company, an important wholesale grocery concern of Jacksonville.”).  The firm was still referred to as Miller & Mallard in a 1905 report of a robbery at the store (Pensacola News, June 24, 1905, page 1), but Miller had apparently left the company before August of 1906, when a news item referred to it as “Porter & Mallard” (Gainesville Daily Sun, August 3, 1906, page 8).

[xiv] Gainesville Daily Sun, January 4, 1907, page 2.

[xv] Gainesville Daily Sun, December 13, 1906, page 10 (“Alderman Hodges, of the Street committee, introduced a resolution requesting that the city attorney prepare an ordinance changing the name of Liberty street and Alchua avenue to University avenue.”).

[xvi] “Did the Florida Gator Originate at the University of Virginia?” Brian Cronin, latimesblogs.latimes.com/sports_blog, February 1, 20012.

[xvii] Gainesville Daily Sun, September 14, 1909, page 8.

[xviii] A Los Angeles Times sports blog post, published in 2012, asserts that Michie did, in fact, produce “school pennants and various other school regalia (banners and the like).”  But the post does not cite a source for the information, so it is unclear whether they were merely repeating an element of the story first told by Austin Miller, or whether they confirmed it by independent research.  “Did the Florida Gator originate at the University of Virginia?”

[xix] “Did the Florida Gator Originate at the University of Virginia?” Cronin, latimesblogs.latimes.com.

[xx] Pensacola News Journal, June 16, 1912, page 10 (“The regular June examinations for admission to the bar held by the supreme court of the state have been concluded and the results announced. . . . the court gave certificates to twenty-one graduates of the law departments of Stetson and the University of Florida . . . .  The names of the successful applicants in the examination this week [included] A. Austin Miller, Gainesville. . . .”).

[xxi] Arthur Cobb, Go Gators! Official History, University of Florida Football, 1889-1966, Pensacola, Sunshine Publishing Company, 1966.

[xxii] Gainesville Daily Sun, December 26, 1907, page 8 (“Roy Corbett, for the past two terms a student at the University, left Sunday morning for his home in Jacksonville.  The many friends of this justly popular young man with regret to learn that he will not return to the University the present year.”).

[xxiii] Gainesville Daily Sun, October 27, 1907, page 3.

[xxiv] The Tampa Tribune, January 13, 1910, page 9.

[xxv] Ales Hrdlicka, The Anthropology of Florida, Deland, Florida, The Society, 1922, page 34.

[xxvi] News-Press (Fort Meyers, Florida), January 25, 1919, page 1 (“At Everglade, George W. Storter settled a little over 30 years ago and for 30 years has grown sugar cane and produced syrup on the same soil without an ounce of fertilizer and without any cultivation, except the first year.”).

[xxvii] The Tampa Times, April 21, 1913, page 7 (“Mr. [G. W.] Storter, so it is rumored, will take charge of the surveying for the new railroad to be built by W. G. Langford, Harry McCormack and associates from their large grove at Deep Lake to Turner’s river on the coast.”).

[xxviii] The Tampa Tribune, February 5, 1910, page 5 (“Capt. W. C. Harilee, of the United States marine corps [and others] have returned from a trip of several days’ hunting in the Everglades.  George W. Storter acted as guide and director for the party and all the members report a very pleasant time.”).

[xxix] The Miami News, August 6, 1921, page 2.

[xxx] The Weekly Tribune (Tampa), April 15, 1898, page 4 (“G. W. Storter, one of the hunters arrived here yesterday in a schooner with a cargo of alligator skins which he sold for $500 for shipment to New York.  A short time ago he shipped a cargo from Key West to New York, and received $1,000 for the hides.”).

[xxxi] Weekly Tribune (Tampa, Florida), May 2, 1907, page 2 (“Mr. Storter, in addition to his store, shipyard, etc., operates an immense sugar cane plantation . . . .”).

[xxxii] The Miami Herald, October 27, 1968, page 4D.

