The Story of the Axe
Stanford Illustrated Review, November 1927

The famous Stanford Axe, having long since passed out of active use, is now but a tradition. Formerly a weapon of the Cardinals, it is at present a trophy of the Bears. It is through this transference of ownership that the ancient battle-axe has received much fame. When the well-known "Give 'em the axe" yell breaks forth from either the Stanford or California rooting sections, there is considerably more meaning attached to the words than the average person is aware of. In the far corners of the mind of nearly every freshman entering Stanford there is the deep-rooted desire to regain the axe for his Alma Mater. The reason for this significance is the history which the weapon has. Let us look back to the days of long ago when Stanford was in its infancy and the axe was born.

Though now thought of in connection with football, the axe was introduced and rose to prominence in the intercollegiate baseball series with California during the season of 1899. We find that Stanford was very successful in this sport in early times. Against the University of California we won every baseball series from 1892 till 1897, losing but one out of twelve games played, and tying one by the score of nine to nine. In 1897, after losing the first game, California won the next two. Stanford reversed this process in 1898, losing the first encounter and winning the remaining ones.

This brings us to the season in question, 1899. The year began with high hopes, but ended dismally. At the start, the team was demoralized by the loss of its star player, George M. BECKETT, who was captain and pitcher. BECKETT died January 25, 1899. This loss necessitated a change in leadership and the development of a new pitcher. To make matters worse, the team was without a coach during the opening days of the season. In spite of the efforts of John SHEEHAN and George BORCHERS in the closing weeks, it seemed impossible to develop sharp team play. During the preliminary season only three games were won. April 6, 1899, the first game against the University of California was played in San Francisco, at the Sixteenth and Folsom Street grounds. California won the game by the decisive score of four to one. Honors of the day were shared by Captain McLAREN, who played third base for the winners, and LANAGAN, pitching for Stanford.

Two days before the second game a great rally was held "on the Farm." This was Thursday, April 13. The object of the rally was to arouse interest in the game the following Saturday. Material was collected for the larges bonfire on the campus up to that time. The work was performed entirely by one student, Billy McLEOD, with the aid of an old horse.

A new idea was thought of to bring victory, which materialized in the form of an axe. Up to this time the axe was used symbolically only, in the well-known axe yell. Stanford originated the axe yell in 1896 and used it exclusively until the Big Game of 1899, which California won, its first football victory over Stanford. It was now decided that the axe take definite form. This was done by making an imitation battle-axe. It had been dulled by the several defeats of the season. But a new start was to be made.

Beside the bonfire in the centerfield territory of the baseball diamond, J.F. ENGLISH, '01, gave a legal and literary recital of the causes of the dullness of the axe. It was unanimously resolved to sharpen the weapon in order to hew out a victory the following Saturday. A grindstone was procured, and the axe publicly sharpened. An effigy of a University of California sympathizer being discovered, it was decided to test the edge. After a slight struggle, the victim was bound and his head laid on a block. With one blow the head was severed. Amid wild cheering, it was thrown into the now lighted pyre, closely followed by the pyre.

The tested weapon was turned over for use to Captain LOUGHEED, who have a short talk. A war dance around the huge bonfire, to the sharp staccato of "Give 'em the Axe" chanted by hundreds of wildly cheering voices, followed. The baseball team, placed in an old wagon, was pulled around the blazing mass by students. The rally was a huge success. The axe was created.

Saturday, April 15, 1899, the second intercollegiate baseball game was played against the University of California. But Stanford fared no better than it had the week before. The Bears won again, this time by a nine to seven score. By virtue of this victory, California won the series for that year. But of more lasting significance than the loss of the baseball championship was the subsequent loss of the axe. Three Stanford men had privately taken the axe to the game, played at Sixteenth and Folsom Street, San Francisco. After the game, as the axe bearers were walking away from the grounds, they were attacked by a group of seven Californians. A fight immediately started for possession of the axe. Though badly outnumbered, the Stanford guards fought valiantly, but were gradually overpowered.

During the fracas, Paul CASTELHUN of California managed to secure possession of the axe and immediately broke away from the scuffle. He was joined by Fodini BACIGALUPI, also of California and now a prominent San Francisco attorney, while the remaining assaulters kept the Stanfordites engaged. The Stanford men soon freed themselves, however, and gave hot pursuit. But it looked as though the Californians had a clear field ahead. A blind alley, unexpectedly encountered, gave Stanford a chance to catch up. But CASTELHUN criss-crossed to BACIGALUPI, who reversed the field and fled across Howard and Mission Streets. At this point a little trickery was used by the runner, who concealed the axe under his coat. Berkeley was still some miles distant and Stanford was close behind. BACIGALUPI relayed the axe to Bill DRUM, a sprinter, who sped to Church Street. CLOUD, present superintendent of the San Francisco schools, here joined the interference.

On the way to the Ferry Building, they paused just long enough to have an astonished butcher remove the handle. Stanford, however, guessing their course of action, was waiting at the Ferry Building with reinforcements in the form of several policeman they had enlisted in their cause. In the confusion which followed, one of the Californians slipped away to the Alameda Ferry with the prize in his possession. He was here most ably assisted by a young co-ed in concealing the axe. She hid the object in the abundance of her skirts, which were typical of the period, and was allowed to pass unmolested. About forty-five minutes later the axe was secretly reposing in a California fraternity house, the Chi Phi. Stanford was down but not out. Learning where the axe was concealed, that night the Cardinal organized a mass attack and raided the house. But they could not find the axe as it was concealed in the piano. That ended for the time the actual conflict for possession.

