Every fall in Indiana, a relic said to date back to the Civil War may journey between Bloomington and West Lafayette. Once covered in mold and moss, it’s now garnished with a chain of bronze charms. The Old Oaken Bucket is the trophy awarded to the winner of the annual Purdue-Indiana football match-up. Having met on the gridiron since 1891, the teams began to compete for the rustic vessel in 1925. The Chicago alumni clubs of both universities, investigating opportunities for “worthy joint enterprises,” had created the trophy earlier that year. Prompted, perhaps, by a sentimental song popular in the nineteenth century, Dr. Clarence Jones of IU and Russell Gray of Purdue chose an old oaken bucket as an appropriate Hoosier talisman. It fell to Purdue alumnus Fritz Earnst and Indiana alumnus Wiley J. Huddle to retrieve the specimen, which they found on the Bruner family farm between the southeastern Indiana towns of Kent and Hanover. Legend has it that the bucket had been used by a Civil War general before being retired to draw water from the farm’s open well.
Humorist George Ade, representing Purdue, was joined by Monon Railroad executive Harry Kurrie, for IU, in awarding the trophy for the first time. The Boilermakers tied the Hoosiers for the 1925 event, resulting in the adornment of the bucket with the joined bronze letters I-P. Since that initial contest, 53 P’s, 25 I’s and 2 additional I-P’s have been linked to the chain. Though the winning team takes home the trophy for the year following their victory, the bucket has taken some unexplained forays along the way. “Boosted” on occasion by rabid fans on both sides, the bucket has at times been given up for lost. Taking its place alongside such Hoosier trophy rivalries as the Cannon, the Shillelagh, and the Monon Spike, the Old Oaken Bucket is one of the nation’s oldest and most well-known college sports traditions.
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