THE STANFORD AXEEARLY CALIFORNIA TRADITIONS AND THE AXE CAPTURE
By Brick Morse, California, '96
A university without traditions is poor indeed.
Traditions have come and gone at the University of California. The college still has its traditions which have survived the best of years, but it seems to me that the most interesting traditions have gone the way of all flesh.
Three California traditions of the past stand out in my memory, the Burial of Bourdon, the Mortarboard Rush and the Stanford Axe. The first named was a grand spectacle and a free-for-all scramble between the two lower classes. Such a rough-house affair could not survive as the University became larger. The Mortarboard Rush was kayoed by a faculty edict and the Axe tradition came to a sudden and violent end recently when Stanford regained the lost emblem.
The Axe tradition is the most important to the younger generation, but first let us hear something about the older traditions. The Burial of Bourdon was a solemn ceremonial staged by the Freshman class at the end of their college year.
Bourdon was a book containing mathematical problems which none could do. It was given to the Freshmen as a text book for the purpose of demonstrating to them the usefulness of a college education. They wrestled with it for a whole year, and when at last the final problem had been given up, there was great rejoicing. This rejoicing took the form of a ceremony in which Bourdon was placed in a coffin and consigned to the flames. About a month before the end of the Freshman year, committees were appointed, speakers were chosen, and elaborate preparations for the ceremony began.
It become the custom of the Sophomore class, natural enemies of the Freshmen, to try in every way to prevent the ceremony from taking place. Speakers were kidnapped and spirited away, the procession was frequently broken up, and sometimes the coffin containing Bourdon was stolen. Men were men in those days, and the fights between the two classes were serious affairs.
When the night of the ceremony arrived, the whole Freshman class would form in procession. At an appointed place at the head of the procession marched the Pontifex Maximus, Maximus meaning big and Pontifex something else. At any rate he was the biggest man in the class. Then came the hampadarii, fellows carrying lamps and dressed in robes de nuit. Then followed the Lictores or the fellows chosen to lick the Sophomores. These were a bunch of huskies who marched on either side of the coffin to protect the remains from the ghosts. After the coffin marched the Laudator, one of the chief speakers. Then came the Damnator Dourdonis and the other members of the class.
The procession wound through the Berkeley streets and past the fraternity houses, where stops were made while the fraternity boys set off a generous display of fireworks. Somewhere along the route the procession was sure to be attacked by the Sophs. In case the attack was repulsed the second-year men withdrew to sprinkle the mourners with a baptism of eggs, fresh-laid by chickens that came over in the Mayflower. In case the procession was successful in reaching the campus, a huge bonfire was lighted and the ceremonies were opened by the Pontifex Maximus. Then came the Damnator. His speech was usually as follows: "______ ______ ______ ______ ______." The Damnator was followed by the Maledictor. After these two orators had finished there were no cuss words left unused, so the Laudator mounted the platform. His was the duty to tell of the Freshmen who liked to study Bourdon. He was usually cat-called from the rostrum. After the singing of odes, the remains were consigned to the flames, the kegs were brought out, and Freshmen and Sophomores proceeded to drown their sorrows.
The Bourdon Burial idea was originated by the class of 1878, and the first ceremony was held on June 3, 1875. Some of the odes sung were ingenious, to say the least. The first Bourdon Burial I remember was that of the class of 1885. Everybody in Berkeley turned out to see the affair. I was a little tad, but trudged along with my folks and in the mixup I got lost. I was going to see that procession, however, folks or no folks, and stood there expectantly on the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph, thinking of the devil and other cheerful things. At Sunday School our teacher had been telling us about the devil. She said he could swallow ten little children at one gulp, and if I committed one little sin he certainly would get me. I was standing there in the blackness of the night thinking all those things over when down the street I heard the crowd coming. The procession moved up Telegraph Avenue and rounded into Bancroft. Weird, oh my, how weird, those costumed fellows looked in the dim light of a dozen torches. No electricity or gas was used for lights in those days --- just coal oil. There at the head was a great big fellow with a long black robe, painted face, and high, pointed hat --- the Pontifex Maximus. As he swept around the corner with his stately measured stride, thoughts went through my head a thousand times faster than they have ever traveled since.
