The Story of the AxeWagner d'Alessio
Stanford Illustrated Review
When the well-known "Give 'em the Axe" is sent crashing against the sky by either the Stanford or California rooting sections, there is considerately more meaning attached to the words than the average person is aware of. Even now, in the far corners of the minds of many Stanford students there is a deep-rooted desire to regain the axe for their Alma Mater. This desire rises out of the history of the weapon.
Though now thought of in connection with football, the axe rose to prominence in the intercollegiate baseball series with the University of California during the season of 1899. Stanford was going through a victory cycle and had lost only one series from 1892 to 1899. But the season of '99 proved a turning point. The team suffered a severe setback with the loss of George M. Beckett, captain and star pitcher, who died at the beginning of the year. The opening game of the series was won by California, four to one.
Stanford was now out for revenge. Two days before the second game a mammoth rally was held "on the Farm." This was Thursday, April 13. The object of the rally was to arouse interest in the game the following Saturday. Material was collected for the largest bonfire ever built on the Campus. Up to this time the axe had been used symbolically only, in the well-known axe yell which was originated in 1896 (Will Irwin '99, is generally credited as the author). Stanford used the yell exclusively until the Big Game of 1899, which California won -- its first football victory over Stanford. It was now decided that the axe take definite form. An immense broadaxe was imported from San Francisco, on which was painted a red block "S." The weapon was shaped like a huge tomahawk, and had a ten-pound, fifteen-inch blade. It had been dulled by the several defeats of the season, but a new start was to be made. Beside the bonfire in the centerfield territory of the baseball diamond, Frank English, '01, now a San Francisco attorney, gave a legal and literary recital of the causes of the dullness of the axe. It was unanimously resolved to sharpen the blade in order to hew out a victory the following Saturday. Billy Erb, yell leader, sharpened the axe on a grindstone turned by English. An effigy of a University of California sympathizer being discovered, the edge must be tested. The "hoodoo" was brought before a chopping block in the circle of firelight. As the man of straw knelt before the altar, the red axe kissed the block, and the culprit's wooden head fell to earth. Amid wild cheering the body was thrown into the bonfire. The tested weapon now turned over to Captain Longheed, who made a short speech of acceptance. Then followed a war dance around the huge bonfire, to the sharp staccato of "Give 'em the Axe," chanted by hundreds of wildly cheering voices. The baseball team, placed in an old wagon, was pulled by students around the blazing mass. The rally was a huge success. The axe was created.
Saturday, April 15, 1899, the second baseball games was played against the University of California. But Stanford fared no better than it had the week before. The Bears won again, this time by a nine-to-seven score. By virtue of this victory California won the series for that year. But of more lasting significance than the loss of the baseball championship was the subsequent loss of the axe. Three Stanford men had privately taken the axe to the game, at the Sixteenth and Folsom Street grounds in San Francisco. At the game the axe was paraded around the field to a huge wooden block of deep blue, in front of the Stanford rooters. On this pedestal stood Billy Erb, now a New York broker, holding the battleaxe, painted with a thick coat of Stanford red. Each time Stanford made a good play the axe swung up and down, chopping off imaginary heaads. After the game Stanford students quickly scattered, and Billy Erb gave the axe to Carl Hayden to carry back to Palo Alto. Hayden was one of the Carnot debaters of that year and later became United States Senator from Arizona. He was accompanied by two other students. Tom McFadden, two-hundred-pound Varsity tackle, and at present an attorney in Southern California, now joined this group. McFadden had overheard some California students planning to capture the axe. With no help in sight, a hurried consultation was held and the decision was reached that the best procedure was to take hold of the handle of the axe and hang on as long as possible, hoping that help might arrive. The four defenders had no sooner securely fastened themselves to the axe when the enemy surrounded them in large numbers. The Californians struggled hard, but