In the middle of November, a shockwave woke Colorado School of Mines students and Golden residents. Golden looked up to Mt. Zion to see that an explosion had left the M lacking a 20 ft section.
This act was the final shot in a war that erupted between the Colorado School of Mines and the University of Denver, a war that began just over a week previous, on November 5, 1919.
At the time, the University of Denver and the Colorado School of Mines were bitter rivals in football. Only a few years previous, pranks between the two schools were common, but had been ceased by mutual agreement. However, a report in a Denver newspaper of a plot by the Denver Pioneers to repaint the Mines symbol, the iconic M set on the side of Mt. Zion, in their crimson colors caused a furor on campus. The University of Denver immediately responded, claiming that the report was false, but actions were set in motion that would not easily be undone.
Early in the morning on Wednesday, November 4, several small explosions were heard on the Denver campus, and when the noises were investigated, buildings around campus were found plastered with posters saying, “Get DU and then what? Give them hell Mines.” Beyond the posters, no other damage was reported.
The following morning, 4 blasts shook the Denver campus. 25 sticks of dynamite, split into 5 clutches, had been planted on campus in front of the administration building. Fortunately for the buildings on the Denver campus, 1 clutch of 5 of the sticks of dynamite failed to detonate. Even so, windows were blown out in buildings around campus including the chapel, library, and residential buildings. In addition, the front wall of the administration building was cracked.
While there was not direct evidence of Mines’ involvement, evidence was found that indicated that the dynamite was stolen from a clay plant in Golden, whose owner, ironically enough, was a DU alumnus and trustee. Regardless of the legal evidence, it was clear to the DU students that this was the work of CSM students. Late on the morning of November 6, the same day of the bombing, several students from the University of Denver Dentistry School left for Golden with enough crimson paint, the color of the Denver Pioneers, to paint the 104 x 107 foot M.
Unfortunately for these students, the Orediggers, who had seen many attempts at defacing the M, had taken precautions to protect it. As the Pioneers were defacing the M, they were spotted from campus, which secured a humiliating fate for the Pioneers. When an alarm went off on campus, they tried to flee the mountain, however, CSM students set up a roadblock on the road leading from Mt. Zion, and captured the charlatans. There were reports of shots fired by the fleeing Pioneers, but it was later reported that they might have been firing blanks.
The CSM students made sure that this was not an experience to soon be forgotten by the culprits. They dressed them in prisoner overalls, shaved their heads, and dyed a purple M into their scalp using silver nitrate. Silver nitrate is a chemical used to dye biological material, usually for study under a microscope. The DU students were going to be walking advertisements for the School of Mines for 6 or 7 months.
The Orediggers were on a roll at this point, and decided to kill another bird with this stone. They lured a Denver Post reporter to Golden with the bait of a huge story. Instead of finding a story, he was subjected to a similar treatment as the DU students. However, he was spared the shaving and branding. He did join the University of Denver students in a parade through the street of downtown Golden. Later that evening, both the reporter and the DU students were released. The reporter was sent back with a warning to the Denver Post to stop their slanderous reporting.
Mines students, fearing another attempt at the M, set up patrols armed with rifles and bayonets on the roads leading into Golden. In addition, a barricade was set up at the base of Mt. Zion in a manner designed to force vehicles to slow or even stop to successfully navigate the impedance. The students claimed the right to search all cars to ensure that DU students were not concealed inside.
CSM’s President Victor Alderson gave official sanction to the actions of the students. While the school administration supported the actions, Colorado’s governor Oliver Shoup expressed his concern over the situation, noting that striking miners whose actions had caused militia forces to be sent in to ensure peace were not permitted rifles, and yet college students were arming themselves. As he was currently dealing with more important issues, he expressed his hope that the school administration could find a solution without need of state assistance.
Finally, the schools were tired of the war, or perhaps they merely ran out of explosives. Either way, representatives from both schools met to negotiate a cease fire. They decided that at this time the contest should be decided by the football teams, those who should have determined it in the first place. The truce managed to stand for a day, and both teams’ fans acted the part of good sportsmen. A winter storm struck the region, creating terrible conditions for a football game. The field was covered in snow, so plays were short and fumbles were common. Both teams fought hard, but in the end, they had managed to fight only to a 0-0 tie.
This frustrated the abused Pioneers, and they sought revenge. The storm that ruined the football game gave DU the opportunity they needed. On the morning of November 13, Golden was shaken awake by the blast that left the M scarred. Upon inspection, it was determined that the blast could well have destroyed most of the M, were it not for the dynamite being poorly placed. Responding quickly to the bridge leading from Mt. Zion, Mines students were unable to apprehend the conspirators due to the severe snow. A raid on the University of Denver was contemplated to kidnap some students to act as the manual labor to repair the M, however, this suggestion was rejected.
The decision was made to allow a group of seniors to determine the next steps. As a Grand Jury was investigating the bombing of the University of Denver, the governor was threatening military intervention, and the likelihood of mutually assured destruction was increasing, both schools met to work out a lasting truce. This truce, unlike the last, stood for nearly 10 years, but that is a story for another issue.