Though they attended Washington State nearly a half century apart, Gary Schneidmiller and Herbert Meeker share an unbreakable bond to a storied tradition.
For the past three decades, Washington State’s mascot, Butch, has been an anonymous student in a costume; however, for students who attended the school between 1927 and 1978, memories of Butch are much different.
“My first memories of our live cougar were when I visited Pullman with my parents. A trip by Butch’s Den was a mandatory stop from the perspective of a little kid,” said Schneidmiller, ‘71 alumnus.
“As a student I remember Butch in his den, the Butchmen who helped raise money to support his eating and traveling habits, as well as the red and white striped jackets they wore at Cougar sports events,” Schneidmiller added. “I also remember the excitement generated at football and basketball games when he would randomly elect to deliver his Cougar scream.”
Well before Schneidmiller’s time as a student, a student-athlete, though small in stature, was in the process of leaving a giant legacy at the school.
“The fightingest little football player ever to don a Cougar uniform,” was how the 1928 Chinook Yearbook described Herbert “Butch” Meeker, who quarterbacked the Washington State College football team from 1925 to 1927.
At 5-foot-5 and 150 pounds, Meeker’s slight frame belied how he played. A 1955 story looking back at a 1925 game between WSC and USC recounts how Meeker led the Cougars to a 17-12 upset over the Trojans, stating that “the littlest guy on the field almost single-handedly toppled the Trojans.”
“With that victory,” the article said, “the name of Butch Meeker became a fable in Pullman, Wash., athletic lore.”
At the time of the USC game, the school’s mascot was a stuffed cougar. But Washington Governor Roland Hartley presented WSC with a live cougar mascot two years later, at halftime of the Homecoming game versus Idaho, November 11, 1927.
Governor Hartley suggested that the mascot be named after Meeker, the football hero of the day.
And the tradition of Butch was born.
Butch I served as the mascot for 11 years before dying January 19, 1938. The student body president and football team captain, Chris Rumburg, went looking for a new cougar to replace Butch.
“We’ll get a cougar if we have to organize an expedition ourselves,” he said.
In this effort, Rumburg organized a sale of tags (at 10 cents each), bearing the likeness of the original Butch, to help fund a cage, which would ultimately be called Butch’s Den, for the new mascot to live in. The school found its replacements when Governor Clarence Martin secured two cougar kittens.
The tradition of Butch continued on through the decades, with the Washington governor presenting a new cougar to replace each one that had passed away.
The lineage lasted for six live cougars, ending August 24, 1978, with the death of Butch VI.
Butch VI’s passing prompted a debate on whether the live mascot tradition should continue or end. A survey of 403 students conducted by the ASWSU Environmental Task Force Committee resulted in 63 percent of students opposing another live cougar to replace Butch VI. From those results, WSU President Glenn Terrell decided to end the tradition.
The cage where Butch lived, set at the northeast corner of Martin Stadium near Stadium Way, remained nine more years before it was dismantled in 1987.
Two decades later, Butch would return to its home, thanks to Schneidmiller.
In 2007, Martin Stadium was in the midst of a renovation, part of which was the development of plaza area at the northeast area of the stadium.
An aspect of the area’s development was an art piece and Schneidmiller, a member of the stadium renovation committee, saw an opportunity.
“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,” he said.
Schneidmiller formed a small committee to brainstorm ideas on what to place at the site. Ideas ranged from bronzes that depicted past and present players, the WSU logo, and cougars.
“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. “We determined in the process that it was almost exactly the same as where the former Butch’s Den was. We all agreed the perfect solution was to identify world class artists who would help us bring Butch home.”
Spokane-based artists Mike Fields and his father Chester were enlisted to make the Cougar statue a reality. The Fieldses created a website, cougarpride.com, with information about the project, including illustrations and pictures showing the creation of the statue.
“Everyone wanted something that had a lot of prestige and stature,” said Mike. “It was a consensus that people wanted more of a prideful look that had a great presence but not too overly aggressive. That was the theme I always kept in mind. The feel that he’s there, he’s capable of pouncing at a moment’s notice, but he’s kind of more regal.”
A year in the making, the sculpture is 14-feet, 5-inches long nose to tail, 6-feet, 4-inches wide, and weighs approximately 4,500 pounds; the cougar itself stands 11-feet, 4-inches high.
Schneidmiller commissioned the monument and named it Cougar Pride.
“We considered a number of names for the piece. It just simply seemed like the embodiment of what we were trying to achieve,” he said.
The statue was dedicated on November 22, 2008, before the Apple Cup game. Governor Chris Gregoire revived the tradition of the governor presenting a new Butch to the school. In her remarks, Gregoire said the statue “is a wonderful tribute” to the university.
In addition to preserving the tradition of Butch, Schneidmiller wished to honor his father, Manuel, a 1941 WSC graduate, and his mother Gladys.
His wishes are depicted in the dedication at the statue’s base:
THE TRADITION OF A LIVE COUGAR MASCOT AT WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY ENCOMPASSED OVER A HALF CENTURY, FROM 1927 TO 1978, ENDING WITH THE PASSSING OF BUTCH VI. ON THIS SITE STOOD BUTCH’S DEN, THE HOME OF THE LIVE COUGAR MASCOT. IN RECOGNITION OF THIS TRADITION, BUTCH RETURNS HOME WITH COUGAR PRIDE, DEDICATED IN HONOR OF MANUEL (WSC ’41) AND GLADYS SCHNEIDMILLER BY THEIR SON GARY SCHNEIDMILLER (WSU ’71) ON NOVEMBER 22, 2008.
“My father was a Cougar to the core, my mom still attends Cougar games, and most of our family are Cougs,” said Schneidmiller, who emphasizes that he considers the statue to be a “working Butch,” in that a portion of proceeds from the sales of statue replicas are directed to WSU Athletics.
“I am hopeful that Cougars everywhere rekindle and reconnect with that special feeling when they visit Butch at his old home on Stadium Way,” Schneidmiller explains. “All of the people involved in this project have played a role in reviving a very old tradition started at WSC, and now extends to WSU today and into the future. Bringing Butch home was exactly the right thing to do.”