could not get ahold of the prize. A strategist among them decided to form radiating lines from the four Stanford men. A California man put his arms around the waist of each of the Stanford students and so on until there were about twenty men pulling in opposite directions. Naturally, something to give way, and three of the Cardinals were pulled away from the axe. McFadden still held on, but after a short argument was not gently relieved of his burden. Paul Castelhun of California, a six-foot football player (now a physician in San Francisco), secured possession of the axe and immediately broke away from the scuffle. He was joined by Tadini Bacigalupi, also of California and now a San Francisco attorney. The Stanford men gave pursuit, but it looked as though the Californians had a clear field ahead. A blind alley, unexpectedly encountered, gave Stanford a chance. Castelhun criss-crossed to Bacigalupi, who reversed the field and fled across Howard Street. At this point a little trickery was used by the runner, who concealed the axe under his coat. (Evidently "Pop" Warner's old hidden ball play was known to the Californians of that time.) But Berkeley was still some miles distant. Bacigalupi relayed the axe to Billy Drum, a sprinter. Archie Cloud, now deputy superintendent of San Francisco city schools, here joined the interference, as did many other Californians. Among the group was Strout, a Stanford hurdler, now manager of a San Francisco mining company. Strout mingled unchallenged with the crowd. Thinking he was a California man, Drum passed the axe over to him. At an opportune moment, Strout broke away from the unsuspecting Californians and ran like a frightened deer. He was immediately pursued by the astonished Berkeley collegians, and Jimmy Hopper, their great quarterback and now a well-known novelist, brought him down with a beautiful flying tackle. The axe was retaken, and the Berkeleyites continued on their way. The procession then came upon a horse and wagon parked on the street. This vehicle was appropriated by as many as it could hold, and the axe took a trip to Chinatown. The California men soon abandoned the vehicle and continued through Chinatown. Here a Stanford student, "Crazy Joe" Hamilton, now a successful Chicago advertiser, tried, single-handed, to take the axe away from its new owners. He was quickly dealt with, however, and the majority of the Berkeleyites resumed their journey, while Jimmy Hopper and some others remained a few moments longer on top of Hamilton, discussing, Joe said, "totally irrelevant things." The Californians then burst into a meat market to have an astonished butcher remove the handle.
Next the axe was at the Ferry Building in the possession of the Californians. Stanford, however, had guessed their course of action and was waiting with reinforcements in the form of several policeman. Suspicious characters were being hurriedly searched. The Californians held a short conference, and the axe was given to Clifton E. Miller, as he was the only one with an overcoat. At this moment an unaccompanied University of California co-ed was approaching the Ferry Building. With a sudden inspiration, Miller bade good-bye to his friends and approached the girl. He explained the situation, and asked if he might go through the Ferry gate with her. She assented, and Miller passed the police and Stanford searchers in safety, the axe still under his coat. Thus, though a co-ed greatly helped in getting the axe across the Bay, the stories that she hid it under her skirts are untrue. However, that Saturday night the axe was safely reposing in a Berkeley hiding place.
The following Monday, April 17, 1899, California held its first axe rally. The rally was entirely improptu and full of enthusiasm. About ten o'clock in the morning, Everett J. Brown, one of the raiders, appeared on the campus with the stolen, or, from the California viewpoint, captured axe. The arrival of the axe was the signal for the beginning of the wildest rally of the year. Large numbers of students gathered, and several photographs were taken. The crowd then moved to the Senior "C", where Charles ("Loll") Pringle, another of the capturers and captain-elect of the football team, was chosen "Grand Custodian of the Axe." The cadets, excused from the regular eleven-o'clock military drill by Professor Soule, now joined the celebration. A long procession paraded into Berkeley, led by the band, which was followed by Pringle, carrying the axe tied to a long pole. About four hundred students came behind in a long chain gang, marching in lock step. The crowd sang and yelled loudly. Stanford's "Give 'em the Axe" was a heavy favorite.