Here was that great, awful being of whom my Sunday School teacher had told me, and only that day I had been playing marbles for keeps. What if he should see me. I certainly didn't relish the idea of being a meal for that fellow, so I proceeded to break the world's kindergarten record for the half mile. I could hear old Pontifex right behind me, and the harder I thought, the faster I ran. Relief at last. I was in bed with the covers pulled high over my head. Had I stayed with the parade just a few moments longer I might have been disillusioned. A few feet up Bancroft there lay in the bushes a score of Sophomores. As the procession came abreast, the Sophs attacked, led by Charlie Huggins astride a coal-black charger. Right at my devil rode Charlie, knocking his satanic majesty flat in the mud, breaking his staff, spoiling his beautiful black robe, crushing his high, pointed headpiece, and mussing him up terribly. On over Mr. Pontifex went Huggins and the horse, up to the black-draped wagon which bore the coffin. Bending over he grasped the casket and was off up the street, followed pell-mell by the exultant Sophomores. They had done what no Sophomore class had yet accomplished. They had stolen the coffin and were off to Oakland to celebrate. Strange to say the Freshmen didn't follow in an attempt to regain the treasure. Wise birds those Frosh. They had placed a counterfeit coffin on top of the wagon while the real casket containing the Bourdon book was concealed underneath. So the procession kept on unmolested, past the brilliantly lighted fraternity houses to the "campus," as the old field where now stands the Life Science Building was called. There were the customary speeches, and then the supposedly despoiled catafalque was brought forth. The black cloth was torn off, a secret trapdoor opened, and an elegant coffin lay exposed to the gaze of the astonished audience. The casket and book were formally consigned to the flames. The Sophomores had been outfoxed, and '85's Bourdon was pronounced a huge success.
Exciting affairs, those Bourdon Burials. There were more thrills connected with them than in your modern football game. For two or three days preceding the ceremony classes were practically suspended. Everybody cut. Sophomores gathered for the purpose of concocting schemes for busting up the affair and kidnapping the speakers. Seniors gathered to advise the Sophomores, and Juniors assembles to chaperon the Freshmen. Every Freshman suspected of being Damnator, Maledictor, or Laudator was in danger of being seized by the Sophomores, spirited away into the hills, and kept there until the Bourdon ceremonies were over.
Especially pestiferous at Bourdon time was the class of '86. Kidnapping of suspected Frosh speakers was in order for several days before the appointed time of the Burial. The experience of Richard Harrison of the '87 class was most harrowing. He was taken for a ride by the Sophomore gangsters. Bound, gagged, and handcuffed, he was hustled into a buggy and driven off miles and miles into the hills. At the most lonely spot Harrison was dragged from the buggy, tied to a tree, and left there a prey to the hungry coyotes which infested the region in those days. Considerate indeed the Sophomores in the 'eighties. But Harrison was a persistent cuss. Gnawing and squirming, he freed himself from his bonds --- all except the steel handcuffs. With fast waning strength he made his way through the underbrush and over the hills to the Four Mile House, famous Claremont Avenue hostelry of the early days.
