Though Axe has a rich history, the exact events surrounding the Axe may have been distorted by myth. The Axe was originally a standard 15-inch lumberman's axe (most likely bought from a Sears, Roebuck and Co catalogue). It made its first appearance on April 13, 1899 during a Stanford rally when cheerleaders used it to decapitate a straw man dressed in blue and gold ribbons while giving the popular Axe yell:
After the game, a group of Cal fans seized the Axe by jumping the Stanfordites carrying the Axe out the stadium. Meanwhile, the San Francisco police arrived, and student Jack McGee of Cal succeeded in confusing the police by trying to convince them that some Stanford students were attempting to steal a California Axe.
The Axe was passed to Cal sprinter Billy Drum, and a chase ensued through the streets of San Francisco, first followed by Stanford students and fans and second followed by the San Francisco police. Drum took the Axe to a butcher shop to saw off its 4-foot handle. Then, the Axe was handed over to Clint Miller, who stuffed the Axe blade under his coat and the handle in his pants. Miller stopped at a Chinatown hardware store, where he has the handle sawed further, so it would be easier to hide.
However, as Miller reached the Ferry building, he noticed the police inspecting the pockets of every boarding male passenger. As a result, he handed the Axe to a old girlfriend, who helped him sneak it across the bay to Berkeley. Protection of the Axe during the next decades was intense - it was kept in a bank vault and only brought out in an armored car for spring baseball and Big Game rallies. After several failed raids to reclaim the Axe, a group of 21 Stanford students ("The Immor(t)al 21")--four posing as either photographers or reporters, the others disguised as Cal students--finally succeeded by tossing a tear gas (or smoke, depending on account) bomb at the Cal students who guarded it. The Axe was taken to three cars which sped off in different directions. Although several of the "thieves" were caught, the Axe made it back to Stanford.
In 1933, both sides signed a truce designating the Axe as the annual trophy to be awarded to the victor of the Big Game, and that in the event of a tie, the Axe would be kept by the side already possessing the Axe. It was mounted on a plaque that lists the scores of each game since then. Having been stolen a few times after that, the Axe goes into "hiding" the week before the Big Game.