AFA Member Plays Role in Auburn University Mascot Lore

auburneagle

Alabama Forestry Association member and ForestPAC Piedmont District Director, Dell Hill had occasion to be an unsuspecting participant in what would later become one of the greatest game-day traditions in all of college football. According to to this article, prior to 1960, though the cry of “War Eagle” had become deeply ingrained in Auburn (or API at the time) tradition, no live eagle was ever an Auburn mascot. As you will see from this article from the Auburn Plainsman (reprinted with permission) things were due to change during Dell’s sophomore year in college…..

Meet New Mascot, “War Eagle II”
Golden Eagle Found Near Talladega Soon to Train for Mascot Duty
By Don Phillips
Plainsman Feature Writer
Date- Unknown (Circa 1960)

SOMEWHERE in the Rocky Mountains last spring, a Golden Eagle saw the light of day for the first time. He looked around, decided he didn’t like the mountain country, and headed for the rolling plains of Alabama. Little did he know that he was destined to become War Eagle II, Auburn’s first official mascot since War Eagle I gave one last mighty shriek and toppled dead to the ground as Auburn won its first football game, in 1892.

War Eagle II was first seen November 10, in a cotton field near Curry Station, Alabama, six miles from Talladega, and about 12 miles from Cheaha Mountain. He had come down from the mountains, probably after food and was trapped between two rows of cotton so the he couldn’t spread his wings and fly. Some Negro cotton pickers saw the eagle but were afraid to get near enough to capture him, so one of them went after a shotgun. Luckily he wasn’t a good shot, for he only winged the great bird.

Next day, November 11, Carson Whitson, Talladega postmaster, and some of his hands were working horses on Whitson’s farm, also at Curry Station. As Whitson and one of his workers were driving along in a pickup truck they noticed a disturbance among some cattle. Closer investigation revealed what appeared to be an owl or a vulture crouched on the ground, but they suddenly realized that it was an eagle. With a spirit worthy of Auburn, the big eagle never gave up. Although he couldn’t fly, as the men approached he snapped at them and started running. But they managed to head him off in the truck and pinned his head to the ground with a pitch fork. They then took the eagle to a chicken coop where he stayed the next few days.

NEXT SUNDAY Whitson told Talladega County Agent, O.V. Hill about his dilemma. (At that time the eagle was eating a chicken a day.) Hill, who owns Selwood Turkey Farm in Talladega, was planning to send a load of Thanksgiving turkeys to Auburn that week and offered to give the eagle a ride down. That night Hill called his son Dell, an Auburn student, and asked him to contact school authorities to see if Auburn could use an eagle. Naturally, they were very receptive to the idea.

So it was that on Tuesday, November 15, War Eagle II got his first view of Auburn. He was first taken to the ATO house where he refused a cold chicken leg, but made fast work of a live chicken. Later that afternoon, Dr. Morris Baker, head of the wildlife department, took him to the department’s animal pens.

Dr. Baker’s research has brought to life some interesting facts about War Eagle II. He is not a Bald Eagle, as was first supposed, but a Golden Eagle. The Golden Eagle breeds only in the Rocky Mountains, but almost every winter a few make it to Alabama. Only two others have been reported this year. It is very fitting that War Eagle II be a Golden Eagle, for the western Indians gave the breed the name “war eagle” because they preferred its feathers for their war bonnets.

AT LAST REPORT War Eagle II was doing very well. His wing is completely healed and he is flying around inside his cage. He is a little more tame than he was when first captured, but it is still a good idea not to get too close to the cage. When he is full grown he will have dark brown feathers with a purple gloss, a brownish-yellow head and neck, (thus the name, Golden Eagle) and bright yellow beak and claws. Right now he has quite a bit of white at the tips of his feathers.

According to James E. Foy, Dean of Student Affairs, War Eagle II’s future remains uncertain. General plans are to keep as official mascot and to carry him to all pep rallies, parades and football games. Alpha Phi Omega, national service fraternity, has under consideration a plan to build a portable cage and trailer, but nothing definite has been decided.

The suggestion has been offered, under care of an experienced trainer, the eagle could be domesticated and taught to strike a lure- that is, to fly from his trainer’s shoulder and to attack some object. What a sight it would be for instance, at the Georgia Tech game to see the “war eagle” come screaming down on a large yellow jacket being whirled through the air, and rip it to pieces in mid-air. Of course the eagle would be attached to his trainer by a long nylon string. Dr. Baker says that since the eagle is so young that it would be very possible to train him. All that is needed now is an experienced trainer.

Perhaps someday soon Auburn will see the great “war eagle” fly again. Indeed War Eagle II is destined to become a great part of the spirit he symbolizes.

Postlude:
Further investigation (Wikipedia) indicates that the 1960’s War Eagle II actually was not the second eagle associated with Auburn. Auburn’s first real, live-eagle mascot, War Eagle II, was mentioned in the New York Times, which noted then that “War Eagle” was already established as Auburn’s battle cry. In November 1930 a golden eagle swooped down on a flock of turkeys in Bee Hive, Alabama, southwest of Auburn, Alabama, and became entangled in a mass of pea vines. Fourteen individuals and businesses scraped together $10 and purchased the eagle from the farmer who owned the pea patch. Cheerleaders DeWit Stier and Harry “Happy” Davis (who later became executive secretary of the Auburn Alumni Association) helped care for the new bird. It was put in a strong wire cage and taken to the Auburn football game against the University of South Carolina in Columbus, Georgia on Thanksgiving Day.

Auburn, having not won a Southern Conference game in four seasons, was anticipated to lose. However, Auburn took a 25-7 victory over the Gamecocks. The student body concluded that the luck from the eagle’s presence—which had been absent from their prior losses—was responsible for the victory that day. The eagle was kept in a cage behind Alumni Hall (renamed Ingram Hall), and cared for by members of the “A” Club.

The bird’s ultimate fate is unknown. Some say it died or was carried away by students of a rival school. Others say it was given to a zoo due to the high cost of upkeep; there is even a rumor that it was stuffed and put in the John Bell Lovelace Athletic Museum.
Originally known simply as “War Eagle” this bird was retroactively named “War Eagle II” with the arrival of War Eagle III.

War Eagle III (the 1960’s version discussed in the Plainsman article) escaped in 1964 prior to the Auburn vs. Tennessee game in Birmingham and was later found shot to death.
War Eagle VI, during the 2000 football season, brought to life the “suggestion” alluded to in the Plainsman article by performing a free flight before a home football game.

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