Levi Walker Jr., who camped in a tepee in the left-field stands at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium as Braves mascot Chief Noc-a-Homa for nearly two decades, died Friday, his family said. He was 81.
Walker’s family announced his death in a Facebook post. No cause of death was announced, but according to a GoFundMe page created in July 2022, by his daughter, Gwen Newman, Walker had been diagnosed with metabolic encephalopathy, a disease of the brain. He also had diabetes and had been on dialysis for nearly a decade, his daughter said.
“The man, the legend and great warrior of my life has crossed over to paradise with full restored health,” the Facebook post read. “He is dancing in the sky and free of pain.”
Walker was the third person to portray the Braves mascot after the franchise relocated to Atlanta from Milwaukee after the 1965 season. He held the position from 1969 through 1986, and his pregame ritual of going to the pitcher’s mound and praying for a victory.
From his tepee in the left-center field stands, Noc-a-Homa would celebrate a Braves home run with fireworks and smoke bombs, according to newspaper archives.
Walker was the first Native American to portray the Braves mascot after taking over the position in 1969. According to a 1969 news report, he traced his ancestry from the Odawa and Chippewa tribes.
The first mascot, Larry Hunn, of Chamblee, Georgia, served from June 1966 to October 1968. The second person to play the role was Tim Minors in 1968.
Walker, an insurance salesman, plumber and warehouse worker, approached the Braves in 1968 about having a genuine Native American portray the Braves’ mascot, Deadline reported.
He became an instant hit. But on May 26, 1969, Walker set his tepee on fire, lighting a smoke bomb after Atlanta’s Clete Boyer hit a two-run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals. Boyer’s seventh homer of the season helped Atlanta to a 3-0 victory, but Walker needed help from stadium ushers to put out the fire in his tepee, according to newspaper archives.
In 1982, the Braves opened the season with 13 straight wins. But on July 29, Braves owner Ted Turner removed Chief Noc-a-Homa from his perch in left field to add 250 more seats, according to The Associated Press.
That sent the Braves, who were leading the National League West by nine games, into a 2-14 tailspin. With Atlanta trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers by two games, the chief was returned to his regular spot on Aug. 17. Atlanta dropped three more games, then won 13 of their next 15 games en route to winning the N.L. West title,, the team’s first since 1969.
Walker and the Braves parted in January 1986, The New York Times reported. Walker was reportedly unhappy with his salary; he received $60 per game, according to the newspaper. Atlanta officials were unhappy that Walker had missed seven scheduled appearances.
Despite the departure, Walker said his time as the Braves mascot was memorable.
“I’ve been blessed by the fans to be the mascot for the Atlanta Braves,” he said last year, according to Deadline.
Information from newspaper archives and Retrosheet.org was used in compiling this report.
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