They got Butch where the cougar needed to be: on the field for football games.
Some forty years after Washington State University ended the tradition of a live cougar mascot and the Butchmen disbanded, alumni share memories of the spirit group.
“Our job was to get the cougar to the football games and then, after we would score a touchdown or field goal, we would take him around the track,” recalls retired Colfax dentist Al Kirkpatrick (’75 Zool.), a member of the Butchmen for three years.
One time, he and his fellow Butchmen simply couldn’t get the cougar out of his cage and into its trailer. “We were the ones responsible for not getting Butch to a home game against the University of Idaho,” Kirkpatrick says.
After being unable to lure Butch into the rolling cage, Kirkpatrick began working with the cougar’s handler in the College of Veterinary Medicine. “I started feeding Butch on occasion,” Kirkpatrick says. “After that, when we went to load him up we didn’t have any problem.”
Kirkpatrick worked with Butch VI, the last of WSU’s live cougar mascots. “I remember if you got close to his cage, he’d stick his paw out and kind of swat at you a little bit. But I don’t remember him being really riled up about anything. He wasn’t really aggressive.”
But Butch would perk up when Kirkpatrick walked by. “He’d be lying there, sunning himself, and I’d come walking by and all of a sudden he’d sit up and running come over. When he saw me he identified me with food.”
Another cougar did, too, during a drive up Interstate-5. “My senior year we played the UW in Seattle for the Apple Cup, and a guy by the name of Gary Andal had a Lincoln-Mercury car dealership south of Seattle. They had the Mercury Cougar, and Gary had a pet cougar. He agreed to bring his cougar, which was smaller than Butch, to the game. (The Butchmen) met him down at his car dealership (in Burien). And he asked me if I wanted to ride with him in his truck. The cougar was just on a leash and a collar, and it jumped in the middle of us. I was wearing this nice sweater, and the cougar put its paw up around my neck and started nibbling on my shoulder.”
Kirkpatrick doesn’t remember trying out for Butchmen. “I had a friend in it, and he asked me if I wanted to be part of it. So it was just kind of by invitation. I don’t remember a big clamor or a big demand to try to get into the group. It was just a group of guys, and we’d recruit other guys as we went along. Steve Appel was the one who got me into the club. We would get to the games way early so students and their parents could come down and take a closer look at him,” Kirkpatrick says. But, “We would make sure people didn’t get too close.”
Grant Miller drove behind the truck carrying car dealership owner Gary Andal, his pet cougar, and Miller’s buddy, Al Kirkpatrick, another one of the Butchmen, on the way to the Apple Cup in Seattle in 1975.
“Somehow we got hooked with Andal,” says Miller (’75 Agribusi. Econ.), a member of the Butchmen for three years. “He let us take his pet cougar to the Apple Cup, and that was a big thing. The cougar was the emblem for the brand. It would be on billboards and in commercials. And the Cougar was the new Mercury car. Anyway, I was in the car behind the pickup. And all these people would see this cougar looking out the back window of this truck going down I-5. You wouldn’t expect to see a real live cougar going down I-5. Those were good times.”
Miller, a wheat farmer in Lind, joined the club because of Kirkpatrick. They were the best men at each other’s weddings.
The Butchmen, Miller says, “was a service-type organization to help support Butch and Cougar athletics and that sort of thing. We had shirts that said Butchmen, and we sold seat cushions. I would say there were ten or twelve of us. We just wanted to be part of something and give back to the community.”
During his sophomore year in 1972, Miller attended George Raveling’s first basketball game for WSU. Raveling, the first African-American basketball coach in the PAC-12, took the Cougars to two NCAA tournaments during his eleven years with the team. He was twice named Conference Coach of the Year and led the Cougars to 167 wins. “He was a great coach and brought the Cougars out of the doldrums and into the spotlight,” Miller says. “That’s a good memory—of him jumping up and down at Cougar games with Butch there.”
Sam Jankovich became the assistant athletic director in 1972 and, Miller says, “he was our advisor. We would go to his house before or after games and serve drinks to elite donors. There’d only be ten or twenty high-tired people and us.”
He reflects fondly on his days in the group. “It was a group that we felt proud to be part of,” he says. “I’m proud to be a Coug.”
But he doesn’t miss hauling Butch in his trailer around the stadium. “It was the kind of cage you’d see at the circus, with heavy bars on it,” he says. “It took four guys at least to pull it around. It did have rubber tires on it, so that helped. But it was heavy. By the time you pulled it around the 440-yard track you were exhausted.”
