Sincerely Yours: The Origins of the Old Oaken Bucket

This month’s Sincerely Yours post is brought to you by the Archives Photographs Curator, Brad Cook! 

One of the most popular Indiana University-Purdue University traditions began with this:

On October 23, 1925 IU Athletic Director Zora Clevenger replied to Frederick E. Bryan (IU Law, 1905),“Have scouts trying to land oaken bucket immediately.”


In 1936, J. Frank Lindsay (IU 1913) recounted the origins behind the trophy in a letter to then IU President William Lowe Bryan. He noted that Wiley J. Huddle (IU 1901) had the idea that a group should undertake a “worthy joint enterprises on behalf of the two schools.” Thus, a joint committee of IU and Purdue alumni first met on August 31, 1925 and Dr. Clarence K. Jones (IU Medicine, 1914) “proposed the creation of a traditional football trophy…at a later meeting this committee recommended an old oaken bucket as the most typically Hoosier form of a trophy…”

It is said the bucket was found on the Bruner farm between the towns of Kent and Hanover, Indiana and that Confederate General John Morgan (of Morgan’s Raiders fame) drank from the bucket during his incursion into Indiana during the summer of 1863. Another story traces the origins of the bucket to Illinois, where it was first repaired at the American Steel Foundries of Granite City, Illinois and given an “antiquated” look by H. Raymond McCoy of the same company.

Presentation of Old Oaken Bucket, November 21, 1925. Archives Image no. p0023404
Presentation of Old Oaken Bucket, November 21, 1925. Archives Image no. p0023404

The bucket was unveiled at halftime on November 21, 1925 with writer and columnist George Ade (Purdue 1887) and Monon Railroad president Harrie Kurrie (IU Law, 1895) presenting. The symbol of supremacy for the friendly rivalry was cemented in place.“I” or “P” links made of brass were to be added to the bucket each year depending on which team won the tilt. The problem that first year was that the game ended in a 0-0 tie. Thus, Zora Clevenger announced that the bucket would be kept at IU until Purdue won a game. Soon after, a combined “IP” link was created to symbolize a tie. It is this very link that hangs from the handle of the bucket today and from which the remainder of the links are attached. Each is engraved with the date and score of the game.

Over the years the trophy has been: kidnapped on several occasions, escorted by the IU ROTC in 1945 from the IU p0054258Archives to the Auditorium for a football convocation, displayed on the third floor of L.S. Ayres in Indianapolis in 1950, and filled with beer after IU students “liberated” it from a Purdue trophy case in 1953. After speaking on the phone to former IU football coach Lee Corso, I was able to confirm that he and his wife did indeed take the bucket to bed when he first won the trophy in 1976. He was also able to confirm that he and his family placed flowers in the bucket and used it as a centerpiece on their Thanksgiving day table whenever it was in IU’s possession.

In a state built for basketball, there is no more prized possession between IU and Purdue than this football trophy and its ever-lengthening chain. Even during those seasons where one’s team has done poorly it is always felt the season can be salvaged if “we can just win the Old Oaken Bucket.”

As of the end of 2015, Purdue leads the overall series between the teams 72-40-6. Purdue also leads the trophy game series 58-30-3 – LET’S ADD ONE MORE WIN FOR IU HERE IN 2016!

The Purdue Train Wreck of 1903: A Football Rivalry Touched by Tragedy

Here at the archives blog, we strive to showcase some of the fun and insightful parts of our history that have been forgotten or remain obscure. For this post, our focus of interest will be on a much grimmer, not-so-fun topic.

Um, are you still there? OK, good…

Our sad story involves football, the historic rivalry between I.U. and our friends at Purdue and…trains.

It was Saturday, October 31, 1903. Already by this point in time not only was football an essential part of the fabric of university life, but the competition between I.U and Purdue for gridiron glory had already heated up into a fever pitch. In fact, the rivalry was so hot and intense, that both universities had agreed that matches between the two teams should be held on neutral ground, so as to limit potential hooliganism on the part of the spectators. Both had agreed on the most suitable ground for avoiding this nastiness–Indianapolis.

Arrival of the “Purdue Special,” November 20, 1909.

To get to the location, the teams, the entire student body (including Purdue’s president), and other followers from both universities crowded onto separate special service trains to take them en masse to into the city from Bloomington and Lafayette. In Purdue’s case, the train was cobbled together from available coaches, from modern (for the time) steel cars to older wooden coaches. The wooden coaches were attached near the front of the train, and the Purdue team rode took their place of honor in these cars at the front of the train procession.

As the train triumphantly chugged their way into the city limits of Indianapolis, the Purdue entourage had no way of knowing that their train was locked into a collision course with an opposing train on the same tracks, courtesy of a signaling error on the part of the railroad switching crew. The engineer of the Purdue special continued to rocket the train along at a speedy clip, unaware of danger up ahead. By the time he spotted the opposing locomotive bearing down on his machine, there was no chance of his being able to halt his barreling procession in time. Resigned to fate, he threw on the air brakes and leapt off of his engine.

Print  from copy negatives apparently made by The Indianapolis Times. The Purdue University Archives holds many more images of the wreck site:

The collision forces were such that the wooden cars attached at the front of the line splintered like kindling, and the cars immediately adjacent to these were sent violently off the raised tracks to the ground below. In contrast to this carnage, the cars further back were spared the crushing and derailment at the front of the procession, barely registering a jolt. The rearmost passengers wasted little time in coming to the assistance of the victims up ahead. According to Joseph Bradfield, then a Purdue student riding in the procession, “We began carrying the people out, the injured ones. There was a line of horse-and-buggies along the whole stretch there for half a mile. We didn’t stop for ceremony; we simply loaded the injured people into the buggies and sent the buggies into town, got them to a hospital [….] There was no ambulance, no cars…” By the time the scene was brought under control and the victims accounted for, eighteen riders had died as a result of the disaster, including most of Purdue’s football squad.

The shock of what had occurred thoroughly jolted not only Purdue, but I.U. as well. The intense rivalry was pushed entirely aside as I.U. flooded its fellow university with expressions of condolence and solidarity in the face of tragic and unprecedented loss of life. Faculty members paid tribute to the fallen Purdue footballers in an open letter as “honorable and friendly rivals, not our enemies,” and likened their shock at Purdue’s loss as “…to brothers who have lost the comrades of their day’s work.” In a similar spirit, some students suggested that the revenue from the cancelled game be directed to both university athletic associations as an appropriate way to deal with the financial matters stemming from the accident. In short, the tragedy served to cool the burning football rivalry between the two universities, so that future games would be normally played on either the I.U. or Purdue campus rather than alternate locations.

An unused ticket from that tragically doomed game.

So ends our sad but fascinating slice of university history, courtesy of the extensive collection at the I.U. Archives. If you’d like more details on this episode or others, please contact the staff at the Archives.