By Michelle Roberts
Arizona Daily Wildcat
The University of
Arizona, a research one
institution with 35,000 students and expert professors, owes its existence to a crooked legislature, two gamblers and a saloon owner.
Arizona was still a territory in 1881 when Tucson was given money to build the university. It used the $25,000 to construct the "School of Mines," the building now known as "Old Main."
The city of Tucson sent C.C. Stephens and a group of delegates to the capitol in Prescott. The city wanted the territorial capitol moved to Tucson and the citizens told the delegation to settle for nothing less, according to guide published during the centennial celebration of the university.
But Prescott retained the capitol. Phoenix successfully bid for the insane asylum. Yuma kept its prison.
Legislator Selim Franklin pushed for the construction of a university, even though there was not a single high school in the territory.
"Let us establish an institution of learning; let us pass this bill creating a university, where for all time to come the youth of the land may learn to be better citizens than we are," he said to the legislature.
The thirteenth territorial legislature had a reputation for fights and being corrupt. It was known as the "Thirteenth Thieves," the centennial guide says.
It allotted the $25,000 to build the university so Stephens would not go back empty-handed.
But the city did not receive the news of the new university well. The guide says the city's newspapers The Citizen and The Star raked Stephens over the coals.
When the city was given the money to build a university, it was told to find the land to build it on and to get it for free if possible.
The city was able to convince two of the town's most infamous gamblers and a owner of the "best saloon in Tucson" to donate the land.
When the university opened its doors in 1891, there were 32 students and six professors. The professors earned $3,000 a year and most of them lived in Old Main, the building that made up the university.
The building housed everything: the classes and the sleeping quarters.
The school colors were sage green and silver, according to the "Traditions" pamphlet published by the Athletic Department. The colors changed to blue and red in 1900 when the university got a good deal on some jerseys.
The university needed new jerseys, and a business owner was selling blue ones with red trim at a low price. The new colors were adopted shortly afterward.
In the 114 years since the legislature approved construction of the university, a lot of historical stories have evolved.
Now in her second year, Arizona Ambassador Melissa Kaufman retells UA stories every time she gives a tour of the campus.
The political science junior said her favorite story is about the university motto, "Bear Down."
In 1926 John "Button" Salmon, who was the student body president, the football team's quarterback and a catcher on the baseball, was injured in a serious automobile accident.
His final words to J.F. "Pop" McKale were, "Tell them ... tell the team to bear down."
In his honor, students voted to make "Bear Down" the official school motto. They wanted to have the motto painted on the roof of the new gymnasium. The students were told they could if the they raised the money.
In early 1928, the words "Bear Down" were painted on the roof of the new gym.
Kaufman says she sings the fight song and tells the prospective students and parents on her tours the story.
"I always sing the fight song for them," she says. "They seem to get into it, and they clap along."
She says she usually tells students about the lava rock wall that lines the campus. The university sat in grazing land. So the stone walls that line the campus, were originally built to keep cows from stampeding students.
Kaufman says there seems to be a lot of interesting and historical facts about the university. There are a lot stories about researchers and scientists that made amazing discoveries, she said.
Amy Jordahl, a second-year Arizona Ambassador, says she likes to tell people about 1984 movie Revenge of the Nerds, which was filmed on campus.
On the campus tour, she says, they always pass by at least two
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