The plan seemed simple enough: launch Kenyon “Ken” Bement into the air at just the right moment so the Cougs could reclaim their cougar.
University of Washington fans had stolen it more than a decade earlier. And Bement and his friends on the Yell Squad decided enough was enough. It was time to bring the stuffed cougar mascot back home to Pullman.
They spread the word through the student section of the stands at Husky Stadium during the rainy, muddy Apple Cup on November 12, 1932. And almost everything went according to plan.
“The basic idea is to pick up Ken—he’s the smallest of the cheerleaders—and, as the Huskies parade by at halftime with the stuffed cougar, he’s going to go up and over the top of their cheerleaders, land on top of the cougar, and get it out of there,” explains Mark O’English, Washington State University archivist. “They throw him up, and it works. He lands on top of the cougar. He’s got it in his arms. But he can’t get out of the circle of Husky cheerleaders.”
What happened next—a melee that delays the second half of the game by half an hour and makes national headlines—is a long time in the making. And, in the end, there really are no winners.
The way Bement (’34 Econ.) arrived at this key moment in WSU-UW history is rooted in another iconic event in the deep-seated rivalry. On November 1, 1919, Washington State College débuted its new mascot. The newly named Cougars rolled out two stuffed cougars on wheeled carts for a game against Idaho. Two weeks later, on November 15, the UW’s then-named Sun Dodgers made a rare trip to the Palouse.
“Times being what they were, we knew people were going to try to steal (the stuffed cougars),” O’English says. So, to protect the two new mascots, “after the rally they were placed in the charge of a body of frosh with instructions to guard them to the bitter end,” according to the November 21, 1919, Pullman Herald.
Maybe seniors should’ve been chosen.
“Shortly after, a big automobile, containing two honest looking men wearing W.S.C. fezzes, drove up to the rear entrance of the auditorium, where the cougars had been moved,” the newspaper account continues. “They clambored out of the machine and approached the alert guards. One of them said in honeyed tones: ‘Boys, Doc Bohler wants one of the cougars at the gym so let’s take it up in the car.’”
From there, the disguised UW students took the cougar to Moscow, where it was “securely boxed” for the train trip to Seattle. The box was brought back to Pullman and stored in the car until 2 a.m. Sunday “when the auto drove up on the west side of the baggage car and the box was slipped aboard.”
Throughout the next 13 years and nine games the Cougs would come to play in Seattle, UW cheerleaders would trot the hostage out at halftime, rolling it around the field and taunting WSC fans. “There had been previous attempts to take it back over the years,” O’English says. “But it never worked.”
This time, Bement and his fellow Yell Squad buddies, Wallace “Wally” Halsey (’Animal Science) and Milton “Milt” Wyatt (’35 Elem. Ed.), “had it arranged with our own students that … at a signal, our students would pour out of the stands … ” Bement says in an interview recorded for the Centennial Oral History Project in 1987, some 55 years after the incident. The recording and transcript are part of WSU Libraries’ Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC).
The signal was Halsy and Wyatt launching Bement airborne. He put his foot in their hands, “and they just, you know, pushed me. … and just heaved me up as if they were throwing me up on a horse.”
The UW students had been carrying the stuffed cougar on their shoulders. “Of course … with me on top of there, they couldn’t hold it,” Bement says. “And so we hit the ground right there on the track.”
WSC students stormed the track and field. “And we had probably the best free-for-all that has ever occurred between the student bodies of the two institutions,” says Bement, who recalls seeing the brawl on newsreels at the movies in Pullman in about a week or so following the fight. “It was a big event.”
Bement, a Yell Duke that year who went on to become the school’s Yell King, was on the bottom of the pile, “being kicked and slugged.” There were “cuts and bruises and black eyes,” he recalls. “It was pretty rough going for a while.” At the end of it, “I just know that I was pretty well beaten up.”
So was the mascot. “The stuffed cougar was ripped to shreds,” one newspaper reported the next day. “Several rooters got badly scuffed up, and the field for several yards was skinned clean of turf before police dispersed the excited students.”
Bement walked off the track with a dubious prize. “Because I had the head of the cougar and had my arms around it when I lit on top of it, I was able to get the two ears of Butch, the stuffed cougar, which I prized for a year or two,” he says. “I don’t remember what happened to them.”
Similarly, O’English says, “the other stuffed cougar—no one knows what happens to it. It disappears to history”—along with the ears from the one that was torn to shreds in the halftime brawl. “We claim victory because we end up with more pieces,” O’English says.
But the final score of the game was a tie: 0-0.
“It was rather stupid, but it seemed worth it at the time,” Bement says. “And it was.”
Read the entire transcript of Ken Bement’s 1987 oral history interview.