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UC Davis Centennial 100 years of service, solutions, impact

Gunrock unveiled

What do you know about the UC Davis mascot?

10.24.07

Photo: The original Gunrock

Could this horse have a tie to UC Davis' mascot? Take our quiz to find out.

Because you’ve got only a year to prepare for the 2008-09 UC Davis Centennial, we’ve timed this quiz to give you an early leg up.

To clear the jumps on this 10-question course, all you need is a little horse sense, UC Davis history and maybe some Web sleuthing — but we warn you, not all Web sites have the facts right! Your quest? Get the real facts on that big blue creature out there cheering us on…

How to grade yourself:

  • Those scoring nine to 10 answers correctly are hereby inducted into the Cal Aggie Alumni Association's Stable of Institutional Memory.
  • If you can figure out six to eight of these questions, buy yourself an Aggie Equestrian Team T-shirt at the UC Davis Bookstore.
  • For the quizzees who capture only three to five correct answers, it’s obvious you need to be reading the UC Davis Magazine a lot more.
  • And, for those who can get only one or two right, what can we say? You may need to stay in school (or go back). We have a wonderful equestrian program to assist you in gathering more horse sense.

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Graphic: Victorious cow

1. Our mascot is a…

Incorrect: a
But 14 years ago, you would have been correct. Students voted in 1993 to designate a cow as the UC Davis mascot. But no official policy on how to translate that vote into reality (plus administrators and alumni weren’t on board with the idea) left the cow, mustang and Aggie in limbo. In 1997, the cow vote forgotten, student government leaders placed a measure on the ballot, believing confusion existed surrounding our dual athletic designations of “Aggies” and “Mustangs.” In the election, students declared the “Aggie” the sole winner. But, because you can’t keep a good horse down (and institutional memory is short around here), the mustang came back into favor just two years later, when a new family of athletic marks galloped onto campus that gave the mascot a contemporary look. (The boxing cow illustration to the right, by alumnus Paiching Wei, originally appeared in the Winter 1994 edition of UC Davis Magazine.)

Correct: b
Bingo. We choose to call our mascot a Mustang and have (minus the cow vote) since 1927, when students began using “Mustangs” interchangeably with “Aggies” to denote varsity squads. Mustangs, of course, are those free-roaming feral horses found in the West. They are descended from the Spanish mounts brought to the Americas in the 16th century. The horse, actually, was part of our identity since 1920, when its image was integrated into the University Farm’s seal. Our campus yearbook, named Rodeo in 1922, was renamed El Rodeo in 1928 and often used graphics of cowboys lassoing mustangs and other Western horse themes.

Incorrect: c
Neigh. While it is true that the original horse that inspired our mascot was, indeed, a Thoroughbred, students have always (except when we were ready to let loose a cow on the athletic fields) believed that the mascot portraying a horse was a mustang.

Incorrect: d
Wouldn't that be a fun idea? But no, the tractor is not our mascot. But it could have been a mascot, since we have been in the tractor education business since 1916 when a tractor school was first held, attracting hundreds of farmers and other interested in mechanizing laborious field work. Even now, the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering offers a two-unit tractor class. We also have a historical Agricultural Machinery Collection, with several antique tractors, all located at the UC Davis Airport.

Photo: Ollie 1968

2. Our mascot's name is…

Incorrect: a
You are really dating yourself with this answer. We did have Ollie the Mustang joining the co-ed yell leaders from the early ’50s to the late ’60s. The friendly mascot that sported a large horse’s head as part of his costume disappeared, along with other spirit-building traditions, as many students drifted away from sports toward the counter-culture (for a short while, at least).  (The photo accompanying this question is of mascot Ollie in 1968.)

Correct: b
That furry blue mustang mascot is the namesake of a golden chestnut stallion with white face and legs brought to UC Davis in 1921. Some might question whether we are using the correct form for his name.  Over the years, the famed Thoroughbred’s name has been spelled both as Gunrock and Gun Rock. Which was correct? "It was Gunrock," says Patricia Erigero ’71, owner of the Thoroughbred Heritage site who consulted the American Racing Manual for 1917, Gunrock’s year as a racehorse. Early news reports and records at the Jockey Club and the National Racing Museum agree that his name was one word.

Incorrect: c
What can we say but that UC Davis is inclusive. Our mascot is a mustang, but our cheer is about a cow. At least one insightful campus historian has suggested that “Bossy Cow Cow” is the most distinctive “Aggie-ism” in our rah-rah tradition. Where did this abstract cheer come from? From a quick reading, it's clear that based on its structure, the cheer is indeed derived from “Oski Wow-Wow” — which, ahem, was developed at UC Berkeley. For more on this fascinating campus factoid, check out “Our Aggie cheer has its roots in The Farm.”

