Indian Head t-shirt

This one-of-a-kind T-shirt shows a drawing of an Indian brave similar to the linoleum inlay of an Indian brave that was in the floor of the former Napa High School building for more than 60 years. The original inlay is now on display in the current business office of Napa High School.

A few weeks ago, while rummaging through a seldom used drawer in a bedroom dresser, I came upon several long-forgotten monogrammed T-shirts. I had never worn any of them.

Two of the shirts were Navy blue with the words “Napa Union High School Alumni Association” in a bright gold color.

A third shirt was white with the words “Napa High Alumni Association” and a colorful drawing of an Indian brave in the center.

There is a story behind the shirts. It begins more than 20 years ago and involves a linoleum inlay of an Indian brave in the floor of a hallway in that majestic building on the corner of Lincoln and Jefferson. The building was once home to Napa High School and is now headquarters of Napa Valley Unified School District.

The inlay was in front of the doors to the auditorium. From its emplacement in the 1930s through the 1950s, when students finally completed a move from the old building to the current campus, there was an unwritten code that forbade walking on “the Indian.” Punishment for violating the code was scrubbing the inlay with a toothbrush.

In the six years that I attended classes in that building (three years at Napa Junior High and three years at Napa High) I never once saw anybody walk on it.

Once the students were gone, the code was forgotten and, for several decades, the coveted Indian was trampled and abused and pierced by ladies’ spike heels. Former students were upset at its condition.

Finally, a few members of the Napa High Class of 1949, at their 40th class reunion in 1989, decided to do something about the beloved Indian inlay.

Jack Ferguson, a local attorney and a member of the class of ’49, and I were on the Napa Town & Country Fair board together, and he approached me with the idea of having the Indian removed and presented to Napa High. I thought it was a great idea — if it could be done.

After obtaining tacit approval from the then-superintendent of the NVUSD, Ferguson contacted a local contractor and had the inlay carefully removed and the floor repaired. He secretly stored it at the fairgrounds while having it mounted on plywood, framed, covered with glass and a suitably engraved brass plaque attached. Ferguson and I thought that the issue was resolved.

There were some former students and employees at NVUSD who were outraged and wanted the inlay returned to its “rightful place.” On the other hand, there were those of us who felt that the Indian brave belonged to Napa High. A controversy that the Napa Valley Register featured on its front page ensued.

NVUSD, caught in the middle, called a public meeting on the issue and the late Assistant Superintendent Frank Silva acted as moderator.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Silva recommended that a Napa High alumni association be formed and to let that group decide the Indian’s fate. Both sides present agreed. Silva proposed that two acting presidents be chosen and he tasked me to represent the “It Belongs to Napa High” side and my good friend Jim Duncan to represent the “It Belongs to the Building” side.

At subsequent meetings of the fledgling alumni association, Duncan never showed up so I became the acting president. The issue of the displaced Indian brave was thoroughly discussed and finally put to a vote. The majority voted to present the Indian to Napa High. The issue was finally settled.

The Indian now hangs on the wall near the entry door of the Napa High business office.

At subsequent meetings of the association, I saw to it that bylaws were enacted and that an election of officers was held. (I was not a candidate.) Banker Jim Hedemark was the first duly-elected president of the Napa High Alumni Association.

After more than 20 years, the association is still functioning and providing funds and volunteer support to Napa High. If you are a graduate of the school and not a member, please consider joining. You can contact Carol Timmons at 707-226-7233 for information.

Oh, regarding the T-shirts, John Knezevich, a 1948 classmate of mine at Napa High, knew that I was involved in forming an alumni association so he had some sample T-shirts made and sent me the two blue shirts with the word “union” on them. John felt that the association name should include the word union because that was the school’s name when we were students. When I convinced him that it had to be just Napa High, he sent the white one with the Indian brave and omitted the word “union.” They are all one of a kind.

The shirts still fit, believe it or not. I now wear them with pride to workouts at the Queen’s Synergy Fitness Center.

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Contact Jim Ford at jwford571@gmail.com.