Tyee High School Totem Mascot History

Our High School will be changing it’s mascot from Totems to Titans in an effort to be more respectful of our indigenous people of the area. The class of 2022 will be the last class under the old Totem mascot.

This article is an inventory of the totems that were donated and used by students over the approximately 60 years of life at Tyee High School.

May this be helpful in finding an appropriate home for these relics such as a museum or with one of the local tribes.

Lastly, if you find I have misstated something or have additional information please use the comments section at the bottom. Then I can work with you to update the inventory and article.

Batgurrl – Robin Adams (Foster) Class of 1971 Tyee Senior High School

Updated November 1, 2022

I am now dividing the information into three articles. We have a lot of data collected and it is too much for just first one article.

  • Tyee High School Totem Mascot History – this is the original blog post that now just includes info on the totem mascots. (this article)
  • Tyee History – a consolidation of all the info collected on how the school was built and other important dates and facts.
  • Tyee Mascot non-totem pole items – this is more details on items that carry the Totem theme but were not actual poles. Some still exist and some are missing at this time.

A short history to start things – Tyee Senior High School was founded in 1963 and was built in an old gravel pit using a then modern 60’s design. The majority of the buildings are round and are connected by covered walkways with courtyards. The Highline School District is currently working on the design phase of a proposed new school that will completely change the look and feel of this nearly 60 year old school.

Here are a couple of photos to show everyone what our school looked like in the beginning and today.

View of Tyee High School in 1971 Annual of the 1960s new school
2022 Google View of Tyee High School – SeaTac, WA

Thunderbird in Cement Courtyard

Before we had Totem Poles and other Totem mascots we had “The Thunderbird”.

This Thunderbird in the courtyard came early in the school’s history from around 1964. Several groups to t his day work hard to preserve it.

It has been said that this Thunderbird was blessed by one of the local tribes.

Unknown what will happen to this old mascot relic. Very difficult to move and if a new school is built doubtful it will be saved. But one can always dream that there is a way to save one of the oldest pieces of Tyee High School History.

Here is a bit of history from the early years and the Thunderbird:

The t-bird was our sacred symbol. The lettermen from the 1965 class used to stand shoulder to shoulder around it after games to keep Mt. Rainier athletes from stepping on it. (Mt. Rainier was our biggest rival, since the class of ’65 came from there to create the Tyee student body.) Typically a fight would break out over it! I guess that’s why the district eventually put the chain around it.

If you got in trouble, like getting caught skipping, one of your punishments might be to have to clean the t-bird with a toothbrush. What’s really funny is now there is a firmly believed idea among current students at Tyee that if you step on the t-bird, you are cursed & won’t graduate!

Memory from 1967 alumni – Stephanie Knox Nichols
Thunderbird at Tyee High School – photo from Deana Osborn Anderson

The Thunderbird was mentioned in Yearbooks. First we have from page 8 of the 1967 one.

The respected Symbol of Tyee in the early years – 1967 Annual – From Stephanie

Next we have some info on the Thunderbird from the 1972 Annual.

Yesterday June 11, 2022 I took the new video below. It shows the Thunderbird cleaned up by a very dedicated group of alumni. This video also gives a good view of the Overman 1994 Totem Pole that replaced the original totem pole after it was destroyed by rival schools.

Now to the totem pole mascots. Several are currently missing or destroyed. However, some have survived through the years.

First Totem in 1963

In July (2022) I received an exciting email from the Highline District Communication Dept that a Tyee alumni shared with her information on the very FIRST Totem built at Tyee. Here the exciting photos and text that Ken Piel sent us.

I would like to provide some additional information about the beginnings of the Tyee Totem mascot. In early September 1963, after the mascot and colors were confirmed, by student vote as I recall, several of us from the class of ’66 sprung unto action to create what was the first mascot. The pole was made from a wood and cloth skeleton covered with paper mache for the defining features. It was constructed and painted in the shop of Earl Piel, my father, by Wayne Moore (hands), Larry Dowty, Allen Johnson, Mike Stowell, Greg Ridgway, and myself. I’m quite certain there were other classmates involved but these are the only ones I recall with certainty.  