Incorrect: d
Blackwelder is the name of our famous mechanical tomato harvester, for which UC Davis has received both accolades and, er, figurative rotten tomatoes. It was the product of a years-long interdisciplinary collaboration between agricultural engineers and plant breeder Jack Hanna, who developed a tomato capable of withstanding mechanical handling. By the early ’60s, the elaborate machine began replacing hand pickers in the state’s tomato fields just as the U.S. government terminated the Bracero Program that had allowed thousands of Mexican farm laborers to work in the U.S. under special contracts.

Graphic: Anteater

3. Who else shares our mascot in California?

Incorrect: a
Do you really think that a mustang looks like a banana slug? Please. We have Gunrock the Mustang, and Santa Cruz has Sammy the Slug. Since its early years in the mid ’60s, UC Santa Cruz used this bright yellow, slimy, shell-less mollusk found in the campus's redwood forest as the unofficial mascot for co-ed teams. During the same period, Santa Cruz athletes were officially the Sea Lions. But an overwhelming straw vote by students in 1986 convinced the chancellor to let the campus “go slug.”

Incorrect: b
Zot! as UC Irvine fans would say: A mustang is not an anteater. According to UC Irvine’s historian, Samuel Clyde McCulloch, when the Southern California campus was founded in the mid ’60s, mascot tradition called for the selection of a bear, in the spirit of UCI's august sister campuses (minus their august sibling UC Davis, of course). But two water polo players suggested an alternative — the anteater, inspired by a character in the Johnny Hart cartoon "B.C." The idea gained momentum and won 56 percent of the student vote. The anteater, by the way, is actually an “antbear,” which fit Irvine’s original criteria… (And, yes, that is Irvine’s mascot strolling along on our Web page.)

Incorrect: c
But you knew this already. Cal's athletic teams are nicknamed the Golden Bears, and blue and gold are their colors (which are also the official colors of the state of California). The Cal mascot is Oski, whose name derives from the cheer, “Oski Wow! Wow! Whiskey Wee! Wee!” For a short period in the 1930s, Cal used live bears as mascots but the animals, even when muzzled and manicured, proved too rowdy for their handlers. The Berkeley mascot evolved into human form beginning in 1941.

Correct: d
That’s right; our archrivals in San Luis Obispo are the Mustangs. The state college has pranced out the mascot since Cal Poly’s Homecoming in 1924, according to its school history.  “In past years, the boys have accepted whatever name was attached to them, but from now on the first teams will be known as the ‘Mustangs,’ ” notes one 1924 events calendar.

Photo: Seabiscuit

4. Gunrock, the namesake of our mascot was sired by…

Incorrect: a
Although this fact has been found wrongly on various Web sites and other documents, the truth is that Gunrock was born three years before the famous Man O’ War. That stallion is considered by many as the greatest thoroughbred racehorse of all time through his feat of winning 20 of 21 races and $249,465 in purses between 1919 and 1920. He also set three world records, two American records and three track records. Man O’ War was related, incidentally, to Gunrock through his dam sire (or mother’s father), Rock Sand.

Correct: b
Born in France in 1914, Gunrock was the offspring of English Triple Crown winner Rock Sand and race mare Gunfire, which gave him bloodlines similar to the legendary racehorse Man O’ War. The spirited Gunrock was bred by U.S. telegraph company mogul Clarence Mackay and would be owned by a series of other millionaire race enthusiasts, including Standard Oil heir Herbert Pratt, who raced him in 1917, and financier August Belmont Jr., who bred Man O’ War and built New York’s famous Belmont Park racetrack.

Incorrect: c
Seabiscuit, who raced in the mid 1930s, was born after Gunrock. Related to Man O’ War through the same sire, Seabiscuit had similar racing talent but a far friendlier personality than his father and Man O’ War. Seabiscuit’s history was popularized by author Laura Hillenbrand in 2001, followed by a movie in 2003 starring Toby Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper. (The illustrated version of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, shown above, offers many insights into horse racing during Gunrock’s era.)

Incorrect: d
Hildalgo, made famous in 2004 in a movie of the same title, was a real mustang ridden by Frank T. Hopkins in a legendary 3,000-mile endurance ride across the Arabian Desert in 1890. But he predated Gunrock by 30-odd years.

