What's the matter with Dixie?

UTAH

What's in a name? If the name is Dixie State College, based in St. George, Utah, it's nothing to sneeze at. Recently, as the college began moving closer to becoming a university, locals saw this as the perfect opportunity to sever any connection to the South's history of slavery and racism. Defenders countered that the name most likely derived from pioneer attempts to grow cotton in southwest Utah. Besides, they say, hundreds of local businesses pride themselves on the so-called "Dixie Spirit" of friendliness. Perhaps the name has good intentions, but as the daily Spectrum pointed out, the history of the college also includes hosting mock slave auctions, flying Confederate flags and erecting a statue honoring Confederate soldiers.

Spectrum columnist Sally Musemeche talked to lots of people about the issue, and many were baffled and saddened that anyone would be offended by such things, or by a sports team named "The Dixie Rebels." "Only the over-sensitive" could possibly read racism into this, they said; Dixie really means "the spirit of independence." If that's true, Musemeche suggested, then the college ought to start celebrating the state's own civil war - an armed confrontation between the Mormon settlers in the Utah territory and the armed forces of the U.S. government, which lasted from May 1857 until July 1858: "Go, Dixie!"

THE WEST

Speaking of names, how about the high school in Tonopah, Nev., that calls its basketball team the "Fighting Muckers"? Or Orofino, Idaho, with its team dubbed the "Maniacs"? As reader Wes Perrin discovered, unusual names for high school teams are a Western staple, with Phantoms, Blue Devils and Sun Devils standing out from all those Huskies and Eagles. But we believe the most unusual name can be found in Yuma, Ariz., where basketball players don warm-up suits in black-and-white stripes because their team is called the "Criminals." Students buy merchandise from a store called the Cell Block, reports the San Francisco Examiner, and the team mascot wears a burlap prison uniform and a plaster-of-Paris head with a scary, scrunched-up face that resembles somebody's notion of a perpetrator. The odd name was born 103 years ago, when Yuma's high school burned down, and the only available site for classes was a former territorial prison. Students used the old cells for several years, but the Criminals name was officially adopted in 1913, after a rival team from Phoenix claimed that Yuma cheated and "stole a victory." The team decided to treat the slur as a badge of honor, and in 1917, the school board officially approved the distinctive moniker. Perrin notes that for several years, the Criminals - cheered on with a hearty, "Go, Crims!" - faced a rival in the felon department: Bagdad, Ariz., fielded the "Thieves" until 1958, when the team's name was changed to the less interesting "Sultans."

CALIFORNIA

It read like one of the sweetest wildlife stories ever - the tale of an orphaned bobcat that was too darned nice. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the affectionate bobcat kitten - known as Chips - was found in the burning Plumas National Forest, a surprising survivor at only a few weeks old. Soon Chips had adapted to humans so completely that biologists doubted that she could survive in the wild. So volunteers at the Sierra Wildlife Rescue in Placerville have begun squirting her with water whenever she cuddles up to a human; the couch is now verboten for naps; and Chips must chase down her own mice and rabbits or go hungry. The hope is that all this tough love toughens up Chips, though the fact that she's alive at all bodes well for the bobcat.

"How it survived with the fire passing through is miraculous," said Forest Service spokesman John Heil.

ARIZONA

Talk about an ick factor! Northern Arizona's Snowbowl ski resort recently fired up its guns to spray some fake snow, and to the horror of all concerned, "the snow that blasted onto the mountain was yellow," reports The New York Times. But the snow was not yellow because it is the first in the world to be made completely from sewage effluent. No, the problem was caused by "rusty residue" in the snowmaking equipment that carries wastewater from Flagstaff, at least according to the resort. Skiers tried out the artificial snow, and although at least one found the yellow surface "disgusting," he said he was also confident that it would discourage him from making any face-plants.

For years, tribes that regard the area as sacred and other critics have fought the resort's continuing development and sued to prevent the use of treated sewage for snowmaking. Now, they said, the Forest Service and state needed to do some investigating and find out exactly what had turned the snow yellow.

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, an op ed service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western weirdness from readers are always appreciated at betsym@hcn.org.

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