Where Does the Term "Tar Heels" Come From?

Alvin Ward

Hailing from the "Tar Heel State," UNC's athletic program naturally adopted the name "Tar Heels," but what does it mean?

According to the university, there are two widely circulated origin stories, both involving war. The first points to British troops under General Cornwallis during the Revolutionary War. Legend states they forded a river in North Carolina and were slowed by the sticky tar beneath their feet—tar that was either naturally occurring due to the surrounding pine trees or put in the river by local residents.

The second story comes from the Civil War. After suffering heavy defeats, hordes of Confederate troops threatened to abandon the fight and were met with threats of feet-tarring from their fellow soldiers in order to keep them on the battlefield.

But what do either of these things have to do with a ram, the school's mascot?

In 1924, UNC cheerleader Vic Huggins thought his school needed a symbol. Two years prior, their football team had been led by standout fullback Jack "The Battering Ram" Merritt, and Huggins used the name as inspiration. The cheerleader spent $25 to have Rameses, a real-life ram, shipped from Texas for the Tar Heels' game against VMI. After UNC won, Rameses became a regular.