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Show Your Spirit

June 6, 2022
people tossing pinecones at T-Rex statue
Students try to throw spruce cones into the mouth of T-Rex. Tradition has it that making the shot equals better test grades.

Meet the mascots and discover all the best University of Wyoming traditions.

Pistol Pete

Pistol Pete is a cowboy with a big costume head, but it wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time, he was an actual cowboy who loved attending games and beating on his drum. It’s hard to say when the first cowboy mascot came on the scene—a horse and rider can be seen in a 1912 football game photo. In the 1960s, a Pistol Pete logo was commissioned. Oklahoma State University eventually sued over the likeness to its own Pistol Pete, and now both universities must adhere to certain specifications. By the late 1970s, the costume head was added to UW’s mascot, and eventually the Spirit Squad took over training and recruiting students for the role. They say the hardest part is running across the field with the flag at the start of football games. There’s a fan to provide cooling inside the costume, but it still gets hot. However, the students behind Pete love getting a front row seat to all the action at 200 events a year and interacting with fans, who flock to get their photos taken.

Sing Along

As a student or athletics fan, there are three songs you need to know. The official fight song is “Fight Wyoming Fight,” while unofficial favorites include “Ragtime Cowboy Joe” and “In Heaven There Is No Beer,” aka “The Beer Song.” Throughout the history of the university, there were many fight songs. The current, “Fight Wyoming Fight,” was composed by Sheridan doctor Peter Schunk, who won the fight song contest. It was first performed during the Homecoming Sing in 1950. Another fan favorite is “Ragtime Cowboy Joe.” Be prepared to get up and dance for your chance to make it on the video board at games. The original version was written in 1912 by Grant Clarke and performed by many musicians. It’s said that physical education Professor Edwin Stroup arranged the song for Wyoming in the early 1960s. Of all the traditions, the beer song ranked highest among the students we interviewed, and fans will demand the Western Thunder Marching Band belt it out wherever the band appears. It came on the scene after the polka documentary In Heaven There Is No Beer came out in 1984. However, we’re not the only university that sings it.

Brown & Gold

UW’s colors—brown and gold—were inspired by the brown-eyed susan flower. But originally the gold was called yellow. UW switched to calling it gold in the 1960s.

Let ’er Buck

UW’s horse and rider symbol is based on the 1903 photo of the bucking horse Steamboat ridden by cowboy Guy Holt at the Albany Country Fair snapped by UW Professor B.C. Buffum. It appeared on baseball uniforms in 1921 but wasn’t placed on football helmets until the early 1960s. The logo is synonymous with both UW and the state of Wyoming.

Dino Luck

“My favorite UW tradition is throwing a pine cone into the dinosaur’s mouth for good luck on a tough exam,” says senior CeeJay Berg, an accounting and economics major with minors in honors and finance from Rock Springs, Wyo. “I have tried it, and it works!” The copper T-Rex, built in the 1960s by the legendary Professor Doc Knight, is located in front of the Geological Museum. The cones are technically spruce, but the luck is the same. This tradition is a strong runner-up for favorite.

Unofficial Fun

If you attend UW football games, you’re bound to spot “barrel guy”—a man wearing a colorful brown and gold barrel with cowboy boots. His real name is Ken Koretos. He’s just a fan—though a big fan. You can also spot him at basketball games sans barrel. Another unofficial tradition is Haystack Rock located along Highway 287 between Laramie and Fort Collins. Sometimes—especially near the Border War—it’s painted brown and gold with a “Go Wyo” or other UW-related message, and sometimes it’s green with a Colorado State University message. Other times it has nothing to do with either school and is simply a young lover proposing, an RIP tribute or other message. 

Sporting Rivals

UW’s biggest sporting rival is by far Colorado State University, located just an hour south in Fort Collins. Whenever UW plays CSU, it’s considered a “Border War,” and you can hear the chant “Beat the Sheep!” and other less savory calls. They first played each other in football in 1899, and this year marked the 113th game. In 1968, Vietnam veteran Dan Romero donated a boot he wore in the war, and it was bronzed, creating the Bronze Boot traveling trophy. UW has won five of the last six meetings of the Border War football series. Back in the day, the rivalry was heated, with fans from each school committing illegal acts, such as kidnapping each other’s mascots. Luckily, the significance of the Bronze Boot and what it represents have brought honor to the game, and such petty acts are now a thing of the past. Many traditions surround the big game, including the annual running of the game ball by the two schools’ ROTC detachments who meet along Highway 287. In addition to the Bronze Boot, two other traveling trophies are contested each year: the Paniolo Trophy (the Hawai’ian word for Cowboy) with Hawaii and the Bridger Rifle with Utah State.

person riding a horse and holding a large UW flag on a football field
War Paint and Lane Romsa.