[xxxiii] The Punta Gorda Herald (Punta Gorda, Florida), May 23, 1902, page 3 (“Dr. J. S. Wade . . . took an excursion in Capt. Hall’s fine yacht, the ‘Ethel Q,’ to the passes and islands below and for two days had a royal time.”).

[xxxiv] News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida), February 12, 1912, page 3 (R. Storter is on his way to Fort Myers, in the Ethel Q, with a cargo of freight from [Everglade].).

[xxxv] The Punta Gorda Herald (Punta Gorda, Florida), January 2, 1908, page 5 (“Capt. E. Green, the colored navigator, last week took the yacht Ethyl Q around to Orange river and put her on Menge Brothers’ ways.  He goes to Jacksonville, Saturday, to bring the new yacht Celia down to Miami, where she will be boarded by her owners . . . .”).

[xxxvi] News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida), November 20, 1916, page 4 (“The Ethel Q., Capt. Neal Storter, has arrived in port from Everglade and will remain here until Tuesday.”).

[xxxvii] The Tampa Tribune, August 7, 1918, page 11.

[xxxviii] The Tampa Tribune, March 31, 1900, page 3 (“The Bertie Lee, hailing from Chockaluskee, in Lee county, came in yesterday with a cargo of cabbage, beets, lemons and tomatoes.  She will load with general merchandise, and sail to-day for Everglade, in the same county.  Her cargo is consigned to G. W. Storter . . . . The Dr. Lykes, a cattle schooner owned by Dr. Lykes and Mr. W. H. Towles of this city, came in yesterday”).

[xxxix] The Monitor (McAllen, Texas), November 30, 1950, page 15.

[xl] Austin American (Austin, Texas), May 4, 1962, page 21.

[xli] News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida), November 3, 1979, page 18.

[xlii] The Tampa Tribune, December 31, 1907, page 3 (“Neal Storter, who has been attending the Univesity of Florida, at Gainesville, arrived in the city a few days ago and has gone to the home of his parents at Everglade, to spend the holidays.”).

[xliii] An article published in December 1910 gave his age as 20 years old. Miami News, December 8, 1910, page 5.

[xliv] The University of the State of Florida, Catalogue 1907-’08 and Announcements 1908-’09, Gainesville, Florida, May, 1908, page 100.

[xlv]  University of Florida Catalogue 1909-10 Announcements 1910-11, Gainesville, Florida, [1910], page 127.

[xlvi] Gainesville Daily Sun, October 8, 1909, page 2 (“The following is the line-up for the University team: Johnston or McCormick, right end; Rader, Capt., right tackle; Cox or Mizelle, right guard; Shands, Starter, center; McMIllan, left guard; Skipper, left tackle; Moody or Pyles, left end; Shackleford, quarter-back; Taylor, E. A., right half-back; Vidal, full-back; Tenney or Fuller, left half-back; G. Taylor, Waggoner, Powers, Rush, Baker, substitutes.”).

[xlvii] DeLand News, November 12, 1909, page 4.

[xlviii] The Tampa Tribune, November 12, 1911, page 23 (“Taylor, Florida’s brilliant half back, played his usual game as did Storter at center for the winners.”).

[xlix] Pensacola News Journal, November 27, 1927, page 13.

[l] “UFFlashback, The Cannon Incident of 1909, a Fable Records this Early Student Prank,” Carl Van Ness (MA ’85), Florida, News for Alumni and Friends of the University of Florida, Volume 7, Number 1, Summer 2006, page 7.

[li] “Did the Florida Gator Originate at the University of Virginia?” Brian Cronin, latimesblogs.latimes.com/sports_blog, February 1, 20012.

[lii] Journal of the Proceedings of the Senate of the General Assembly of the State of Florida, Tallahassee, Office of the Florida Sentinel, 1845, pages 170, 199 and 200.

[liii] Journal of the House of Representatives of the Second General Assembly of the State of Florida, at its First Session, Tallahassee, Southern Journal Office, 1846, page 95.

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