The buffalo first appeared in 1934, three weeks after a contest to select an official school nickname by the Silver & Gold newspaper had come to an end and “Buffaloes” was the winning entry. For the final game of the ‘34 season, a group of students paid $25 to rent a buffalo calf along with a real cowboy as his keeper. The calf was the son of Killer, a famed bison at Trails End Ranch in Fort Collins. It took the cowboy and four students to keep the calf under control on the sidelines, a 7-0 win at the University of Denver on Thanksgiving Day.
Prior to 1934, CU athletic teams usually were referred to as the “Silver and Gold,” but other nicknames teams were sometimes called included Silver Helmets, Yellow Jackets, Hornets, Arapahoes, Big Horns, Grizzlies and Frontiersmen. The student newspaper decided to sponsor a national contest in the summer of 1934, with a $5 prize to go to the author of the winning selection. Entries, over 1,000 in all, arrived from almost every state in the union. Athletic Director Harry Carlson, graduate manager Walter Franklin and Kenneth Bundy of the Silver and Gold were the judges.
Local articles first reported that Claude Bates of New Madrid, Mo., and James Proffitt of Cincinnati, Ohio, were co-winners for the prize as both submitted “Buffaloes” as their entry. But 10 days later, the newspaper declared Boulder resident Andrew Dickson the winner, after a follow-up revealed his submission of “Buffaloes” had actually arrived several days before those of the original winners. Through the years, synonyms which quickly came into use included “Bisons,” “Buffs,” “Thundering Herd,” “Stampeding Herd,” “Golden Avalanche,” and “Golden Buffaloes.”
Live buffaloes made appearances at CU games on and off through the years, usually in a pen on the field or sometimes driven around in a cage; in the 1940s, the school kept a baby buffalo in a special pen at the University Riding Academy. The first named buffalo was “Mr. Chips,” who appeared for the first time at the 1957 CU Days kickoff rally, as supporter Mahlon White donated him to the school, and it was cared for by a men’s honorary.
A few years passed between a live mascot on the sideline and the tradition Colorado fans have come to know so well.