I am attaching a picture, taken by my mother Hildred Piel,  of the pole under construction. I seem to recall the first public showing to the student body was at an assembly conducted at Chinook Junior High. Attached is a photo at that assembly of the pole surrounded by the new cheer staff (page 69 of the first yearbook). Shortly thereafter we took the pole to an away football game ( I believe it was Darrington, which we won 24-13). After that we donated the pole to the school. It was used for a time (see page 95) as our mascot but I don’t know what eventually happened to it. As I recall, it was also pictured in some of the early Smoke Signal Newspapers, however I have been unable to locate them.  

It was an exciting time starting from scratch at a new school. I look back at that experience with pride that we were able to make an early contribution to the heritage of Tyee High School.  

Ken Piel – Class of 1966

A little Tyee history would help everyone understand how early this pole was and it’s unveiling at Chinook not Tyee campus.

September 4, 1963 Tyee Opens. The District transferred students from Mount Rainier to form the student body, the Class of 1965 was the first class to graduate. Since the school construction was not complete, some classes were held at Chinook Jr High and the church up the street.

Are you ready for a slide show of the three photos that Ken shared with us of the very first totem pole.

Early Rough Totem

In the early years someone built a rough totem pole. It almost looks like it was thrown together in a few hours for a rally, at Potlatch or a game. We don’t know who or why but it is in the 1988 Yearbook. The slats behind it look like the south side of the Cafeteria where the Tyee main sign is located. For sure it is not the original carved pole that was installed in 1967-68 as a gift from the 1965 first class.

This totem looks to be where the main school sign is on the south side of the Cafeteria.

This totem is not to be confused with the very first 1963 Totem above. I asked Ken Piel about it and here is his explanation of why it is not the same.

The picture you show appears to be a pole that is quite large, made of wood and has been weathered outside for some time.

The pole we made was not indented to be used outside extensively as it was made primarily with paper mache. From my recollection it was about eight feet high and about 20″ in diameter. The frame was made with wood slats to form a tube then covered with cloth, eg it was hollow.  On top of the frame were added the features with paper mache, then the entire pole was painted in some vivid colors. 

The idea was to keep it as light as possible so it could be transported to various locations. The picture you show could very well have been the first fully carved totem pole from solid wood. In the first few days of the school’s opening we didnt have time to undertake such an extensive project to we elected to craft a totem pole instead.

Ken Piel – Class 1966

Tommy – small totem

First formal pole was small enough to hold. This totem was named Tommy and was often taken to games and events. It was carved by the school’s head custodian, Brad Orchard. In October 1966 there was a naming contest and this totem became known as Tommy ever since.

Wanda Foster was the one who named our little but powerful Totem Tommy. Sadly Wanda died in a car accident not long after graduation. What a legacy she left for us.

Does anyone know the current location of Tommy?? or any other information on this now lost mascot?

Article on totem Tommy’s naming contest.

Tommy was in the 1967 Yearbook. I have examined this following photo and the one above for the naming contest and they are the same one. This is the only photo besides the above article I could find on Tommy.

Tommy Closeup in 1967 Yearbook

I estimate that Tommy is about 3 feet tall and the wings span about 1 1/2 to 2 feet. Based this on the size compared to Mr. Orchard and Bruce McLean.

As said earlier we need to find where Tommy is. Let us put our heads together on this for Wanda!

1965 class totem

This totem donated by the class of 1965 (first graduating class) was erected in the 1967-68 school year. This pole is also lost – missing in action.

New Info – after more research I believe that in the early 1990s this was the totem on the side of the cafeteria that was destroyed by rival schools. (more info below on this)

First appearance of this totem was a drawing in the 1st year book of 1964. For the 1965 alumni this was all they had until the actual pole was installed after they graduated.

1964 Yearbook drawing of Tyee Totem Pole with Spirit animals for each class.

The totem came alive when Will Krebs carved the pole for us. One alumni told me that it was kept under a tent like structure to protect the process. Another alumni said that he had a minor stroke while working on the project. Then when he felt better he came back and finished it. Such dedication to our school in the dawn of it’s years.

