History of Jayhawk traced to 1840s
Kansas University 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 Jayhawk 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 Jayhawk. 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.
In the 1960s, the Jayhawk went 3-D when the KU Alumni Association provided a mascot costume.
In 1971, during homecoming halftime, a huge egg was hauled out to the 50-yard line, and fans witnessed the hatch of Jay’s companion — “Baby Jay.”
Students will find several Jayhawks on campus.