By AnneMarie Hunter
For more than a century, the spirit of the Cougar has distinguished Washington State University and exemplified the heart of its community. However, we have not always been Cougars.
In 1890, Washington State College was established as a land-grant school under the federal Morrill Act with a mission to teach practical disciplines “related to agriculture and the mechanic arts.” During those early years, the school chose names to reflect its agricultural roots, such as Farmers and Aggies.
Beginning in 1903, these namesakes were replaced by four-pawed mascots. These goodwill ambassadors, however, were not cougars but dogs. The first canine to fill the role was Squirt. With four white paws, playful eyes, and his own college jacket, Squirt united enthusiastic fans and players during games. After four years of loyal service, Squirt graduated and moved on with his student owner. Following Squirt, several other dogs took on the role of pup cheerleader, including Billie and Bull.
Then, in the fall of 1919, a momentous game rewrote the school’s mascot direction. During the October 25th game against Cal, Washington State’s fighting spirit made headline news. Journalists compared the team’s speed and tenacity with that of the cougar and the school community ran with the image and analogy. Just three days later, the Cougar was adopted as the school’s mascot. By November, two mounted, stuffed cougars had joined the yell squad on the sidelines during games.
In 1927, a live cougar replaced the inanimate stuffed cats. This stealthy feline was presented as a gift to the school from Gov. Roland Hartley. Hartley suggested the cougar be named for the team’s current quarterback, Herbert “Butch” Meeker. Though just 5 feet 5 inches tall, Meeker had earned the reputation as a fierce competitor.
“The fightingest little football player ever to don a Cougar uniform,” was how the 1928 Chinook Yearbook described him.
With that first live cougar, the Butch legacy was born. For the next five decades, the school’s cougar spirit was represented by six of the big cats. Butch I reigned until he passed in 1938. Butch II through VI each filled the mascot paws until 1978, when Butch VI passed.
During those years, the beloved felines lived in a man-made “den” near the stadium called Butch’s Den. A group of dedicated students, the Butchmen, raised money to fund the cougars’ food and travel to games. During games, the sleek cats would run the stadium with the yell squad after touchdowns and raise the pitch of excitement with sensational cougar screams.
Following the loss of Butch VI, a student survey was conducted by the ASWSU Environmental Task Force Committee. Sixty-three percent of students voted against adopting another live mascot. From that survey, WSU President Glenn Terrell ended the tradition and Butch’s Den was dismantled in 1987.
THE PRESENT HONORS THE PAST
In 2008, the crimson heart of the cougar returned to the original site of Butch’s Den. Forged from bronze, fire, and WSU’s legacy, the Cougar Pride sculpture is a generous gift from Gary Schneidmiller, who earned a business degree from WSU in 1971 and a master’s degree in agricultural economics in 1973.
Schneidmiller imagined a gift that would recognize the school’s past, pay tribute to the present, and endure into the future. Schneidmiller also saw an opportunity to honor his parents who were generous benefactors of WSU.
During the year prior to the arrival of this extraordinary bronze cougar, the football stadium was under renovation and a work of art was included in the plans. Schneidmiller and a project committee explored numerous ideas for the artwork.
“The longer we talked, the more apparent it became that this particular location would only be made complete with the placement of an incredible cougar,” Schneidmiller said.
Spokane-based artists Mike and Chester Fields were commissioned to bring this vision to life. During the year-long process, father and son created the design, completed the casting, and oversaw installation. Cougar Pride is 14 feet 5 inches long from nose to tail, 6 feet 4 inches wide, and weighs approximately 4,500 pounds. Standing 11 feet 4 inches high, this intrepid mountain lion emanates strength and nobility from its four-ton granite pedestal.
The spirit-inspiring sculpture was dedicated on November 22, 2008, before the Apple Cup game, where Gov. Christine Gregoire revived the tradition of the state governor presenting a new Butch to the school.
“I believed we needed to do something very special at the location and was excited to have the opportunity to play a role in accomplishing the task,” Schneidmiller said.