The Legend of Sonny Six: Where Did the Name Come From?

Everyone eventually learned who this guy was in No. 6 in a purple jersey. However, his family origins remain a mystery.

He became a curiosity in 1970 before he even threw a pass, with everyone suddenly wanting to know more about this young Washington Huskies quarterback called Sonny Sixkiller.

For starters, where did that name come from?

Sixkiller shared that he was of Cherokee descent, a Native American born in the Midwest. His father, a millworker in Ashland, Oregon, moved the family out west not long after Sonny entered the world. 

Fifty years ago when he first emerged on the Seattle sporting scene, Sixkiller easily joked about his Indian heritage. 

He pointed out that, no, he'd never lived on a reservation but he'd visited relatives on one. He told one media inquisitor, in so many terms, that his extended family had never been on the warpath either.

"We're Oklahoma Cherokee," he said. "I think we've always been kind of peaceful."

One of four kids in the family, he was formally named Alex Sixkiller, christened after that father of his. 

He earned his nickname from his doting grandmother, who would call out to him, "Come here, Sonny boy."

Otherwise, he couldn't fully explain the family tree or its beginnings.


"All my life, people have been jumping on that name," Sonny told Seattle Times sports columnist Georg M. Meyers in his first big media interview at the UW in 1970. "I have no idea where it came from. I asked my dad. He doesn't know either."

That didn't stop his Huskies teammates from turning his family moniker around on him in a teasing fashion. They called him "the killer of a half dozen."

As the newcomer battled for the starting job and Seattle became better acquainted with him, Sonny wanted people to take him seriously as a football player. 

Fifty years later, as this continuing series on Sixkiller will show, this Native American quarterback was a fairly accomplished athlete, before and after joining the UW varsity. 

As a freshman, he wore some other jersey number he can no longer remember. He let  the enterprising school sports publicists talk him into wearing No. 6.  Yet he made it clear from the beginning that he wasn't a sideshow.

"I'm trying to prove," Sixkiller said back then, "that I'm not somebody they keep on the roster just because of a spectacular name."