UM Students Keep Traditions Alive Ahead of Foresters’ Ball

MISSOULA – Kidnapping a mounted moose head comes with challenges. Just ask the students in the University of Montana’s Alexander Blewett III School of Law.

A small group of law students snuck into the forestry building on a cold night last week to steal Bertha, the mounted moose head hanging from the banister. The heist is a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and fuels a rivalry between UM’s law and forestry students.

The law students, wearing blazers and carrying rope and ratchet straps, surrounded Bertha and for a moment were stumped. Eventually, the students swung a rope around Bertha’s neck and lifted the large moose head off the banister and carried it down the staircase to a waiting getaway truck.

“How many law students does it take to steal a moose,” joked Brandy Keesee, a second-year law student from Detroit. “It’s a fun thing to do with your friends.”

The moose theft was not as rowdy as years ago, but as part of the tradition, the forestry students wait a few days and then retaliated by decorating the law school’s atrium with freshly cut fir trees.

The main goal of this mischief is to continue these nearly century-old traditions that were lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bertha heist and retaliation are meant to kick off the Foresters’ Ball, which was canceled for two years from the pandemic. The ball and surrounding traditions returned last year, and now the students in both schools want to see them continue. This year’s 105th Foresters’ Ball will be held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 2-3, in UM’s Schreiber Gym.

Jaiden Stansberry, a senior forestry student from Yosemite National Park and “chief push” of the Foresters’ Ball committee, said she wants to build off the effort from last year.

“We had so much focus and dedication to bringing back the ball last year,” Stansberry said. “This year I thought it would be a great time to start focusing on bringing back more of those traditions so they don’t get forgotten.”

Besides the rivalry with the law school, Stansberry and her committee are organizing other Foresters’ Ball traditions such as a Community Forestry Day and forestry alumni dinner.

The Community Forestry Day will be held Saturday, Feb. 3, before that night’s ball and allow families and children to see the Schreiber Gym transformed into an old logging town with false fronts of a saloon, chapel and jail. The event also will teach visitors about the local forestry and conservation community.

With last year’s experience under their belt, Stansberry said, the forestry students plan to make the ball’s decorations more elaborate, and hope to bring back a large slide for next year’s ball.

“What we accomplished last year was absolutely phenomenal, and I think it went really well,” Stansberry said. “So we are trying to build off last year and add to the traditions.”

The Foresters’ Ball is a fundraiser for students in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation. Money raised goes toward scholarships for forestry students. The ball also brings back forestry alumni who help set up and decorate.

“It’s great to have all these connections with all these wonderful people,” Stansberry said.

Before the forestry students start building their annual ball, they will focus this week on getting their beloved Bertha back where she belongs.

The final piece of the law and forestry shenanigans will be another kidnapping. This time it will be forestry students kidnapping Noah Gipson, the vice president of the law school’s Student Bar Association.

On Wednesday, Jan. 24, there will be a trade: Gipson for Bertha. The hand-off will take place on the UM Oval during Boondocker’s Day, a friendly logging competition held by the UM Woodsman Team that promotes the Foresters’ Ball.

Gipson, a second-year law student from Rock Springs, Wyoming, was among the group of law students who stole Bertha and brought her to their school’s atrium. He said it is a thrill to be at the center of the kidnappings.

Before their heist, Gipson and fellow law students found a transcript and oral history from the first student to steal Bertha in the 1930s. It made Gipson feel more connected to those who started the tradition nearly 100 years ago.

“Getting to hear the original tape of him speaking and to read the words that he wrote was incredible,” Gipson said. “This tradition has been around almost as long as the law school and forestry college.”

Both forestry and law students feel a responsibility to continue the fun for future generations.

“To be able to bring something like this back and keep it going is inspirational,” Gipson said. “It’s one chapter in a book that hopefully gets much longer.”

By: UM News service