Bizarre as the bird looks, the origins of the University of Kansas mascot are pretty clear.
“Jayhawkers” were bands of free-state Kansans who looted their neighbors, like hawks stealing from a nest, in the run-up to the Civil War. Once the Union started recruiting, a Kansas regiment led by Charles Jennison adopted the nickname Jennison’s Jayhawkers.
The story of the Missouri Tigers, however, is murkier, its links to the war less renowned.
Confederate troops under Gen. Sterling Price?
Yankees who occupied the Columbia campus?
Any and all enemies of Jayhawks?
No, no and no.
A history teacher for Columbia Public Schools, Tom Prater, has traced the Missouri mascot to a war-era “home guard” called the Columbia Tiger Co. Some 90 men assembled to protect the township — not from jayhawkers, but from fellow Missourians determined to win one for the Confederacy.
The Columbia Tigers were local residents and businesspeople just trying to hang on to their livelihoods, Prater said.
In the fall of 1864, rumors were wild that Confederate Gen. Sterling Price’s invasion army would strike at Columbia, where the lone building representing the college, Academic Hall, was held by Union forces and served as a prison for Southern sympathizers.
Anti-Union guerrillas led by William “Bloody Bill” Anderson were on a tear on the north side of the river.
So the Columbia Tigers organized, built a log bunkhouse and erected a big bell to warn the citizenry.
“They dug a moat around the county courthouse,” said Prater. “Apparently the Tigers succeeded because the guerrillas never showed up.”
If their legacy lacks battlefield drama, the Tigers were proud enough to be written up in the 1882 book “History of Boone County, Missouri.” In the following decade, newspapers chronicled their lobbying of the University of Missouri to be the namesake of its new football team.
Prater now is trying to convince Columbia to erect a marker at Eighth Street and Broadway, where the group’s protective “Tigers’ Den” bunkhouse stood.
Of course, history’s irony — more than a century into this “Border War” hype between Missouri and Kansas sports teams — is that these Yankee Tigers never met the Yankee Jayhawks.