Panic ensued amongst the guests of that fashionable dump as Harrison appeared in the doorway, bleeding and torn from a hundred wounds and shackled with the massive irons. Women shrieked and fainted and valiant men upset chairs, tables, and beer mugs in the mad scramble to safety. No help for the poor Frosh on these premises, so he repaired to a nearby blacksmith shop where the village smith obligingly filed away the irons. He arrived in Berkeley in time to assist his classmates in protecting their coffin. And the Frosh needed all their man power that night. At nine o'clock a rocket sent up from the Rickard residence at Bancroft and College disclosed the place of rendezvous and the starting point of the procession. Never had there been such an array of transparencies, so many torches, and such costumes as this class of '87 exhibited. But no sooner had the procession started that the Sophs attacked. Transparencies were broken and trampled under foot, gowns were torn off, and the torches which were to light the way were extinguished. Every Freshman huddled around the coffin to protect it. The original line of march past the fraternity houses was canceled, and the desperate Frosh shuffled along in the darkness, bearing their precious burden down Bancroft Way and thence to the Dana Street entrance. At the bridge the Sophs were massed again. Their attack on the catafalque was repulsed, but the load of wood for the funeral pyre did not fare too well. The wagon was seized and pushed down into the turbulent waters of Strawberry Creek. However, the Frosh succeeded in burning Bourdon, and everyone of their speakers was there to do his stuff. And the speakers --- who were they? Emmet Rixford, Warren C. Gregory, Harry B. Rathbone, Adolph C. Miller, W. O. Morgan, and John C. Dornin --- famous names of a later day.
Tales of these Bourdon Burials and the famous men connected with the ceremonies could go on ad infinitum. There was Hiram Johnson, chief speaker for the class of '88. Hiram, too, suffered capture by the Sophs and was left out in the hills under the guard of three Sophs. A crowd of his classmates, however, discovered his whereabouts, overpowered the guard, and brought him back to the campus, just as the Pontifex Maximus was announcing that owing to unforeseen and regrettable circumstances Hiram Johnson would be unable to be present at the ceremonies. Mounting the rostrum Johnson delivered himself of an oration which would put any of his later Senatorial speeches far in the shade.
Frank Norris, brilliant novelist and author of The Pit, was not so fortunate. Frank was in my English class, and I well remember how the professor used to rebuke him when he took his turn at reading an essay before the class. But we Frosh were more quick to discover genius than the professor. We chose Norris as Damnator for our Bourdon Burial. I'll bet Frank's speech would have been a spellbinder, but it was never delivered. He suffered abduction the day before the ceremonies, and we never did discover where they put him. Sophomores of the Fiji fraternity knew, however. They stole a march on the other Greek letter boys by pledging Norris up as he lay there helpless.
Fearful of losing their other speakers, the Frosh secured an immense truck and built upon it a burglar-proof box of suitable size and placed the speakers therein. The entire outfit was draped in black and drawn by six richly caparisoned black draft horses. My, but it was imposing! As the procession approached the College Avenue bridge, the entrance to the grounds was found to be blocked by a series of stout chains. Without a moment's hesitation Al Patterson, Berkeley expressman and hired driver, lashed his horses into a run, careened down the steep banks into the bed of Strawberry Creek and up the other side. Strategy, bravery, and recklessness all combined with remarkably effective execution. Again were the wily Sophs outfoxed. But the poor speakers inside the box. What must have been their thoughts as the huge vehicle jolted down into the creek. We never inquired or cared, but we saw them later mount the platform all scarred and bleeding and torn.
Such was Bourdon, most unique college tradition of which I have heard. It persisted for twenty-five years until advancing civilization attempted reforms and took all the kick out of it. Let the Axe and its tradition go hang. I would like to see the Bourdon tradition brought back with all its aches and pains, its joys and thrills.
Second in importance as a tradition of the old days at Berkeley was the Mortarboard Rush between the Freshman and Sophomore classes. Seniors of those days wore the black plug hat, the sign of dignity. Juniors wore a white plug hat, generally decorated with inscriptions, class numerals, pictures of ballet dancers, and beer mugs. It was the class of '79 I believer that introduced the Mortarboard as the class headpiece of the Sophomores. All that is changed now, of course; the mortarboard is worn by the graduates at commencement, while the old crushed plug hats of the Juniors and Seniors are no longer in vogue. Those messy looking hats were considered too uncouth. Of course the present custom of the college man, that of wearing no garters and allowing his socks to hang down over his shoe tops, is considered quite the sign of refinement.