Article about the carving the original pole from the 1967 Yearbook

In my research where I went thru most Yearbooks at the Tyee Library, I found more photos on this poles construction. These clearly show the building area and stages of progress.

Top of page in 1967 yearbook on Original Totems Construction
Middle of page in 1967 yearbook one of the Original Totems under Construction
Bottom of page in 1967 yearbook on Totems Construction

Here is the Installation of Totem being done by Letterman in 1967-68 school year.

Our first totem mascot was official

Here we have a completed totem from one of the Tahlkie Yearbooks.

From early school annual totem unveiled

I have accumulated the following information around this first totem. As always, if you have something to add or correct please reach out.

  • The figures on this totem represent the classes; top is the Thunderbird for Seniors, next is the symbol of the Junior class, the Wolf and the Sophomore’s have the symbol of the Bear. The bottom figure for Freshman is Beaver. (the school did not always have Freshman see history article for more info)
  • I was told that the wood for this pole came from Alaska
  • There was a blessing ceremony performed by one of the local tribes.

I found many photos of this pole. They date from her inception to a photo in the 1993 yearbook.

Below is a new format with all the photos through the years. This slide show format is a better way to show so many images.

Next we will talk about the rivalry between schools which caused constant damage to the totem poles.

An older Smoke Signal from the 1970s speaks of the totem needing repair. The damage had begun quite early with broken wings and beak. You can see that in the photo slideshow above. Here is that article asking for volunteers to fix our totem up.

1970s Smoke Signal calling for repairs to 1965 Totem.

Before that I want to elaborate on why I think the original totem is gone forever. In the information I was sent it was stated that in 1993-94 the pole on the cafeteria was vandalized so bad it was basically destroyed. The current pole is the replacement of that one.

Looking at the 1993 photo of the 1965 totem and a 1996 photo of the current totem you can see the exact same planters in both.

My theory is our dear early totem is gone forever and was the one replaced.

1980s & 1990s Repair, Mischief, & Damage to Totems

Several Alumni have sent me information around how rival schools kidnapped and/or damaged the totem mascots. Looking at the slideshow through the years of the Original Pole you can see the damage done even in the 1960s & 70s.

In the yearbook review I encountered these two photos discussing damage and return of Tyee Totems to the school. This happened in 1988 and the photo talks about lifting the totem.

Next we have the information sent to me by Terri Winchell Hewitt from 1990. First we have a quote from Terri who was part of Senior Class Leadership. She jokes about her quote and I think we all agree with her sentiments.

Unknown publication with comment on pole repairs in 1990

Original memo calling students to action to repair damaged totem mascots.

1990 Memo – Totem Restoration

Next we have a full newspaper article with photo from Amy Scholl Streavel. This is from the Times News (not sure if it is Seattle or Highline Times) and published on May 20, 1990. This talks about how other schools (called out Mt Rainier) would steal the totems and damage them. The school district was trying to stop this behavior. Not only were they repaired when returned but also secured with metal poles. Here is the article:

May 20, 1990 article about Kidnapped Totems, their return and repairs.

Below we have the newspaper photo of a totem pole being repaired by Tyee Students. I have looked at this photo closely and compared it to the 1965 pole. I believe it is one of our first Totem! It has the crack that runs thru the old wood visible in the 1970s photos, it has the right claws for the Thunderbird and the Wolf that is center of the photo has the correct eyes and shape. Compare this to the 1992 & 93 photos of the original also align to this paint job and repair. At this time it was moved from the side of the gym/700 building to the cafeteria.

The photo comment also notes that three totems had the steel pole installed. That must be the 1965 original, the 1974 pole (now facing the West Parking lot) and the 1973 class Potlatch Totem aka Teddy Bear pole. Any thoughts, photos or comments appreciated?

