USC's Mascot Criticized for Having Name Similar to Robert E. Lee's Horse

Rider's widow: 'We all have to be in hysteria'

The USC Trojans horse Traveler
The USC Trojans horse Traveler / Getty Images
August 21, 2017

The University of Southern California mascot, Traveler IX, is a symbol tied to white supremacy and should be removed from campus, according to some USC students.

Confederate general Robert E. Lee's horse had a similar name, Traveller with two l's. USC Black Student Assembly co-president Saphia Jackson cited USC's horse as evidence that "white supremacy hits close to home," the Daily Trojan reported. Jackson spoke during a campus rally Thursday in response to the Charlottesville, Va. riot.

"I push administration, faculty, and staff to have serious engagements and not dismiss our issues because we are here for serious change," Jackson said during the rally. "We can no longer afford to stay silent."

Traveler IX is USC's current mascot, and there is a statue of the original Traveler mascot who debuted in the fall of 1961. The Traveler line of mascots has appeared with an armor-clad rider for decades. The original rider, Richard Saukko, used pieces from Charlton Heston's costume in Ben-Hur.

Saukko's widow, Pat Saukko DeBernardi, is among those who do not think the university should be concerned with the horse's name. Saukk DeBernardi told the Los Angeles Times that worries about Traveler IX are the "the flavor of the day."

"The problem is this: maybe three weeks ago it was fine," Saukko DeBernardi said. "So now the flavor of the day is . . . we all have to be in hysteria. . . . It's more of a political issue. The horse isn't political and neither am I."

It's unclear whether the original mascot was named for Lee's Traveller. There are conflicting accounts without attributed sources, and the university does not associate the horse with slavery or the Confederacy.

"USC's mascot horse is a symbol of ancient Troy. Its rider, with costume and sword, is a symbol of a Trojan warrior," the university stated online. "The name Traveler, spelled with one 'l,' is a common name among horses."

"USC's Traveler is and has always been a proud symbol of Troy," the university said. "There is no truth to any other claims or rumors about its name."

Troy is an ancient near-eastern civilization, and therefore, almost certainly maintained some forms of slavery. However, it is primarily known for mythical heroes such as Hector and Aeneas.

Saukko DeBarnardi agreed with the university's stance that the horse is an apolitical mascot.

"Over at USC they're non-political about their horse," Saukko DeBernardi said. "What if their name would be Lee? Would they want to change it? It doesn't make any difference. . . . He's a wonderful horse and a great mascot."