Well, that Mortarboard of the Sophomores caused a heap of trouble. The Freshmen had no class hat --- they were forbidden by the Sophomores to wear one. In retaliation the Freshmen each year shortly after matriculation stole a mortarboard and appeared with it en masse on the old football field where now stands the Life Science Building. The Sophomores generally gathered at the gymnasium and marched down to the field in a column of fours. Then there ensued a free-for-all fight for the possession of the Mortarboard. If the Frosh could repel the attack and retain the headpiece, victory was theirs. If the Sophomores could take it away, even if recovered bit by bit, theirs was the laurel wreath. There had been impromptu mortarboard rushes in years before, but the first prearranged rush was that between the classes of '83 and '84.
The plans of the two classes had become known throughout Berkeley and even in San Francisco. For two hours before the appointed time of the rush all of the trains into Berkeley were crowded. The little town had never played host to so many before. The Freshmen rejoiced that day on account of a superiority in numbers. The Sophomores, owing to the disparity in numbers, were dubious as to the result, but they could not sidestep the challenge. Excitement ran high during the drill hour. The Freshmen were excused first and hastened to North Hall in order to prepare themselves properly for the fray.
Some delay was occasioned as the Frosh scurried about searching for a new supply of old clothing to replace that stolen from their lockers by the wise Sophomores. Eventually the march was started down to the field under the direction of the Junior class, natural allies of the Frosh. Arriving at the battleground, the fledglings were drawn up in massed formation while an obliging Junior passed in the mortarboard to the keeping of the huskiest of them. Down from the gymnasium, over the brow of the hill, came the Sophomores in a column of fours, with locked arms. The custodian of the Mortarboard waved it high in the air as a defy to the hated Sophs. This precipitated a little additional nervousness on the part of each Frosh. The weak shrank back while the huskies pressed forward, even as Uriah, to the front line of battle. The Sophomores came on with a show of bravado, singing their songs and yelling their yells. On command of their Senior marshals they halted thirty feet from the Freshman phalanx to prepare for the attack. At another signal the Sophs charged, yelling like a troop of Comanche Indians. The two columns came together with a sickening thud, the front ranks shooting straight up in the air from the force of those pushing behind. Down they tumbled in the dirt, and there ensued a man-to-man struggle to the death. Freshmen, not having time to become acquainted, attacked each other and fought bitterly until separated by Junior friends. The combatants tugged and pulled and wrestled, the Sophomores hunting for the hidden Mortarboard and the Freshmen fighting to conceal it.
At last the Sophomores withdrew to form again. They challenged the Freshmen to show the Mortarboard if they still had it, and the Frosh promptly complied by waving the bone of contention triumphantly over their heads. Thoroughly enraged, the Sophomores rushed in headlong without waiting to form. Oh my, what a fight! Your modern tie-ups and sack contests are skim-milk in comparison. At last a husky Sophomore was seen hobbling sway from the action as fast as his little remaining strength would permit. He had come to grips with the Frosh custodian of the Mortarboard and taken it from him. Thus ended what was conceded to be the hardest fought Mortarboard Rush in the history of the affair.
Now for the tradition of the Axe, with thirty-one full years of history behind it.
The history of the Stanford Axe began with its appearance at the Stanford-California baseball game on April 15, 1899.
Stanford was the first to give the Axe yell. It was a success, such a success in fact that some of the enterprising Stanford boys decided to reinforce the yell with a real axe. An axe was procured about three sizes larger than a regular fireman's axe, a great big sharp instrument with a long handle. A group of Stanford men brought this axe to the ball game and proceeded to demonstrate with the idea of getting California's goat.
A chopping block was placed in position and each time the Stanford rooters gave their Axe yell a piece of blue and gold ribbon was chopped off.