1990 Photo of Totem Repair

To finish this 1990 damage spree to the Tyee Totems by rivals I found a photo in the 1990 Yearbook that was distressing to this Alumni. A big pile of Totem Parts. I now conclude this picture is from when Highline district returned the totems to Tyee and prompted the repairs.

1990 Yearbook – Pile of Totems titled elements of Totem Spirit

Another story I received was from Kyle Houston. Here is what he said:

The totem in front of the cafeteria was vandalized and burnt in 1993-1994. The current pole was actually donated from Alaska and put up about that time.

I asked Kyle a question to be sure I understood and he sent this response:

They had to replace the pole that was there prior to 1994. It was vandalized with spray paint and set on fire. The current one in the video is the replacement one that was installed in 1994 or 1995. It was donated by a carver in Alaska because Tyee couldn’t afford to purchase a new one.

Kyle Houston – on Tyee High Alumni Booster Facebook Group

Recently I have learned the replacement pole is the Overman Totem Pole (see details below) and the old pole that was damaged was the 1965 Totem Pole (see 1965 Class Totem above)

I had known there was damage and school rivalries but never imagined that it would go to axes. chainsaws and burning our Totem mascots. Disrespectful in so many ways.

Class of 1973 Totem (aka Teddy Bear Pole)

This 1973 pole carved at Potlatch is still on campus held up by a metal pole. It does have the same animals stacked; Thunderbird, Wolf & Bear.

For a long time I could not identify where this totem came from. Hence I called it the Unknown Pole at first. My early research questions were – Is this the 1965 totem or the Overman totem with many repairs? I eliminated both of these with additional research.

I have photos of this totem and the 1965 totem in the same years. So, it is not a reconstruction of that pole. We also have photos of this Teddy Bear Pole before the 1990 damages and the pile of returned poles. Also in 1993, the same year the original was repainted, this pole was around.

This is not the Overman pole. Nor is it an earlier pole carved by John Overman per his daughter. When I asked her about it recently she said: “I can tell this is not something my dad did.”

After many Facebook postings asking for information I received from Michele Ley that the Teddy Bear Pole is from the class of 1973. It was built during that years Potlach celebration. Whe sent me some photos gbt first here are the photos of it as it stands today next to the 700 building in 2022. See the nice teddy bear on this pole? Very cute compared to the fierce bear on the original totem pole.

Unknown Pole (aka Teddy Bear Pole) in June 2022

I took some close up photos of this pole. Looking closely, it has a very old core that is rotting away. The current paint is super heavy, almost leather like. First we have the Thunderbird:

Thunderbird on the top
Wolf on old un-identified totem
Bear is kind of cuddly versus the original totem pole Bear – hence aka Teddy Bear Pole

Here is all the details I received on this poles origin in 1973. First a quote from Michele’s Facebook response to my plea for information:

This pole is here in the 1973 graduating class Tahlkie addition – looks to be the same one exactly except for missing the lower portion.

Michele Ley – Class of 1973

And the photo she sent me. Sadly the bottom Beaver figure was cut off when the rival school vandalizim damaged it or when it was secured to it’s metal pole.

1973 Totem carved for 1973 Potlatch – aka Teddy Bear Pole

I found more photos in my Year Book research. The first I found was from at 1975. Check out all the photos of this pole found in the following slideshow:

I had guessed correctly –> It was a Potlatch carved pole like the 1974 pole.

Spirit Totem in Office

I learned that this was called the Spirit Totem. Not to be confused with Tommy but was also taken to games and used in Pep Rallies. Recently at my 1971 reunion a fellow classmate brought a stash of Smoke Signals. In one of the 1969 issues there he was with who and when.

According to the article it was carved by Ben Toland (a Junior in 1969) It was called a Wooden Warrior in the head line and a Thunderbird in the text. Here is the article:

1969 Smoke Signal – Origin of Spirt Totem

This Totem is still intact and doing well in the Office area. I estimate this medium sized totem is 48 inches tall and has a wing span of about 6 feet. He weighs 95 pounds. (updated info from the article)

Well preserved Thunderbird Totem in Office
Photo taken May 2022 in the Tyee Office in front of the Atrium

In the 1986 Yearbook I found an article on Spirit. It tells all about how classes competed for the Spirit Totem by making noise and cheering.