Although unknown to the California men of that time and probably even now, a Stanford student nearly succeeded in making off with the axe during its noisy journey to Berkeley. This student was Harry Dutton, who, having been on the U.C. campus since Sunday night for the express purpose of retaking the axe, and early learning of the rally, hurried to Berkeley, rented a horse to insure a quick getaway, and joined the California parade into the town of Berkeley. On horseback, Dutton, now a resident of Los Altos, mingled freely with the Californians, being accepted as one of them. To get possession of the weapon, Dutton boldly asked to carry the axe on horseback at the head of the procession. The students thought this was a good idea, and the axe was passed over to him -- the second time since its loss that a Stanford man had hold of it. But the spirited horse of Dutton was so unruly that several of the men had to hold it down by the bridle, which prevented Dutton from dashing off. And in this formation, with a Stanford man carrying the axe, surrounded by Californians, the procession marched through the campus. Dutton, awaiting the first opportunity to make his escape, told the men to let go of the bridle; but the students crowded close around the horse, anxious to stay near the axe. In this manner the crowd came to the end of a narrow path where there was a turnpike, through which the horse could not pass. The crowd insisted that the horseman hand over the axe. Surrounded by the enemy and with no other alternative, Dutton reluctantly gave over the prize, hoping to get it again later. The parade continued to the Berkeley station, gave some yells and songs, and then returned to the campus. In the meantime the freshmen had prepared a large bonfire, and the crowd collected around this. After more yelling and dancing, everyone assembled in the North Bleachers to hear some speeches. Don McLaren, baseball captain, told of the victory. Everett Brown pleased his audience with a vivid description of the capture of the axe, not a little improved by frills and fancies. Clifton Miller told how the axe was carried across the Bay, and the co-ed who aided him was given a big cheer. Pringle also spoke and displayed the prize. After the ceremonies, the crowd soon melted away, and Pringle carried the trophy to his fraternity house. As the axe was taken into the Chi Phi house it was given a parting yell -- "Will Stanford get the axe? No -- never."
But Dutton had followed Pringle and now resolved on a strategic move to get the object of his quest. He had overheard the California men planning to paint and decorate the axe. Acting on this possibility, Dutton wrote the following note, which he presented at the door of the Chi Phi house:
"Gym -- Send by this fellow (a tall man) the axe to me this afternoon, for I want to number it and fix the handle. This fellow is a painter. Al Lean." Lean was a popular trainer of the Bear athletics. Unfortunately, the false mustache which Dutton wore fell off and the hoax was discovered.
Dutton returned to Stanford, where it was decided to organize a party to raid the Chi Phi hose. About thirty men who had the price of the fare to Berkeley were: Bristow Adams, who started Chaparral; Will and Wallace Irwin, Captain Lougheed, Carl Hayden, Billy Erb, Tom Gregor, Garth Parker, Arthur Rice, Tom McFadden, Harry Dutton, Chris Mason Bradley, and others.
The results of that raid were nil, although the Chi Phi house was minutely ransacked from attic trunks to coal bin. Where the axe was hidden remains a mystery. Some say a sliding door served as cache; others that Pringle had already placed it in a safety deposit vault. "The Quest of the Red Axe" brought nothing home.
In the excitement that followed, relations became so strained that a threatened break seemed imminent, until a joint committee, consisting of Professors Green and Richardson of Stanford and Professors Bacon and Edwards of Berkeley, decided that California should keep the axe, and that no attempts should be made to recover it. The track meet was run off on schedule, the California students being reminded that they were the hosts, and Stanford admonished in a bulletin from President Jordan to the effect that they should "let no old axe cut off our sense of dignity and self-respect."
Although this temporarily smoothed things over, the student mind did not easily forget the axe. Off an on through the years various attempts to regain the axe, and the offer of large rewards to the one who might recover it, have given renewed excitement. However, the hard-earned tool still reposes in the vaults of a Berkeley bank, and is brought out but once a year, under the protection of the entire frashman class as a bodyguard, for the "Axe Rally" held early in April. Judge Everett Brown, one of the principals in the historic raid, told the story for the thirtieth time in 1929, and vowed he would retell it each year "as long as he is able to totter to the stage."