Far from getting California's goat the ribbon-chopping process had quite the opposite effect. Pete Kaarsberg was pitching for California, and Pete was mad clear through. Never did he work harder to win a game. Gillie Mein, Monk Cheesborough, Don McLaren, Tyrell Hamlin, Swan, Hunter, Fuller, and Wolf backed up Pete to the limit and California won the game 9-7. Since the Bears had won the first contest 4-1 that Axe game gave them the series. Both games were played at the 16th and Folsom Street Park in San Francisco, neutral grounds, as was the custom in those days.
The story of that baseball game has been almost lost in a maze of hazy recollections, but the aftermath of the game has been recalled many, many times and will be told for many years to come.
Now as to the story of the Axe theft without any frills or poetic license. A group of Californians --- Paul Castlehun, Jack McGee, and Tad Bacigalupi --- were watching that ball game and getting madder and madder at the Stanford Axe. "Let's steal that thing," proposed McGee. "Agreed," quoth Castlehun and Bacigalupi. No, it would not be feasible to commit the theft within the grounds; there were too many others to interfere. It was perceived that the custodians of the Axe must leave by a narrow passage underneath the grandstand. To the far end of that passageway repaired the three Californians, and there they discovered that their brilliant idea had also been conceived by other Californians. Everett Brown, Billy Drum, Archie Cloud, Jerry Muma, Clint Miller, Coleman Broughton, Jimmy Hopper, Fred Dorety, Charlie Pringle, and Harry Morrison were waiting at the end of that passageway to pounce on the luckless Stanfordites.
Shortly there emerged from under the grandstand Carl Hayden, bearing the Axe. He was supported by a bodyguard, all too small, considering the test which was to come.
The California rascals let him pass on into 16th Street and then followed behind. Part way up the block the Stanford boys, sensing trouble, turned to remonstrate. That was the signal for the attack. What followed was no gentleman's affair. Both sides were in dead earnest. Blows landed with telling effect, eyes were blackened, and Jerry Muma lost a perfectly good suit of clothes. The Axe dropped to the sidewalk, but was quickly seized again by both Stanford and California hands.
Tugging and pushing, the crowd moved up 16th to Capp Street. Here the whole plan of the California men came near going on the rocks. Policemen with drawn clubs jumped into the fray. Jack McGee, quick on the trigger, pleaded with them and argued that the boys were trying to take his Axe from him. The late Captain Joseph Conboy, then Sergeant of Police, sensing the situation, ordered his men to let the boys fight it out.
Reinforcements kept coming up to both sides. Paul Castlehun, mighty football man, in the thick of the fray, suddenly found himself in sole possession of the Axe. A buck at the center and he was through the struggling crowd and off up 16th Street, followed closely by Bacigalupi and the crowd. "Run, run," yelled the Californians. "Get him," yelled the Stanfordites. Paul might have jumped on a passing street car at Valencia Street, but he had no strength left after the struggle and running with the heavy Axe. With his last breath, he passed the Axe to Bacigalupi, who carried it into a blind alley. Retracing his steps, Tad was met by Everett Brown, who suggested giving the Axe to Billy Drum. Billy was the fastest man in intercollegiate circles. As a Freshman he had won the hundred, two-twenty, and four-forty from the Stanford phenom, Brunton. But Billy didn't carry a fifteen-pound axe in those races. Drum carried the Axe up 16th Street, turned north at the first alley and went to 14th. Turning west on 14th, he ran to Valencia, where he stopped at a livery stable and tried to hire a fast horse and buggy.
Adler, coming up, hustled him out of there, as the Stanford men were close in pursuit. Drum ran up the hill to Guerrero Street, where two Stanford men came up and ran alongside. "Give me the Axe, Bill; I'll carry it awhile," said one, and Bill, thoroughly winded, passed it over. Instantly he realized his mistake. He had given the Axe to Stroud, Stanford hurdler with plenty of speed. Drum went after his man, grabbed him by the shoulders, and down they both went to the sidewalk. Bill get a clutch on the Axe handle again, held on, and prayed. Everett Brown and Jimmy Hopper were first to his assistance, Hopper setting a Stanford husky down with a beautiful flying tackle. Soon more Californians came up. The few remaining Stanfordites were overpowered, and the California crowd commandeered a passing delivery wagon. Driving to the vicinity of the German Hospital, Drum took the Axe into a butcher shop, sawed off the handle, wrapped the Axe in brown paper, and gave it to Clint Miller, the only man with an overcoat large enough to hide the thing.