1986 explanation of Spirit and the Medium sized Totem called the Spirt Totem

On the Tyee Booster Facebook Group I was told the following information:

I am not sure if the tradition is the same as it was a decade prior (class of 1987), but my recollection is it was presented to the class that showed the most school spirit during assemblies (think of it like the Hogwarts’s house cup, but awarded per assembly instead of per year).

Then, at the next assembly, it would take a prominent place in front of the winning class’ bleachers until it was awarded again at the end of that assembly.

I recall it was an ecstatic moment when your class won it, allowing you to take it away from another class to place in front of yours just before the assembly let out (although I think that specific part of the tradition was retired after one of the wings became damaged from an overly energetic and careless class student transfer, so the totem was then only moved by faculty thereafter).

Justin Judd – via Facebook Group

I found photos of this totem in yearbooks from 1986 through 1994. Here is a slide show of those photos and the happiness and Totem Love it created.

This Thunderbird/Spirit Totem now is at the Highline Heritage Museum in Burien, WA. Displayed currently (2022) at the end of the Highline School District Artifact/History Wall.

Class of 1974 Totem – Westside of campus

This pole was donated by the class of 1974. It has had considerable damage from birds and the weather. This has caused rot and general deterioration. Not sure if it can be saved. Perhaps a portion?

The Tyee Librarian (Bob Vegar) gave me a pile of scrape books and other items he had been given by the shop teacher. In that pile I found a Smoke Signal from May 1974. It tells us all about this pole and the Potlatch of that year. First is the section the who were the carvers.

May 24, 1974 Signal Article Info on 1974 Tyee Totem Pole

Next is a photo of the pole in this same edition when it was spanky new:

1974 Class Totem during Potlatch of that Year

Lastly, a few more photos and info on the 1974 Potlatch in the May 1974 Signal:

Like the other totem poles I now have a slide show of the other photos I found through the years of this pole.

My guess is that after the 1990 construction of the 700 building this pole was relocated to it’s current site. Could also have been involved in the rival school destruction in the early 90s. I think I make out a wing from this totem in that pile of totems photo above.

Another alumni said that this was a John Overman Pole. I have determined that this is not the Overman Pole from all the photos and info I found during my Library research time.

1979 Totem – Inside Gymnasium

This totem was purchased from the famous chainsaw carver Mike McVay of Whidbey Island. Deana sent me the following link to a great article on the McVay Family.

Chainsaw Carving History

Here is a recent photo of it inside the gym. I had heard that there is a good Totem Banner close to this.

Mike McVay carved Totem from late 1970s.

This Totem now is at the Highline Heritage Museum in Burien, WA.

1981 Small Totem

This small totem looks to be the same size as Tommy. Comparing the two photos the wings and beak look different. I estimate this little pole that was taken to games and other events is about 2 1/2 tall about a 2 foot wing span. Karen Smith sent the photo and said it was painted bright colors.

1980-81 Yearbook of Prep Club with Small Totem

Plus I found more photos of this mini totem in my Yearbook review. 1984 had these two photos of our small totem.

At one point I thought I had found this totem. Below is a photo of a similar totem sitting in the window of the Head Coach’s office. Look close at the head and wings of this current totem and the 1980s one above. They are different. The head in the old is rounded where this newer one has ear shapes. Dang!!! Thought they were the same but looking closer it is either all new or a repaired 1980s totem.

Small Totem in office Window

1994 Totem – Overman Pole on Cafeteria Wall

The current pole in this location is a replacement after another was severely damaged by a rival school.

Recently, I have confirmed with Sharon Overman that this is the Overman Pole donated by her family. Earlier I had learned that it was donated by a carver in Alaska because Tyee couldn’t afford to purchase a new one. This Alaska connection could be from how Mr Overman worked with other carvers who at times were in Alaska.

Here is a photo Sharon sent me of her family posing with the pole.

Overman Pole at Tyee High School

Here are all the details that Sharon Overman shared with me.