War Paint

About six years ago, a new horse came on the scene: a flashy paint charging across the field at the start of each football game. The starring role first went to Hawk, but he recently retired, replaced by the 4-year-old American Paint Horse/Percheron cross named War Paint. Both are owned by the Romsa family. We spoke with rider Lane Romsa—who loves the adrenaline rush of riding in the games—to learn more.

Practice makes perfect: Horses are sensitive to loud noises and unusual sights, so it took some practice to prepare War Paint for his first football game, but it all went smoothly. 

A day in the life: War Paint lives near the Laramie River and even has his own padded stall. When it’s not football season, you can find him moving cattle or riding in parades.

A mellow dude: Although just a youngster, War Paint is naturally calmer than his predecessor. But when he gets on the field, he knows it’s time to get flashy. He loves being the center of attention. He also enjoys kids and getting lots of pats.

Cowboy Joe Pony

When War Memorial Stadium opened in the fall of 1950—named in honor of the two world wars and the brave men and women who served—UW gained a new mascot. That mascot was a feisty Shetland pony named Cowboy Joe who was donated by the Farthing family of Cheyenne. Since then, Cowboy Joe has been a fixture at football games, parades and other events. The current Cowboy Joe is the fifth donated pony, also from Farthing Ranch, and is 10 years old. We spoke with his head handler, senior Julia Halmay of Dubois, Wyo., who is majoring in animal science with equine concentration and an agricultural business minor, for some fun facts about Cowboy Joe.

A day in the life: When he’s not trotting on the turf to celebrate a Cowboys’ touchdown or taking part in his many other public-facing events, Cowboy Joe likes kicking back at the Laramie Research and Extension Center farm, hanging out with his best friends Pistol and Pete.

Pet Peeves: Cowboy Joe hates dieting. But like many ponies, his appetite is bigger than his stature, and he has to watch his figure and can’t chow down on too many treats. He also can’t stand standing still. After all, he’s supposed to be burning calories, right? Another thing he doesn’t like is fireworks.

Personality: He’s a Shetland pony—need we say more? If you’re not familiar with pony attitudes, they can be summed up in one word: sassy.

Favorite things: Although Cowboy Joe gives his handlers sass, he loves kids and pulls out the charm for them. He also loves a good scratch behind the ears. When he hears the Western Thunder Marching band launching into “Ragtime Cowboy Joe,” he gets excited and knows it’s his time to shine.

A Tale of Two Horses: Pistol and Pete

Not all horses play football. To celebrate the 125th anniversary of agriculture extension at UW in 2016, a team of Haflinger horses was purchased to pull the historic sheep wagon and serve as mascots. In true UW style, they were named Pistol and Pete. That team since retired, and a new Pistol and Pete are on the scene. Laramie Research and Extension Center Assistant Manager Elias Hutchinson gave us the lowdown on the pair.

Meet the team: Haflingers are an Austrian light draft breed, perfect for pulling wagons. Pistol is 7 and Pete is 6. Both are approximately 14.2 hands high and weigh around 1,100 pounds.

A Day in the Life: Pistol and Pete live with Cowboy Joe Pony at the Laramie center. The pair travel the state to the various agriculture experiment stations, giving wagon rides and appearing in events. When they’re not traveling, they pull a hay wagon to teach students driving with a team, and together they feed the livestock at the experiment station.

Personality plus: Pistol and Pete have distinct personalities. Pistol is all business, while Pete is goofier and likes to get into trouble, such as finding that hidden stash of hay to pork out on. Little girls love horses, and Pete can’t wait to get his photo taken with them—greeting them with a gentle nuzzle. But, like Cowboy Joe, he doesn’t like standing around.

people serving food at a barbeque
As part of Homecoming week activities, students enjoy the annual pig roast on Simpson Plaza.

Homecoming

Homecoming takes place each October, welcoming back alumni and friends for football, a parade, class reunions and more. It coincides nicely with the beautiful colors of fall. There are also many events especially for students, including the Homecoming Sing competition, car push and Big Event service day. During the last parade, Sigma Nu and Alpha Phi took home the top prize for their float. “I enjoy the atmosphere that Homecoming brings to Laramie, participating in the parade and watching the football game,” says Alpha Phi Sorority Chapter President Andrea Perez, a senior from Cheyenne, Wyo., majoring in marketing with minor in graphic design. “Everyone comes back, and Laramie feels full again.”

W Hill

One lost tradition is W Hill. You can still faintly see the W north of town near the aptly named W Hill Road, but the W hasn’t been painted since the 1960s, and development has now encroached on the area.

Special thanks to Kevin McKinney, Tim Harkins and Danielle Cole from athletics, and American Heritage Center Archivist John R. Waggener, for their help with this article.

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