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Iowa History Daily: April 11 - Burch the Bear

Iowa History Daily: On April 11, 1910, Iowa fans everywhere mourned the loss of the beloved live mascot Burch the bear. The forerunner to Herky the Hawk, the black bear cub named Burch served as the Iowa football mascot from 1908 to 1910.

Nearly four decades before the introduction of Herky the Hawk, the fledgling Iowa football team adopted the bear cub from Moscow, Idaho as a mascot. Arriving by train after head coach Mark Catlin secured the mascot, the bear’s crate held a note addressed to assistant coach John Griffith reading: “Mr. Expressman, I am going to be a mascot. If you find a little time and milk and water, please give me some. Your’s truly, Burch.”

Only about the size of a dog on his arrival, one of the football players led the bear to a new den at Iowa Field with a long rope attached to a pole. The players enjoyed wrestling with the bear, and groundskeeper Jimmy Barry took charge of the cub. During the season the bear patrolled the sidelines, even traveling to away games. During the first game with Burch on the sidelines, Iowa beat Coe 92-0. 

The next spring, as the Iowa River flooded out the stadium site and Burch’s den the bear escaped. Rapidly growing from a cub into a full-fledged black bear, the recent escapee got a temporary home at the Iowa City Park Zoo. “Too big to be manageable,” according to newspaper reports the following season, Burch spent games in a cage after returning to live at Iowa Field. The following winter, newspaper reports of the bear’s demise proved mistaken: Burch had hibernated. However, later in the winter Burch escaped and drowned in the river. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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