But the question was by no means settled. Difficulty arose immediately in connection with the field meet, which was scheduled for Saturday, April 22, a week following the second baseball game. The San Francisco papers said FRANKLIN, U.C. track manager, had received word from Stanford that if the axe which Stanford "gave them" and failed to get back were displayed at the field day, said field day would be called off. The Daily Palo Alto refuted this statement. Before the meet, Stanford did not know whether Berkeley would display the axe or not.

A "college scrap" with a broad axe figuring prominently loomed as an exciting possibility, and people were planning to be there to see it.

Two days before the meet a communication was received by Stanford from the University of California faculty. It suggested that in view of recent conflicts and the likelihood of their recurrence, both field day and intercollegiate debates be called off for the year. Stanford officials did not think such severe measures necessary to prevent further disturbances and sent Professor GREEN, Chairman of the Students' Affairs Committee, to confer with the Berkeley professors. On his return a conference with President JORDAN and the faculty resulted in the following statement to Stanford students:

"The committee on athletics has every assurance that our students are to be received at Berkeley as guests, and to be treated with every courtesy at the field day next Saturday. Our students are urged not to allow themselves to be drawn into any rush or ungentlemanly conduct. Anything resembling personal encounter between the students of the two universities must disgrace both and will lead to the suspension of all inter-collegiate contests. Let no old axe cut off our sense of dignity and self-respect."

The statement was signed by David S. JORDAN, President of the University, and George M. RICHARDSON, Chairman of the Athletic Committee.

This declaration had the desired effect. The field day was run off without mishap. California won, but the score was closer than was generally expected.

But that the axe was still uppermost in the minds of Stanford men of that time was soon proved, for on Monday, April 24, of that eventful year 1899, twenty Stanford students in three wagons (this was before the day of the automobile) went to Berkeley and returned with the historic senior bench. Located near North Hall, the bench was in the shape of a huge block "C" and was carved with the names of upperclass notables. The raid was carefully planned and cleverly executed. One squad remained at Hayward where while two continued to Berkeley, reaching there at two o'clock in the morning. The first squad led by Ray SMITH and Van KAATHOVEN, were followed by the watchman, appointed to look out for Stanford students. Noting this, the squad led the sleuth on a wild goose chase in the hills, enabling squad number two, under GREGORY and LAWSHÉ to put the bench on the wagon and drive off. They rushed the object to where the first squad, under Will IRWIN, took it up and carried it to the campus.

The return was uneventful, but full of fear for the raiders. Milpitas was reached at nine-thiry and the news telegraphed to the campus. Hundreds of students, armed with every conceivable weapon to fight off expected pursuit hurried to Alviso and paraded back as a guard of honor. There was an impromptu rally at Palo Alto and again on the campus. Classes were forgotten. The largest student demonstration since Stanford won the government suit was held. The general opinion prevailed that the bench should be regarded as hostage for the axe, captured the week before.

The axe was considered avenged. The bench was placed in the Encina Clubroom, for another rally. However, the faculty ruled that it could not be kept in a University building, and so it was removed outside. California regarded the loss lightly, declaring they did not want the unsightly object, were at a loss as to how to dispose of it, and that the present were welcome to keep it. After a few years, Stanford men decided the California big "C" was a jinx, and the last sliver of it was burned near Encina with great ceremony. Soon after Stanford men stole the big "C" bench, the more modern big "C" was created in its present position on the hillside back of Berkeley. It was first painted red on the day of the 1905 baseball game. Before that Stanford twice lettered Goat Island with "Stanford" the night before the football game.

Some enterprising students nearly regained the axe in an indirect manner at one time. The plotters secured possession of the California Golden Bear, highly prized by every Californian. Contrary to all expectations, the University of California students carried their complaint to President WILBUR. A presidential mandate required that we return the bear. Our students unwillingly did so. It was implied that the axe would be exchanged for the bear, but California forgot to carry out their part. They still have the axe.

So much for the history of the axe. At the University of California the axe is highly prized and is closely guarded. For greater safety, it is kept in the vaults of a Berkeley bank, under government protection. The baseball captain is ex-officio custodian of the axe, no small honor. As a bodyguard, the axe has the freshman class. Every year it is brought from its resting place to be exhibited at the axe rally. This the big event on the California calendar; the axe is here given over to its new custodian. Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to spirit the axe away during these rallies, but it is too closely watched. The last attempt for recovery was made two years ago, when Fred SWAN, with a few selected companions attended the axe rally with the intention of returning with the prize. Though trying to lose themselves in the mass of students, they were soon observed and the police gave them thirty minutes to leave Berkeley.

Because of the evident inability to regain possession of the trophy, Stanford, in November 1923, had an exact duplicate of the traditional axe made and brought it out for the first time at the Big Game rally of that year. It was enthusiastically received and will probably be used for all future Big Game rallies. Scalper, sophomore honorary society, is its guardian. The present honored agreement between the two institutions, entered into in 1919, that neither will raid the campus of the other, prevents any further attempts to regain the relic. California has one axe, Stanford has another. Time, the great healer, has smoothed over the difficulty and intense feeling on the question is now lacking. So far as Stanford is concerned, the old axe is a "buried hatchet" and the past is forgotten.

©1927 Stanford Illustrated Review
Extremophiles Inc.