As one story goes, a crop failure in the 19th century forced farmers located in northern and central Illinois to travel to southern Illinois to buy grain for their herds. Being Biblically literate, they compared their quest to the children of Israel who bought grain from Egypt when a famine struck their land. Ever since, Southern Illinois University has been known as “Little Egypt.”
A different source suggests that the nickname, “Little Egypt,” dates back to 1818, when a huge tract of land was purchased at the confluence of the rivers and developers named it, “Cairo,” a town still stands on the peninsula where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi. Whatever the reason, it was logical that a school named “Little Egypt” would select a mascot reflective of ties to Egypt which is why Southern Illinois University athletes are known as the “Salukis.” The Saluki, however, wasn’t chosen as SIU’s mascot until 1951 after the student body decided that the previous name, “the Maroons,” wasn’t working for them. A vote was taken and the matter was decided. For the record, there were 536 “Saluki” votes versus 144 for “Rebels.”
In 2001, SIU unveiled a bronze Saluki statue designed by Garry Newton, a Saluki breeder and dog show judge. The life-size statue took six months to construct and now points visitors towards the main entrance of the University’s concourse. Learn more here.