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Tucson Historic Sports Venues and Artifacts: John Byrd “Button” Salmon

The bust of Button Salmon sits at the entrance to Arizona Stadium. (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucosn Photos)

NOTE: The first in a series of tracking down lost or forgotten sports venues, trophies and artifacts in the Old Pueblo.

Born on Oct. 22, 1903, in Christoval, Texas, John Byrd “Button” Salmon was a class officer and a standout football, baseball and basketball player at Bisbee High School. He continued his athletic and political exploits at the University of Arizona which brought him everlasting fame in a very unfortunate way.

A State Marker sits at the site of his accident.

While driving back from Phoenix after a game in 1926, Salmon’s Ford Model T flipped into a ravine near the Gila River on Arizona Route 79, pinning him under the wreckage. He sustained severe spinal cord injuries and he passed away at the Southern Methodist Hospital which is currently the Castle Apartments on 721 E. Adams on Oct. 18, 14 days after his accident.

Salmon died at the Southern Methodist Hospital – now known as the Castle Apartments.

It was on a Monday (Oct. 18) when Salmon whispered in Pop McKale’s ear, “Tell them…Tell The Team To ‘Bear Down.’ He died moments later.

Salmon was buried in Evergreen Cemetery on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 1926, in the afternoon. He passed away two days earlier and his body was laid in state at the Arizona Auditorium on Tuesday where hundreds of visitors paid him their respects.

Pallbearers were McKale, Louis Slenaker, Ted Diebold, Paul Landrum, Rodney Luscom, Spender Woodman, James McDougall and Lee Moore. His parents Frank and Kathryn Salmon, sisters, Mrs. John Hobbs and Mrs. Mary Katheryn Lockie, and brother Riney E. Salmon were in attendance.

To this day, employees have claimed to see a young man dressed in an old Arizona uniform walking through Bear Down Gym which had been constructed in 1926.

It is rumored that McKale told his friend Knute Rockne about Salmon’s last words and Rockne used “Win just one for the Gipper” to help defeat Army in 1928 even though George Gipp died in 1920. You can decide why it wasn’t brought up for eight years?

(Evergreen Cemetery)

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Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee and he earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

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