You can't travel an inch in Lawrence, Kansas without seeing a Jayhawk celebrating the University of Kansas' prolific mascot. But these birds have a fascinating and colorful history. The term "jayhawk" is believed to have been first coined in 1848, combining the blue jay, a loud and angry bird known to rob other nests and the sparrow hawk, a hunter. You wouldn't want to turn your back on a Jayhawk.
The term was originally used around the country in places like Illinois and Texas, but during the 1850's it found a home in Kansas Territory. As the civil war raged on, factions on both sides fought violently in Kansas Territory to determine whether it would be a Free State or whether slavery would be legal. Fighters on both sides were called Jayhawks as they looted, stole and attacked each other's settlements. Ultimately the free state side prevailed and Lawrence became their stronghold, as well as the future home of the University of Kansas. They earned the right to be called Jayhawks, passionate patriots committed to freedom who were willing to fight and die for their cause.
When the University of Kansas was established, it seemed natural to take the Jayhawk as its mascot and in 1912, the first picture of a Jayhawk appeared (and for some reason, it wore shoes. No really, the original Jayhawk had shoes.) Today, Jayhawk statutes can be found all around the KU Lawrence campus and the town itself.
To see how the image of the Jayhawk has changed throughout history, visit the University of Kansas website.