The origin of the Jayhawk is rooted in the historic struggles of Kansas settlers. The term "Jayhawk" was probably coined around 1848. Accounts of its use appeared from Illinois to Texas and in that year, a party of pioneers crossing what is now Nebraska, called themselves "The Jayhawkers of '49". The name combines two birds--the blue jay, a noisy, quarrelsome thing known to rob other nests, and the sparrow hawk, a quiet, stealthy hunter. The message here: Don't 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 in which slavery would be legal and abolitionists committed to a free state. The opposing 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' when Kansas was admitted as a free state in 1861. 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 Jayhawk appeared in a cheer--the famous Rock Chalk Chant. And 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. Around 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 appearance. It is Harold D. Sandy's 1946 design of a smiling Jayhawk that survives. The design was copyrighted in 1947. In 2005 the Jayhawk was reintroduced with the new KU Trajan font.
In the 1960s, the Jayhawk went 3-D when the KU Alumni Association provided a mascot costume. Welcome, Big Jay. In 1971, during half-time of Homecoming, a huge egg was hauled out to the 50-yard line, and fans witnessed the hatching of Big Jay's companion, Baby Jay.
Today you'll find several Jayhawks on the Lawrence campus. A piece of birdlike iconography on Dyche Hall, erected in 1901, looks suspiciously like a Jayhawk. In front of Strong Hall perches a large Jayhawk, a statue with sleek, modern lines, gift of the Class of 1956. Another, a striding, feathered bronze bird, greets visitors to the Adams Alumni Center.