Mascots are believed to bring good luck, especially to athletic teams. KU 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 nests, and the sparrow hawk, a stealthy hunter. The message here: Do not turn your back on this bird.
During the 1850’s, 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, 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 Jayhawkers. 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 Rock Chalk Chant. When KU football players first took the field in 1890, it seemed 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 Jayhawk (top left) in 1912. He gave it shoes. Why? For kicking opponents, of course.
In 1920, a more somber bird (top right), perched on a KU monogram, came into use. In 1923, Jimmy O’Bryon and George Hollingbery designed a duck-like Jayhawk (second image on left). About 1929, Forrest O. Calvin drew a grim-faced bird (near right) sporting talons that could maim. In 1941, Gene “Yogi” Williams opened the Jayhawk’s eyes and beak (left), giving it a contentious look.
It is student Harold D. Sandy’s 1946 design of a smiling Jayhawk (left) that survives. The design purchased from Sandy and was copyrighted in 1947 by the KU Bookstores. The University of Kansas later registered the design as its official service-mark and it is still one of the most recognizable and unique collegiate mascots in the country.
Information is from “Traditions”, published by the KU Office of University Relations.