Levi Walker, who served as the Braves’ mascot Chief Noc-A-Homa from 1969 through 1985, and his wife, Teri Ficula, visit the SunTrust Club at Turner Field before a game against the Washington Nationals, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, in Atlanta. This is Walker’s first Braves game since 1988. (AP Photo/Jon Barash)
Photo: Jon Barash
Photo: Jon Barash

Whatever Happened To … Chief Noc-A-Homa (Levi Walker)

What he did: The better question may be what he didn’t do?

Chief Noc-A-Homa is easily the most famous and perhaps iconic sports mascot in Atlanta history, the concept coming with the team from Milwaukee in 1966.

There were three men to play Noc-A-Homa in Atlanta though the most famous was a real character named Levi Walker, who took over the job in 1969 until the Chief was mothballed in 1986.

Said Walker who was at the Braves-Nationals game Wednesday night, “I went to the Braves in full uniform and said you got a white guy doing this job. I told them if you want to hire a bartender, you bring in someone who can make drinks. I told the Braves you want a real Noc-A-Homa, you need a real Indian and that was me.’’

The idea of Noc-A-Homa actually made its debut when the Braves went from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953. The name originated from the screaming Indian patch the players wore on their sleeve. There was a teepee built at old County Stadium in Milwaukee and every time there was a home run, smoke would rise out of the teepee and the Chief, in full Indian dress, would come out and perform a dance.

During the days of home run hitters Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron, Noc-A-Homa became popular, especially when Walker was hired.

Born into the Chippewa-Ottawa Tribe and today a member of the Odawa Tribe, Walker is from Charlevoix, Mich. When he took over the job he became a huge big part of the atmosphere at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where fans young and old visited his teepee in the left-field seats.

Crazy things happened with Walker was in full dress dancing around and in one game the smoke grenade accidentally lit the teepee on fire. Then there were the times when the teepee was taken down to add more seats. The latter became a big story as when the Falcons started playing in September, the teepee would go away and the Braves would almost always go on a losing streak. Superstitious fans blamed it on the removal of the teepee but never more so than in 1982 when the Braves opened the season with 13 wins. With the team in first place and owner Ted Turner wanting to sell more seats in the middle of the summer, the teepee was taken down and the Braves lost 19 of their next 21 games and fell to second place.

Coincidence or not, Turned told team management to put the teepee back up and the Braves went on to win the National League West.

Walker was also popular with celebrities that came to the game and once was quoted as saying, “I met four presidents, two kings, a sheik and his four wives, kids in the ghetto, ZZ Top, Three Dog Night, Led Zeppelin, Roy Clark, Jerry Reed, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Cab Calloway, Shirley Henderson, Olivia Newton-John, Loretta Lynn, Alabama and a number of others.”

As years went on, Noc-A-Homa had his moments such as introducing “Princess Win-A-Lotta’’ in 1983. But the Braves were getting criticism that the mascot was racially insensitive and word was Walker was missing pubic appearances and the team decided to retire the Noc-A-Homa after the 1985 season. At the time, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Walker was making $60 a week and received $5,000 in termination pay.

In 1991’s great run from worst to first for the Braves, Walker actually called the team and asked them if he could come back but the team said no. The club, meanwhile, went to new mascots such as Homer and Rally, which were not nearly as popular. The Braves did in ’91 introduce baseball to the popular “Tomahawk Chop’’ which is still used by the fans today.

Noc-A-Homa, though, has become a part of pop culture as a local band (Black Lips) wrote a song about him and he can be seen in a Simpsons episode when Homer competes in a battle against a robot named “Chief Knock-a-Homer.’’

Where he lives: Walker, now 73, lives in Cleveland, Ga., with his girlfriend Teri Ficula. He has been married twice and has a daughter and said his son passed away in 2010.

What he does now: He continues to be involved with the Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and is an elder. He said he still keeps the old traditions alive, tanning hides, making arrowheads and sells his crafts at powwows.

On moving to Atlanta: “I was a home birth as my grandmother and sister delivered me. When I was a teenager I hitchhiked down to Florida and joined the Army for three years. I was in the 7th Calvary, which is pretty funny considering people probably wondered why an Indian was in the 7th Calvary Regiment with George Custard having been in it at one time. I came up to Atlanta and married a girl from Riverdale and then came the job with the Braves.’’

On what was in the teepee: “I had a radio and TV in there and a lot of people don’t realize that Georgia Power put AC in it. I also had a foot locker for all my stuff and always had three girls watching the different entrances, especially making sure no one was trying to spit on me.’’

On his favorite moments with the Braves: “I have three of them. The first was Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. Here was a black man trying to break a white man’s record and he was getting death threats and everything. When he hit the homer into the bullpen, (reliever) Tom House caught it and I ran with him on to the field at home plate. What a great moment. Then there was the time Gene Garber stopped Pete Rose’s hitting streak and the third one came in the Fourth of July game in 1985 that lasted until four in the morning and the only home run hit was by pitcher Rick Camp. The fireworks went off and people living around the stadium thought they were bombing Atlanta.”

On taking down the teepee and the losing streaks: “I remember the one in 1982. Ted wanted to sell more seats and I went to Wayne Minshew, who was the public relations man and told him we needed to put it up or the losing streak wouldn’t end. He said we would see and Ted finally said to put it back up and we won the NL West. A lot of people were serious about feeling the taking down of the teepee had everything to do with the losing streaks. It was pretty funny.’’

On whether he thinks the Washington Redskins should change their nickname: “Absolutely. It’s a real shot in the face for the indigenous people. They could easily change it to the Warriors and it would have a strong meaning. I don’t have a problem with the Braves or the Indians. In fact, Cleveland asked me if I would testify on their behalf if need be. But it hasn’t happened. The Redskins need to wake up and change their name. It’s wrong.’’

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