Prospector Pete Banned to Lower CSULB Campus

By: 
Steve Propes

California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) is in the market for a new mascot. The Imagine Beach 2030 event, on November 14-15, an online discussion of the future of the university is possibly a good time to suggest mascot names.

The bronze statue of Forty-Niner Man, otherwise known as Prospector Pete, unveiled on March 29, 1967, which served in the mascot role for the past 51-plus years, will be removed from the upper campus. 

The school’s first mascot was a mule named Nugget, relocated from the campus to Knott’s Berry Farm in 1959, when the mule bit a cheerleader on the backside. Nugget was part of the annual 49er Days that featured an old west series of storefronts, erected by various student clubs along a dirt lot on lower campus dubbed Pete’s Gulch, with businesses with names like Pete’s Hash House.

Pete’s name was taken from the school’s first president, P. Victor Peterson when it opened with 160 students and 13 full-time faculty in September 1949 in a converted apartment building in Park Estates on Anaheim Road. At the time, the connecting school traditions to the 100-year-old 1849 California gold rush was considered appropriate. All of that has changed.

There is now an awareness that CSULB has deeper indigenous roots than previously acknowledged. The current campus stands over land once occupied by the village of Puvungna, a site sacred to the Tongva Tribe.

In September, CSULB President Jane Close Conoley said, “we came to know that the 1849 California gold rush was a time in history when the indigenous peoples of California endured subjugation, violence and threats of genocide.”

As a consequence, a university website (https://www.csulb.edu/prospector-pete) noted, “We have evolved from Prospector Pete. We are more than one mascot. We are the Beach. A model of diversity, success and relevance. We are champions. We are informed by our past and prepared to face the future together.”

That future will involve the removal of the Prospector Pete statue, located near the Liberal Arts 5 building to the site of a lower campus alumni center, for which ground is expected to be broken in the spring.

According to CSULB Executive Director Media and Digital News Jeff Bliss, on every Indigenous People’s Day, “faculty and students from the American Indian Studies program tie a yellow bandana around his eyes.” CSULB also hosts tribal members who hold “a big annual pow-wow in the second weekend in March.”

In March 2018, CSULB’s Associated Students, Inc. acknowledged “the people of the Tongva Tribe were enslaved by settlers to build missions in the greater Los Angeles area.” The resolution referenced in excess of 80 percent of Indigenous American populations were killed in the two decades following the gold rush by malnutrition, enslavement and murder; including legally sanctioned, state-funded incentives for prospectors. The resolution called on the university to dissociate itself from Prospector Pete and all aspects that “glorify” the gold rush.

Generally, since abandoning football, CSULB has been associated with basketball, a program that debuted in 1951, with games now held in the lower campus Pyramid. Bliss said Pete has already been retired as an image on shirts and other school merchandise at sporting events and “has not been used with a sports team since 2012. We want to move him to a more appropriate place, where we plan an alumni center. We want to be sensitive to the land were are on, the village of Puvungna. The Tongva were here, and there are faculty, students and staff who this matters a great deal to.”

“We had a committee from all groups, faculty, staff and alumni talking about this for some time,” said Bliss, who estimated the conversation began about two years ago. There are no plans to rename the prospector. We do want to have a new mascot.”

When Prospector Pete will be moved has not been announced. Nor is there information about how much this bronze statue weighs, how it will be moved and how much that move will cost. Asked how the move will be funded, Bliss responded, “private funds,” but was not specific. Asked if the funding would be derived from alumni center funding, Bliss replied, “The costs will be separate.”

Bliss acknowledged, “It’s a heavy statue. Some people have asked, ‘Why don’t we get rid of it?’ A federal act does not allow us to destroy public art,” said Bliss. “We’re not getting rid of it. It will not be put in storage. Having it at the alumni center is the goal.”

As quoted on the university website, President Conoley stated, “I’m heartened to have heard from so many students, faculty, staff and alumni who are helping learn from the past without rancor, but with a commitment to unity and compassion.”

steve@beachcomber.news

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