Back then, though, he—and the Butchmen—were young and strong. “Or,” Miller says, “crazy.”
Barbie Olson (’68 English) was a member of the Yell Squad from 1965 to 1967. While the Butchmen “were very much their own group,” she remembers cheering on the football field alongside them.
“It was a pretty large group when I was involved. It was definitely big. They were an all-male rooter group, and they sat together. I remember them as basketball games as well,” Olson says, noting up to fifty male college students made up the Butchmen in her day.
“That was the time when ‘Huck the Fuskies’ started,” she notes. “People think it was later, but it really was the late ’60s. Somebody clever came up with that, and it might’ve been one of the Butchmen. I know we could never lead that cheer; it had to come from the students. Even then we tried our best to override it. We were all down on the field—the Yell Squad, the Rally Squad, the Cougarettes drill team, the members of the Butchmen who ran Butch around the field. Every time WSU scored, they would run Butch around the field—the field had a track around it in those days—in his cage. It was kind of like running our flags in the end zone now.”
Olson went on to become a longtime volunteer consultant and advocate for WSU’s cheer program, starting in the early 1980s. By then, the Butch mascot no longer a live cougar but portrayed by a student in a costume. Olson worked with the costumed mascot for decades but never forgot the Butchmen.
“Friday night before a home game, there was always a rally, and they were very key,” she says. “It was an honor to be in that group. We respected them, and they respected us.”
Frank Krook (’67 Soc. Studies, ’69 Teach. Cert.) doesn’t remember ever running the live-animal Butch around the field following touchdowns and field goals. But the retired Burlington middle-school language arts and social studies teacher “certainly” remembers “the roar of the crowd as Butch passes by” and has fond memories of revving up crowds at football and basketball games.
“It was a wonderful time,” he says. “We all joined together to support the Cougars. We wore particular outfits, these crimson-and-white jackets that identified us as Butchmen. We also had these straw hats that we would wear to identify ourselves and excite the crowd at every game we were at. It brought a certain togetherness to the group. We were part of the spirit of WSU. We always put ourselves in front of the crowd. We tried to encourage the crowd and encourage Cougar spirit. We weren’t cheerleaders, but we were certainly cheer supporters. All the guys who were in it were always excited to be chosen. Everybody who was in it was enthusiastic. It was great fun to be a part of that.”
Krook still carries that Cougar spirit, noting he’s traveled around the world often sporting WSU gear. “You wear the Cougar symbol and you get off a plane or train anywhere in the world and you’ll hear ‘Go Cougs,’” he says. “Proud to be a Cougar.”
Howard “Howie” Neill
The first thing that comes to mind when Howard “Howie” Neill (’67 Busi.) recalls his days in the Butchmen is, of course, their outfits—the striped jackets and straw hats. With them, Neill says, “we always wore black slacks.”
The Pullman attorney doesn’t remember ever having had the privilege of carting Butch around the track during football games. But he does remember that the Butchmen always had a great view. “We always had a good place to sit for football and basketball games,” he says. “We had a few off-color cheers we’d do every now and again.” Those were usually reserved “to let the referee know when we weren’t happy with a call.”
All in all, “it was a good group,” Neill says. “It had a great cross-section of people from all over the campus. We all had a good time. It’s a good memory. We had some fun trips over to Seattle for the Huskies games. It was just a great time.”
But, “after a period of time, (the group) dwindled away. It wore itself out.” Before the tradition of a live cougar mascot ended, Neill says, “You’d go and watch him kind of pace around. His cage was where the bronze statue is now.”
Neill’s always has a soft spot for Butch and can’t remember a time when he didn’t know about and love the WSU mascot. “I grew up in Pullman,” he explains. “Butch has always been part of my life.”
During football games, David Nordquist (’52 Geography) would always keep an eye out for Shorty.
Elmer “Shorty” Sever served as custodian of WSU’s athletic grounds for 42 years—from 1928 until 1970. That includes Butch and his cage.
And, sometimes, Nordquist recalls, he would pull a prank on people admiring the animal— Butch IV, in those days.
Butch IV was one of two twin cubs presented by Governor Arthur B. Langlie in 1942. Three years after Nordquist graduated, in 1955, Langlie also presented Butch V.
Shorty came to campus a year after the first live cougar cub was gifted to campus by Governor Roland Hartley in 1927. He would come to know all of WSU’s live cougars before his death in 1973, five years before the demise of the last Butch.
