"The Axe Theft of 1899"

by Scott Trimble, The Daily Californian, 15 March 1996

My birthday, April 15th, is usually associated with such unfortunate events — Abraham Lincoln's death in 1865, the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and, of course, the dreaded Income Tax Day. But there is one extraordinary and wonderful historical event on this date that everyone on this campus should be aware of. It was April 15, 1899, that our Axe tradition was created. The adventures on that long-ago Saturday afternoon are the reasons why we chant "Give 'Em The Axe" at the Bonfire Rallies, why we (usually) have that big Axe trophy at the Martin Luther King Building, and why we all cried when Stanfurd took the Axe away from us last November.

Almost ninety-seven years ago now, it was the second face-off between Cal and Stanford in a three-game baseball competition at 16th and Folsom Streets, San Francisco. Stanford had lost the previous game and wanted to boost morale with a large lumberjack's axe, their incarnation of the rally cheer written three years before by Will Irwin:

Give 'em the Axe, the Axe, the Axe.
Give 'em the Axe, the Axe, the Axe.
Give 'em the Axe, give 'em the Axe, give 'em the Axe —

Right in the neck, the neck, the neck.
Right in the neck, the neck, the neck.
Right in the neck, right in the neck, right in the neck —

During the game, Billy Erb and other Stanford rooters pranced around as they waved the Axe, chopped up blue and gold ribbons, and infuriated the Cal Bears. Even though we still won the game, several groups of Cal students decided they would steal Stanford's Axe at the field's exit. When Stanfordite Carl Hayden arrived with it, the groups clashed.

Fists flew as a large-scale brawl developed. Hayden was jumped by our Everett Brown, Clint Miller, Archie Cloud, Jimmy Hopper, and many others. Stanfordites, rushing in to help Hayden, picked up Cal student Bingo Sessions and threw him into the middle of the street. Brown, as he grabbed the Axe and passed it on to Jerry Muma, got a black eye when the handle swung back into his face. Muma passed the Axe to Cloud (who cut his finger on the blade) and Cloud passed the Axe to Paul Castelhun, a football player and coach — and my great-grandfather.

Castelhun managed to escape from the riot and race with the Axe towards his home on Valencia Street. Only being able to run two blocks because of his heavy overcoat, he passed it to Tadini Bacigalupi who managed a few blocks further. Bacigalupi got trapped in an alleyway and slipped the Axe to Cal sprinter Billy Drum. Drum ran with it and attempted to get a horse at the stables, but there was no time because Stanford was quickly gaining.

At 15th Street, Drum accidentally gave the Axe to two Stanfordites who posed as Cal students. They ran with it to the corner of 14th and Guerrero where Drum realized what had happened and attempted to get it back. As Brown and Hopper now caught back up, Hopper jumped into the air in a flying tackle and knocked over the Stanfordites, thus regaining the Axe.

During this time, Castelhun had joined Drum and the others again and they boarded a delivery wagon, riding west as far as Market Street. They hopped off and zig-zagged to the corner of Scott and Oak where, in order to better hide the Axe, they had the handle sawed off at Muller's Butcher Shop. Miller took the blade and Drum took the handle. They walked on to Fillmore Street and rode the cable cars to Powell and Clay Streets. After stopping at a Chinese hardware store to have the wooden handle sawed in two, they walked the rest of the way to the Ferry Building at the end of Clay.

Stanford was already there, waiting for them. With the aid of the police, they searched each Cal student getting onto the ferries. While Jack McGee attempted to confuse the cops, the Axe runners spread the story that the Axe was buried at the Cliff House in order to divert attention elsewhere. Clint Miller, still in possession of the Axe, hid it deep in his coat, and joined an old high school girlfriend who happened to be just boarding. Pretending to be her boyfriend, instead of a Cal student returning from the baseball game, he got the Axe aboard safely. Thus the Axe was removed from San Francisco and brought back to Berkeley via Oakland. Two days later, at our first Axe rally, Charles "Loll" Pringle was made the first Custodian of the Axe. The Axe itself was put into a bank vault, only to be removed each year for the rallies.

For three decades, Stanford attempted several raids, but it was not until April 3, 1930, at the Greek Theater that their "Immortal Twenty-One" gained the Axe back in the second Axe Theft. Four of them, posing as reporters and photographers, blinded the Axe Custodian with flashbulb powder and grabbed the Axe. As they made their exit, they threw tear gas into the crowd and then drove off in several get-away cars. Not knowing it, one of the onlookers that they hit with the tear gas was Paul Castelhun's daughter, Frances, my paternal grandmother, who from then on held a grudge against Stanford for that dirty trick.

In 1933, the presidents of the two schools agreed that the Axe would become a trophy which would go to the winner of each year's Big Game. Since then, there have been several more smaller thefts and hoaxes, but the Axe is usually returned in time for the Big Game. Paul Castelhun, who, despite his achievements as a San Francisco surgeon, was always referred to as the "man who stole the Stanford Axe", would smile and say, "Let's not say it was stolen. We merely borrowed the axe. It was just a little student escapade I can't seem to live down."

Nonetheless, what Castelhun, Bacigalupi, Drum, Miller, and the others did has created a long-lasting tradition which still exists on both campuses. At last year's Big Game, Stanford managed to win the Axe back from us, although I have confidence that next year will be different. If not, and if we don't get the Axe back in time for the 100th anniversary in 1999, then we will have to take more drastic measures. All in favor of a new Axe Theft...?

Scott Trimble, a freshman pre-med student majoring in anthropology, can be reached at stst@uclink4.berkeley.edu. His website, located at http://fr26.reshall.berkeley.edu/, contains, among other things, more about the "History of U.C. Berkeley".

©1996 The Daily Californian