Go Barn-yard Cadets!

Brian Kimmes

Brian Kimmes

The story of how South Dakota State University received its nickname and mascot, the Jackrabbits, is not one of 100 percent accuracy. The reason for the name change and when the change actually took place is left open. The story has grown into its own mythic legend. In fact, two competing theories of the Jackrabbit name have emerged.

The most common belief is that the name “Jackrabbits” came from a story and cartoon sketch that appeared in a Minneapolis newspaper following a 1905 football game between the University of Minnesota and South Dakota State College. A reporter for the newspaper, knowing of the abundance of jackrabbits in the Brookings area, was believed to have written that that the SDSC team was as quick as jackrabbits. Many people believe that the school then adopted the Jackrabbits as its official nickname from that beginning.

The other theory about the origin of the nickname is given in The Jackrabbit, SDSU’s yearbook. There is a poem in the 1907 yearbook that puts forth the idea that the yearbook is called The Jackrabbit because a group of juniors wished to immortalize themselves by changing the name of the yearbook. Athletic teams followed suit, adopting the nickname. Prior to the adoption of the Jackrabbit nickname, school athletic teams were known as the Barn-yard Cadets as SDSU was known as South Dakota State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1907.

The poem that stakes claim to the Jackrabbit is titled “How the Jack-Rabbit Came to be,” and it reads:

“Slowly down the horizon,Sunk the golden autumn sun;And the library clock as striking,Showed the day was almost done.

When a band of merry Juniors, Met in thirty-five that day,And whispered how they’d make them famousIn an intellectual way

Then a tall good-natured fellow,Rose from out the Junior mass,And addressed his fellow students,Of that most industrious class.

“Fellow Juniors, we’ve decidedA new stunt to introduce,That we’ll edit a “Jack Rabbit,’Which we’ll very soon turn loose.

Soon the news was circulated,And it ceased to be a jest,For ’07’s Jack Rabbit,Took its place among the best.

And now each year the Junior class,In this agricultural school,Point with pride to the precept,And try to follow the rule.

And forever and foreverTho others take their place,They’ll all acknowledge freely,That ’07 set the pace.”

Although the 1905 football game is the first hint the teams are called Jackrabbits, it was not until 1907 that any glimpse of an official name came about. In 1907, the school changed its name from South Dakota Agricultural College to South Dakota State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. In an April 1907 edition of the Collegian, an editorial states, “We will miss our pet name of ‘Barn-yard Cadets.'” The Collegian editorial makes no reference to what the new name is though.

It appears both stories gave rise to the name of the Jackrabbits. The 1905 football game was when a team was first mentioned as the Jackrabbits and the 1907 poem in the yearbook seems to have cemented the name in stone.