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The Western W was never an N

Letter from Chris Dickey

Western State College – June 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Ed and Martha:

Thought I’d drop a line to dispel the rumor about the “W” emblem signifying Western State College.

The “W” directly south of Gunnison on Tenderfoot Mountain was never an “N.” There once was an “N” on the smaller hill behind the college where the water tanks now sit, above the stadium. Dr. Charles Johnson, an early Western grad who went on to chair the Natural Science and Mathematics department, masterminded the building of the “W” shortly after Governor Sweet signed the bill in 1923 to change the name from Colorado State Normal School to Western State College of Colorado.

On May 2 of that year, a school holiday was proclaimed and more than 100 students, faculty, and staff trekked up the side of Tenderfoot (there was no road to the top back then) and began placing rocks in the outline of a “W.” For several years thereafter, May 2 was used as an annual “whitewashing” party, with freshman boys being responsible for lugging the 100 pound sacks of lime which were used to paint the rocks. A huge picnic followed.

Western doesn’t declare May 2 a holiday anymore, but it still upholds the tradition of lighting the “W” on fire (I think they get old mattresses to serve as fuel, and have their own sort of picnic during and after the “work” is done) the Friday of Homecoming Weekend. And, at 320 feet by 420 feet, it is reputed to be the largest collegiate emblem in the world. (My search of Guinness’ web page created no results.)

Chris Dickey