The Butchmen were students with a big responsibility: getting Butch to the field for home football games back when Washington State University’s mascot was a live cougar.
They helped wheel the cougar from its cage to the stadium and watched over the animal as students and their parents, fans, and alumni came for a closer look, often posing with Butch for photos. And, when WSU scored, they took a lap, carting the cougar past the stands and bringing the crowd to its feet.
Courtesy WSU Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections
“I think we may have invented The Wave,” jokes retired Colfax dentist Al Kirkpatrick (’75 Zool.), a member of the Butchmen his sophomore through senior years. “As we got the cougar in front of each seating section, they’d stand up and cheer and wave. We did the student section first, then the alumni section. When the Cougars scored a lot of points, we got tired.”
The Butchmen formed in 1963 and disbanded after the last live cougar mascot died in 1978. Before them, though, other student handlers—known as the Cougar Guard or Intercollegiate Knights—hauled Butch through downtown Pullman during parades and showed off the animal during sporting events.
“It was a pretty large group when I was involved,” says Barbie Olson (’68 English), a member of the Yell Squad from 1965 to 1967 and longtime volunteer consultant and advocate for WSU’s cheer program. “What I remember about the Butchmen is they wore hats and blazers, and they were quite a group. They weren’t responsible for Butch’s care and feeding or cleaning his cage. That was done by his keeper and not left to a bunch of college boys. But these guys were all obviously spirited athletic fans, and they were also considered leaders.”
In the 1960s, the Butchmen distinguished themselves with crimson-and-white striped jackets and straw boater hats. The group of some 30 to 50 members enlivened rallies and games with original skits and cheers, and helped raise money to support Butch. “We sold seat cushions before football games and, I think, before basketball games, too,” says Kirkpatrick, who also remembers helping out at alumni and donor events.
By the time he was involved, though, there were only “probably six or eight” in the group. And, three years after he graduated, the Butchmen were out of a job when an aging and ill Butch VI was euthanized in late summer 1978.
WSU’s cougar mascot tradition dates to 1919 when Washington State College played its first football game as the Cougars. According to University archivist Mark O’English, the Cougar Guard formed after University of Washington fans stole one of WSC’s two stuffed cougar mascots.
The Cougar Guard became affiliated with the national honorary service fraternity of the Intercollegiate Knights, and members wore white sweaters adorned with a knight’s helm. Their duties included guarding the stuffed mascot as well as the Victory Bell—and ringing it after wins. When WSC was gifted its first live cougar, the Knights guarded its cage overnight before games.
The legendary Butch mascot tradition was born when Washington Governor Roland Hartley gave the campus its first live cougar cub in 1927. The cub was named for Spokane football standout Herbert “Butch” Meeker. When Butch I died in 1938, then-student body president and football captain Chris Rumburg organized a tag sale to help fund a new cage for Butch II. For 10 cents, supporters could buy a tag bearing the likeness of the first Butch, who lived in a wooden shack downhill from the campus fire station. The new cage, called Butch’s Den, was located on the then-forested hill south of the football field. It was later moved outside the east end zone.
Throughout 51 years, six live cougars served as WSU’s mascot, each presented by the state governor after the passing of the preceding Butch. Butch III and IV were twin cubs given in 1942 by Governor Arthur B. Langlie, who also bestowed Butch V in 1955.
The last one, Butch VI, was gifted by Governor Albert Rossellini in 1964. Following the animal’s death, a survey of about 400 students conducted by the ASWSU Environmental Task Force Committee found more than 60 percent opposed another live cougar mascot. Then-President Glenn Terrell, an honorary member of the Butchmen, decided Butch would take a different track. Members of the Rally Squad took turns suiting up to be Butch. Not long later, designated students began taking on the role.
Butch’s Den remained on campus until 1987, when it was disassembled. But the rolling cage still rests on the Palouse. “When I saw it advertised in the paper, I knew I had to have it,” says Whitman County Superior Court Judge Gary Libey (’73 Poli. Sci.), who bought Butch’s old cage at a surplus auction “like 25 years ago. I wanted to own a piece of WSU history.”