Photo: Quad Hay Harvesting

5. Why did we bring our mascot’s namesake to campus in 1921?

Incorrect: a
Although the University Farm was renowned for its animal-care education in the early days of the campus, our School of Veterinary Medicine didn’t get started until 1948, after many years of planning. The school’s first class began in the fall with 42 students, all male and almost all World War II veterans.

Incorrect: b
Come on! This was a Thoroughbred race horse. (The picture accompanying this question is actually of an early hay harvest on The Quad.)

Correct: c
August Belmont Jr. of Belmont Park racetrack fame was an avid patriot. He donated Gunrock and many other horses to the Cavalry Remount Service, according to a 1923 Los Angeles Times article. The Cavalry placed hundreds of breeding horses and donkeys on select private farms and land-grant colleges nationwide with the aim of improving horse and mule stocks.

Incorrect: d
Gunrock was no polo pony. But we do have a long illustrious history with our intercollegiate polo teams — starting a half century after Gunrock’s era. This club sport has been bringing national visibility to the campus since 1975, when we first fielded a team — and it won the national intercollegiate championship that year, blowing away the Ivy League schools, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Photo: Alyce Jewett riding Gunrock

6. What was Gunrock’s claim to fame?

Correct: a
During his 1921–31 stay at UC Davis, Gunrock was bred with 476 mares, some of them from the university herd and the rest from Northern California farms. The Cavalry bought many of the Remount Service foals for military use, but many others led civilian lives, whether as race, show, rodeo, ranch or pleasure horses.

Incorrect: b
In fact, Gunrock was a dud on the racetrack, despite his lineage. During the one year that he raced, 1917, he never placed better than third. Although he was sold as a yearling in 1915 for $4,800, considered a premium price for a promising Thoroughbred, Gunrock earned only $130 in his racing career.

Incorrect: c
Well, he was in the 1929 parade. That year Alyce Williams (Jewett) led the 1929 Picnic Day parade on Gunrock, becoming the first and only woman ever to ride the spirited stallion. (Jewett and Gunrock are in the photo accompanying this question.)

Incorrect: d
Gunrock spent 10 years at UC Davis, becoming a celebrity of sorts in the paddock and on the streets of Davis. But his reputation was as a highly spirited stallion, not the type of horse to stand quietly as UC Davis won yet another game of football.

Photo: Homecoming

7. What sound does our mascot make?

Incorrect: a
Although seeing Gunrock may be a moo-ving experience to many, this is not a sound he might make.

Incorrect: b
Gunrock is no ordinary horse, nor does he make ordinary horse sounds.

Incorrect: c
In pantomime only.

Correct: d
Gunrock, like most mascots, is a silent leader among athletes, cheerleaders and yell leaders. (Can’t you see his reigning supremacy in this Oct. 13, 2007, photo taken by Karin Higgins of University Communications?)

Photo: Saddle

8. What are Gunrock’s favorite colors?

Correct: a
That’s close enough. Actually, our school colors are officially Yale blue and gold, but we liked the joke.

Incorrect: b
We don’t see any saddles on our mascot, let alone brown ones.

Incorrect: c
Alfalfa hay!? The original Gunrock probably went for this, but our modern-day version couldn’t care less.

Incorrect: d
Although close to one of our school colors, this remains a pale version that Gunrock would know to ignore.

Photo: Gunrock

9. How many fingers does Gunrock have?

Incorrect: a
Actually, it’s a trick, trick question. Gunrock does have fingers—count ’em at the next football game.

Correct: b
He has two hands, with four fingers on each. Hey, he’s anthropomorphic.

Incorrect: c
No, silly, only humans have 10 fingers.

Incorrect: d
Silly, Gunrock evolved beyond hooves long ago.

Photo: Gunrock mascot

10. How was the modern Gunrock mascot unveiled in 2003?

Incorrect: a
We tried that, but his outfit got caught on the barbed wire.

Incorrect: b
“Wildfire?” They would have been calling “Gunrock,” if this were true.

Correct: c
Maybe that’s why Rec Hall was renamed the Pavilion; it has never been the same.

Incorrect: d
We wanted to do that, but Gunrock didn’t like the flavor of the icing. Besides, we could never reveal Coach Bigg’s true age.

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ON THE HOME PAGE: The original thoroughbred Gunrock, left, comes head to head with his 2007 mascot namesake.

Susanne Rockwell ’74, ’95, is Web editor for University Communications. Assisting her in this quiz were Kathleen Holder, associate editor for UC Davis Magazine, Emily Hetzner, assistant promotions coordinator for UC Davis Athletics, and Tom Hinds, University Communications development and campaign communications manager. We also relied on Abundant Harvest: The History of the University of California, Davis, by Ann Scheuring.