For football games, Nordquist recalls, “Shorty would lure Butch from his big cage to his small trailer cage on wheels. He would do that using a water hose and spraying the cougar and chasing him from one cage to the other. Because of it, the cougar developed a big hatred for Shorty.”
Nordquist played football for the Cougs during his first three years of college. “Sometimes, the cheerleaders or other people on the sidelines who didn’t know about Shorty would crowd around the small trailer cage to look at the cougar. He was used to it and wouldn’t really do anything. But then Shorty would walk up behind those people, and the cougar, I suppose, would smell him or see him, and he would snarl and growl and scare the wits out of the people who were admiring him. All of the football players kind of got used to that, and we’d watch Shorty to see when he was approaching the cage. Butch hated him. But we couldn’t wait to see the reactions from people.”
His final year of college, Nordquist served as student-body president. “That’s one of the reasons I didn’t play football my senior year; it was just too much,” he says.
Back then, the Victory Bell—which now stands in front of the Lewis Alumni Centre—had a much higher site. “When I was in school, it was on top of College Hall, and when we won football games members of the Intercollegiate Knights Club would climb up there and ring the Victory Bell for about fifteen minutes,” recalls Nordquist, who went on to work for WSU for 26 years, starting in 1967. He served mostly as the director of general services and remembers the University’s transition from a live cougar mascot to a student in a cougar costume.
“There was a lot of discussion at that time,” he says. “Some folks wanted to keep a live cougar, but the overwhelming feeling was ‘poor Butch in a cage.’ Animal rights folks got into it, and it was decided to not have another live cougar—which is fine with me. Having the (costumed) Butch mascot is kind of fun. I’ve got a nice picture of myself with Butch at my 60th class reunion. It’s a much more personal Butch this way.”
When Gary Libey saw the ad in the Colfax Daily Bulletin announcing that Butch’s old trailer was to be sold at a surplus auction, the Whitman County Superior Court judge just knew he had to have it.
“I wanted to own a piece of WSU history,” says Libey (’73 Poli. Sci.), who came across the notice in the Whitman County Gazette “like twenty-five years ago. I think I got (the trailer) for $75 or something like that. It was unbelievable—just pure luck. It was a tradition at WSU for years.”
But it needed a little TLC. “It was in pretty rough shape,” Libey recalls. “It was all rusted up. I got a good buddy to haul it to Colfax. We got new tires on it and got it conditioned.”
Scott Pittman, who owned Colfax Body Shop since 1987 before turning it over to his son in early 2020, did the work for free. Libey considers the friends both to be “co-owners” of the relic.
Now, Libey says, the trailer’s “in marvelous condition. Scott sanded it and painted it crimson and gray. During football season, he’ll put it outside in front of the shop right on Main Street.”
When Scott Pittman (x’73 Arch.) first finished restoring Butch’s old trailer, he set it outside his autobody shop on Main Street in Colfax with a taxidermied cougar on top. “People would just about have a train wreck when they’d see that cougar as they were driving down the road,” Pittman says.
His stuffed cougar has long since been retired to his lake cabin. But Pittman still hauls out the trailer during football season. These days, he decorates it with WSU banners and flags.
“I’ve got to hand it to those Butchmen,” Pittman says. “That thing is heavy. I bet it weighs 750 pounds. It’s solid steel. You can hardly pick up the tongue of it, it’s so heavy. To drag it around the stadium with a cougar in it, that’s no small task.”
Pittman guesses it might be Butch’s second trailer. “It had really old spindles,” he says. “They were easy to find bearings for. It was a kick in the pants to do the work. I wish we would’ve taken pictures before we started. It had been in the junk pile outside for years and years.”
Early on after restoring the trailer, Pittman would haul it to WSU Pullman, displaying it for home football games. “It was pretty cool,” he says.
Now that he’s retired, he’s interested in gifting it back to the University. “I think it needs to be in Pullman,” Pittman says. “I’d even deliver it to WSU. That’s where I think it should be.”
On the web
From his namesake to his commemorative bronze statue, WSU’s Butch T. Cougar live-animal mascot leaves a lasting legacy. (Spring 2010 issue of Washington State Magazine)
Cougar Pride’s unveiling at the 2008 Apple Cup (WSU News, November 2008)
A short clip of Butch I being rolled out by Cougar Guard aka Intercollegiate Knights during the 1931 Rose Bowl (WSU Masc)
Check out KREM TV’s Mascot Mania segment on “How the Cougars became the Cougars”