From the butcher shop the Axe-bearers went to Fillmore and Oak, caught a street car going north, transferred to Washington and headed for the Ferry. Off at Powell Street, the bunch decided to walk to the Ferry. Going through Chinatown Drum stopped at a hardware store, sawed the handle in two, gave one half to Everett Brown, and kept the other.
Reaching the Ferry, there was plenty of consternation in the ranks of the adventurers. They were met by the Stanford men and a corps of policemen who insisted on a thorough search. But wit was again equal to the occasion. Clint Miller, with the Axe under his overcoat, quickly separated from the crowd, raised his hat to the first pretty girl he saw, took her arm and gallantly escorted her through the gates and on to the boat. The Axe was brought to Berkeley and given into the custody of Al Lean --- old "Turn-a-flip" Al, trainer of the football team.
It reposed in Al's quarters at Harmon Gymnasium most of Sunday. There anyone could see it and anyone could handle it. Pete Kaarsberg and Warren "Locomotive" Smith even borrowed it and took it into the woods. After shaving down several trees and fences and finding the Axe blade perfectly sound and serviceable, they returned it to the gymnasium.
On Monday at drill time Everett Brown appeared on the campus with the Axe. At the sight of the emblem there was a near rout amoung the brave soldiers. Good old Professor Soule, in command of the cadets, promptly gave permission to break ranks. Lines were re-formed under student leadership, and, with the Axe heading the procession, followed by the Band, every student in college joined in the parade to the Berkeley station and back again to old West Field, where a bonfire was kindled, and the first Axe Rally was held forthwith. Everett Brown and Clint Miller made fiery speeches, and Dick Tully and Milt Schwartz sang some of their famous songs. Charles Pringle, All-American tackle of the football team, was elected grand custodian of the Axe. "Lol" took the trophy to the Chi Phi House and hid it beneath the mattress of his bed.
Numerous attempts to regain the Axe were made by Stanford men. A tall, bewhiskered individual called on Pringle one day, bearing a note purporting to come from Al Lean. "Send by this fellow the Axe to me this afternoon, for I want to number it and fix the handle. The follow is a painter," read the note. It was signed "Al Lean." Clever scheme, but not quite clever enough to fool Pringle.
On another occasion some Stanford huskies, including Erb, Crandall, Rice, Lougheed, Gregory, Parker, and Greenbaum proceeded to the Chi Phi House with the idea in mind of overpowering Pringle and escaping with the Axe. This time Pringle must have had a premonition of dire events to come. He had taken the precaution to take out one of the sliding doors in the parlor, put the Axe in the hole, and set the door back in. That was the only nook or cranny in the house which escaped the scrutiny of the Stanford crowd.
After many other unsuccessful attempts by Stanford to regain the Axe, the faculties of the two universities, fearing things were becoming too serious, took the matter in hand. Professors Green and Richardson of Stanford and Bacon and Edwards of California held a meeting and decided that the Axe belonged to California by right of conquest. There you are, Stanford, return the Axe to its rightful owners!
Shortly after that time a safety deposit box at a Berkeley bank was provided where the Axe might rest in peace between rallies. The boys respected the decision of the professors, of course, but they were not willing any more to take a chance on such a flimsy structure as the Chi Phi House.
It was decided that the Axe should be brought out once a year at the annual Axe rallies. For thirty-one years since that time Californians have held their Axe Rally. Heaven knows when they will hold another.
Continue to "California Loses the Axe"