Mascots are believed to bring good luck, especially to athletic teams. Just about every college claims a mascot. The University of Kansas is home of the Jayhawk, a mythical bird with a fascinating history. Its origin is rooted in the historic struggles of Kansas settlers. The term "Jayhawk" was probably coined about 1848. Accounts of its use appeared from Illinois to Texas. The name combines two birds--the blue jay, a noisy, quarrelsome thing known to rob other nests, and the sparrow hawk, a stealthy hunter. The message here: Don't turn your back on this bird.
During the 1850s, the Kansas Territory was filled with such Jayhawks. The area was a battleground between those wanting a state where slavery would be legal and those committed to a Free State. The factions looted, sacked, rustled cattle, stole horses, and otherwise attacked each other's settlements. For a time, ruffians on both sides were called Jayhawkers. But the name stuck to the free staters. Lawrence, where KU would be founded, was a Free State stronghold.
During the Civil War, the Jayhawk's ruffian image gave way to patriotic symbol. Kansas Governor Charles Robinson raised a regiment called the Independent Mounted Kansas Jayhawks. By war's end, Jayhawks were synonymous with the impassioned people who made Kansas a Free State. In 1886, the bird appeared in a cheer--the famous Rock Chalk chant. When KU football players first took the field in 1890, it seemed only natural to call them Jayhawkers. How do you draw a Jayhawk? For years, that question stumped fans. Henry Maloy, a cartoonist for the student newspaper, drew a memorable version of the 'hawk in 1912. He gave it shoes. Why? For kicking opponents, of course.
In 1920, a more somber bird, perched on a KU monogram, came into use. In 1923, Jimmy O'Bryon and George Hollingbery designed a duck-like 'hawk. About 1929, Forrest O. Calvin drew a grim-faced bird sporting talons that could maim. In 1941, Gene "Yogi" Williams opened the Jayhawk's eyes and beak, giving it a contentious look.
It is Harold D. Sandy's 1946 design of a smiling Jayhawk that survives. The design was copyrighted in 1947.
For years a single costumed Jayhawk cheered for KU. A second Jayhawk, Baby Jay, arrived in 1971, hatching out of a huge egg on the 50-yard line during Homecoming. Ever since, we've had two Jayhawks in costume: Big Jay and Baby Jay.
Today you'll find several Jayhawks on the Lawrence campus. A piece of birdlike iconography on Dyche Hall, erected in 1901, looks suspiciously like a Jayhawk. In front of Strong Hall perches a large 'hawk, a statue with sleek, modern lines, gift of the Class of 1956. Another, a striding, feathered bronze, greets visitors to the Adams Alumni Center.
Does the Jayhawk fly? Baby Jay flew the coop once, back in September 1978. Birdnapped, really. The costume was returned just in time for Homecoming. A good thing, too, because myths and mascots are fun to have around.