Dad made the totem a year or two before we moved up in 84 so that would be 82 or 83. He didn’t donate to the school until just before they moved to Hermiston OR and that was Dec of 94 since dad passed July of 95. He wanted to donate the summer of 94 but had to wait until school was back in session in the fall. So it was September 94 when they came and got the totem. I remember it being a nice warm day that day.

Sharon Overman – June 2022

She also has some vivid memories of how her Dad and Mike McVay were on a show called “That’s Incredible”. Here is what she told me about that show.

Dad had started his chain saw carving late 70’s early 80’s. One way to know when is that there was a Tv show about that time that starred John Davidson.

He went around interviewing people who did interesting things. One of those people was Mike McVey. Dad and he had just started being friends. Mike asked dad if he wanted to come see some of the taping of the show. Mom was so excited because she was going to meet her “other” John. She was a John Davidson fan since he had been on the Carol Burnette show.

According to Wikipedia the show ran from march 3, 1980 to April 30, 1984. Mike was only on one episode. He (Mike M.) was down here for awhile, in Alaska for awhile and on Whidbey Island for awhile.

Sharon Overman – June 2022

She is going to get back to me after she sees if she can locate the certificate that the school gave her parents.

Here is some earlier information I learned from Don Beaver who said that: The Overman pole was carved by John Overman per Don Beaver who helped to paint it. Mr. Overman had several children who attended Tyee; 1972, 74 & 77 classes. Heard that John carved totems and other items with a chainsaw and sold at the Puyallup Fair.

Another bit of information I collected:

Fred Overman, class of 1972, contacted me quite a while ago with the following story. The totem was in his parents’ yard, & they had to move & couldn’t take it with them, so offered it to him. He was in the Navy at the time & had no place to keep it, so he donated it to Tyee.

Stephanie Knox Nichols

To finish out this section on the Overman Totem Pole I found several photos in my yearbook research. Here is the slide show of them.

This Totem now is at the Highline Heritage Museum in Burien, WA. Displayed currently (2022) at the end of the Highline School District Artifact/History Wall along with the shorter Spirit Totem/Thunderbird from 1969.

Gym Totem Art

Next are a couple of totems that are not poles but deserve mention.

They are the two flat totem art on the side of the Gym.

Totem Art #1 on Gym
Totem Art #2 on Gym
View of Gym with both Totem Art

I got some more info recently (Nov 1, 2022) that the Senior Class of 1991 gifted these to the school. That would date them between 1991 and 92. Makes sense because we had major construction in 1990 which included building the new Gym. Like the totems above I found these on the gym in several yearbooks.

These Totem Building art are now at the Highline Heritage Museum in Burien, WA.


That is what we have gathered on our Tyee High School Totem Mascots. Thank you to all who have helped with photos and history information.

Are we missing other items like another Totem, Banners or Sports related items? Please send me anything else you have, additional information on the above items or corrections to what I have included.

Be sure to visit the the two other articles – History and Miscellaneous Mascot Items.

These relics could make a meaningful exhibit that explains how times have changed and honors our past mascots as well.


    • Hope all is well in your history searching. I took some time off from my latest research of Veazie lost Logging Camp to help consolidate this for my fellow alumni.

  1. Thank you for all the work you have done. It is an amazing history and I am proud to have gone to school there for four years being in the Class of 70. I really feel like we need to preserve all the TOTEM Spirit !!

    • Thanx Melaine – Be sure to send my anything you might have tucked away on the history. This information is growing as everyone pitches in a picture and a memory.

  2. You should give the totem back to the family that carved it. Seeing as how it’s not done by a native it shouldn’t hold value to a tribe.

    • There is work in the background between Highline School District, the tribes and the Highline Museum to find homes for the totems.

      We alumni are all concerned and working thru this process. Do let me know if you have any history info to add. I am still trying to find out where the Teddy Bear Pole (the one on the 700 building) came from.

  3. The flat Totems on the new gym I believe were from my graduating class ‘91. I think that that was part of the gifts our senior class donated to the school.

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