It seems that behind every nickname there is a reason.
I was six years old when my parents dropped me of in front of Red Cloud Hall. The building was on the campus of the Holy Rosary Indian Mission Boarding School, four miles north of Pine Ridge Village.
Frightened and alone I sat down on the concrete steps of the stairway and began to cry. A boy came up and sat next to me. He was eating from a honeycomb. He broke it in half and offered it to me. This cheered me up a little. He said his name was Gutierrez and I would find out later that the boys called him “Good Arrows.”
He asked his friend to join us and said, “This is Tiny Tim.” Since my name was also Tim I wondered why this boy was called “Tiny Tim.” Later I discovered that his name was actually Leo Wounded Foot. As history would have it a movie came to the mission school called “A Christmas Carol.” In the movie Bob Cratchit had a son who was lame. He walked with a small cane. His family called him “Tiny Tim.” The mission boys immediately seized upon the name “Tiny Tim” and gave it to Leo Wounded Foot because his name was Wounded Foot. Make sense?
It was a longstanding custom of the boys to stand in front of Red Cloud Hall at the start of the school year and watch the arrivals. Some of the new arrivals got their nicknames the day they arrived at the boarding school. For instance, a boy was delivered at the school by his aunt Eunice. He was about 6 and when his aunt drove away he ran after the car shouting, “Hoonis, Hoonis” his way of saying Eunice. Leroy Clifford went on to earn a doctorate in education and was the power behind the Indian Higher Education Consortium for many years, but he was always known as “Hoonis” by all of the guys and girls he grew up with.
The Marvel Comic Books were a good source of nicknames. My brother Tony was nicknamed “Batman.” There was a character in the Dick Tracy comics with a character they called B.O. Plenty. It so happened one of the mission boys was Paul Plenty Holes. As we knew would happen, he soon was renamed B.O.
My cousin Robert Duane Garnette had a couple of protruding front teeth so he was named Peter Rabbit by another cousin, “Red” Tapio. Soon he was just called “Pete” and then “Snowshoe” and finally “Frosty.” His younger brother was called “Heavy” although he was not heavy at all.
My friend “Tiny Tim” was given a new nickname a few months after I arrived at the school. It seems that he had an accident in his dormitory bed one dark night. From then on “Tiny Tim” became the “Brown Bomber.”
One school day a new arrival who was just learning to speak English raised his hand in class to ask permission to use the bathroom. The nun-teacher asked him what he wanted and he said, “Pee too.” Guess what? From that day on Aloysius Black Tail Deer was known as “P-2.”
One fair-haired boy, a great basketball player, was simply called “Whiteman Cuny.” From the movies we drew names like Capone, Dillinger, Buck Jones and Dopey. I guess I was lucky that there was already a “Tiny Tim” when I arrived at the boarding school because I was lucky enough to never draw a nickname. At least as far as I know. But who knows?