Oct 15, 2015
October 17, 2015 marks the one hundred year anniversary of the University of Arizona having a mascot. On October 17, 1915 Tom Easter, a live bobcat, arrived on the UA campus. The following day he was introduced to the student body at an assembly in Herring Hall. Tom Easter was the gift of the freshman football team, who raised $9.91 to purchase him from a blacksmith located in Douglas, AZ. Soon he was rechristened “Rufus Arizona” after then UA President Rufus B. von KleinSmid. Tragedy befell the original Rufus on April 17, 1916 when he slipped from a tree limb to which he was carelessly tied and tragically hung. Fortunately for UA fans, this original Rufus had many successors over the years.
The use of a live bobcat ceased when Wilbur the Wildcat, the costumed mascot familiar to today’s UA fans, made his debut at the football game between the UA and Texas Tech on November 7, 1959. Wilbur was created by Richard Heller and John Paquette who took inspiration from the University of California’s mascot “Oskie”, a person dressed in a bear costume. Initially Wilbur was utilized to rile support at football games, but as his popularity grew he soon extended his services to basketball games, luncheons, award presentations, and any other event that promoted the “Bear Down” spirit.
In 1976 Wilbur underwent a makeover. Gone was the simple costume and cartoonish facemask supplanted by a molded fifteen pound head made of plastic topped with a gigantic western style hat, a red bandana scarf around his neck, a blue vest, and a holster with two pistols. Wilma the Wildcat debuted in 1986 and was married to Wilbur soon thereafter! In recent years Wilbur and Wilma have abandoned their western style garb in favor of team jerseys and jettisoned brandishing pistols to avoid references to gun violence.
Be sure to visit The University of Arizona Photograph Collection digital exhibit to view an assortment of photographs detailing the evolution of the UA’s mascot over the decades.