Northwest may be known as the Bearcats, but few students know about the first unofficial mascot back when Northwest was the Fifth District Normal School.
Mike the Dog was a staple of the Maryville community and is now a forgotten piece of Northwest history.
This small dog arrived on the campus of the Fifth District Normal School sometime in 1916, and was described in “Transitions: 100 Years of Northwest Missouri State University” as a “little tramp dog that discovered college life and decided to call Northwest home.”
Jessica Vest, the University archivist and graduate of Northwest, described Mike the Dog as a local dog that became endeared to the Northwest campus.
“He was a lovable stray that was adopted on campus. … The Green and White Courier, the predecessor to the Northwest Missourian, ran a few stories about him,” Vest said. “These stories say that he just arrived on campus one day and he runs around the Administration Building into various classrooms, and there are some stories spending evenings and weekends with the dean, as well as performing with a cheerleader at a home basketball game.”
As the year progressed, Mike became a fixture of the campus community, welcoming students at the 8 a.m. bell and attending classes during the fall and winter as well as serving as the unofficial mascot during basketball games. The Colberts even went as far as making Mike a green and white blanket that served as his mascot uniform on the basketball court.
In “Behind the Birches,” English professor Mattie Dykes described Mike as an integral and indispensable part of the institution. Sources at the time claimed that Mike was fond of then secretary to the president, M.B. Boase.
This dog not only visited campus during the school day, but he was also known to have visited the homes of various faculty members, with the homes of the Registrar William A. Rickenbrode and Dean of Students George H. Colbert becoming his favorite places to spend the night.
Vest first learned about Mike the Dog during her internship in the Northwest archives.
“I knew about Mike the Dog because I was a student here in the history program and had an internship with the University archives,” Vest said. “I was introduced to Mike the Dog when the Transitions book came out in 2005, and they had uncovered some of those stories that had been forgotten over the years.”
In a 1921 edition of the Green and White Courier, it described Mike’s arrival on campus as one that was rather lackluster due to a majority of students and faculty not noticing the little dog that was wandering the halls of the Administration Building.
This changed in the coming weeks as more and more students saw the little dog walking in and out of classrooms throughout the school day.
Mike’s time at Northwest came to an end in May of 1917, when he was accidentally poisoned after ingesting pesticides that an agriculture class sprayed on the trees. Within a day of Mike dying, a wooden collection box appeared in the Administration Building with the words, “For the Love of Mike” inscribed on the box.
The Green and White Courier described this collection process as one filled with sorrow and remembrance.
“The students in passing thru the hall dropped their pennies, nickels and dimes into a box to show their sorrow, and a little tombstone still stands at the east of the building, as a monument of one who put his life in devotion to his college,” The Green and White Courier said.
This tombstone and memorial is located between the Administration Building and the Power House on the east side of campus. However, the story of Mike the Dog has been largely forgotten by the campus community, and his memorial has become a normal, unnoticed tombstone.
Erin Cejka, a senior history major with a public history and museum studies minor, first learned about Mike the Dog when researching the various mascots on campus.
“While I was doing research on past Northwest mascots, I learned about Mike the Dog and how he was used as an unofficial mascot for a few years in the 1910s,” Cejka said. “Mike the Dog was not an official mascot for the University, but he was definitely loved and very well known at the University by both students and faculty which preceded the Bearcat mascot.”
As much as Mike was loved by the Northwest community, his story has fallen into the realm of forgotten lore.
Vest did not learn about this stray prior to being a student here and feels like students have no idea that there is a gravestone on campus.
“I had never heard of Mike until I got into the history program,” Vest said. “I feel like a lot of people do not know that there is an actual gravestone on the east side of the Administration Building commemorating a dog that was a stray that wandered onto campus.”
Cejka credits his memory as a sign of Northwest’s love for animals.
“Mike the Dog first came to the University as a stray and found his home with various professors and was loved by each individual student,” Cejka said. “Northwest has always had a big heart for animals, and Mike the Dog is our first example of that.”
Vest has tried to cover as much Northwest history for students and has set up a number of displays.
“We try to cover as much as possible when it comes to Northwest history,” Vest said. “On the second floor of the B.D. Owens Library we have a couple of display cases, and when we did a display on school spirit, there was a whole section on Mike the Dog and the Normal School and how it transitioned into being Northwest and the Bearcats.”
While Mike the Dog may have only been around for one school year, the legacy he left on this campus paved the way for the creation of Bobby Bearcat and the Bearcats in 1920.
Vest said the story of Mike the Dog will continue for generations as long as it is passed on to the next group of Bearcats.
“As long as we continue to tell his story, Mike will live on in the history books and those interested in Northwest history,” Vest said. “Mike made a major impact on this campus and that is evident in the fact that students paid for the memorial.”