Thanksgiving 1916: the Bevo Tradition is Born

It was a Thanksgiving like no other. Mayor Alexander Wooldridge thought it quite possibly the greatest event in Austin’s history, and publicly floated the idea of a special tax to fund it as an annual celebration.

The city’s downtown train station was besieged by additional arrivals, the hotels were overrun, the sidewalks crowded, and the streets packed with no less than 1,000 out-of-town cars. Congress Avenue was compared to Broadway in New York City.

For the last two days of November 1916, the University of Texas held a homecoming celebration that attracted thousands of alumni, and featured the inauguration of a new University president, the first Texas vs. A&M football game in Austin in seven years, and the birth of a Longhorn tradition.

The festivities began Wednesday evening, Nov. 29, with the first recorded torchlight parade and outdoor football rally. Most of the 2,000 enrolled UT students participated; the men from B. Hall carried homemade torches, while the co-eds of the Woman’s Building held colorful Japanese lanterns.

The students marched together up the south entrance of the campus to the old Main Building—floodlit for the first time—then down the hill to the southeast to a natural amphitheater just north of the old law building, where the Graduate School of Business building is now located. Joined by another 3,000 onlookers, the crowd sat on the ground under starry skies for two hours to hear rousing speeches, sing college songs, and shout UT yells, including the favorite Rattle de Thrat.



Longhorn! Cactus thorn!

M-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o Texas!

Faculty don academic regalia for the inauguration of President Robert Vinson.

At 9 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, another parade set out from the campus toward the Texas Capitol for the inauguration of Robert Vinson as the new UT president.

Seniors wore special armbands, engineers sported their trademark blue shirts and khaki trousers, and freshmen huddled in green caps. The faculty, by a vote of 30-20, elected to wear academic regalia en masse for the first time, though the robes had to be rented for $3.50 per person.

Most enjoyed the colorful spectacle, with only a few minor disappointments. ”Dr. Joe Gilbert looked quite gorgeous until somebody caused his feathers to droop by telling him that he had on not a doctor of medicine’s gown but a bachelor of divinity’s.” Organizers were quick to adjust the program to include the surprise arrival of Watt Gregory, then serving as U.S. Attorney General under Woodrow Wilson, and there was enough pomp and oratory to last all morning.

After the inauguration, lunch was served on the Forty Acres. A boxed meal for 25 cents was available for those who wanted to picnic on the campus. Those who preferred to splurge on a more traditional feast crowded into the “Caf,” an unpainted, leaky wooden shack that somehow managed to function as the University Cafeteria. The full turkey dinner cost 50 cents.

The afternoon was reserved for the much-anticipated football bout with the A&M College of Texas. A record 15,000 fans packed the wooden bleachers of Clark Field, the University’s first athletic field, near 24th Street and Speedway, where the ACES building now stands.

The scene was a riot of color. University supporters wore orange and white ribbons on their lapels, while Texas Aggie fans proudly sported red, white, and blue. (Maroon would be used the following decade.) Though A&M was favored, the first two quarters were a fierce defensive struggle, and the half ended with the score tied 7–7.

During a special extended halftime, yell leaders from both sides each led cheers in honor of the other school. The A&M Corps of Cadets, decked out in their formal gray uniforms, took the field and marched in the shape of an enormous “T” to the approval of everyone.

And then two West Texas cowboys dragged a frightened longhorn steer onto the field, where it was formally presented to the UT student body by a group of Texas Exes.

The idea originated with Stephen Pinckney, a 1911 law graduate, who had long wanted to acquire a real longhorn as a living mascot for the University. While employed by the U.S. Attorney General’s office, he’d spent much of 1916 in the western plains of the state to assist with raids on cattle rustlers. A raid near Laredo in late September included a steer whose fur was so orange-tinted that Pinckney knew he’d found his mascot.

With $1 contributions from himself and 124 fellow Texas Exes, Pinckney purchased the animal and arranged for its transport to Austin. Loaded onto a boxcar, the steer arrived in the capital city about a week before the game, underfed and in a foul mood.

“I went to see about the unloading of the beast the day after he arrived in Austin,” wrote Dan Williams, then a UT senior, “and found him amusing small boys … by rushing madly at them when they punched a stick between the horizontal bars of the car.” The steer was transferred to a holding pen and reluctantly posed for a formal portrait. It stood still just long enough for a flash photograph, and then charged the camera. The photographer jumped out of the corral just in time, and both the camera and photograph survived the incident.

On the football field, 1892 alumnus Tom Buffington addressed the student section: “I have been requested to present to the University of Texas a mascot or protecting spirit that now and in future years will bring good luck to the institution and its teaching. Behold him! The Longhorn of Texas, emblematic as he stands of the fighting spirit of progress … As the great longhorn was free to roam the wilderness of Texas, so must the University be free to roam the world of thought, unhampered and unafraid.”

Too wild to remain for the second half, the steer was removed to more permanent quarters at the Seawright stockyard in South Austin. In the meantime, the UT football team ran two punts in for scores and won the game 21–7. University students celebrated with a bonfire on the campus, a nightshirt parade through downtown, and a reception and dance at the Capitol attended by UT and A&M visitors.

To spread the news, the December 1916 issue of the Alcalde magazine was rushed to press. Editor Ben Dyer wrote a full account of the weekend, published the speeches given at President Vinson’s inauguration, and described the game and halftime proceedings. Of the longhorn, Dyer declared, “His name is Bevo. Long may he reign!”

With football season over, the steer remained in South Austin while UT students discussed what to do with him. The Texanstudent newspaper favored branding the longhorn with a large “T” on one side and “21 – 7” on the other as a permanent reminder of the Texas victory. Others were opposed and cited animal cruelty. A few wondered if the steer might be tamed so that it could roam and graze on the Forty Acres. While the discussion continued, March 2 – Texas Independence Day – was unofficially declared as the date to decorate the steer.

The debate was abruptly settled early on Sunday morning, February 12, 1917. A group of six persons, which included Texas A&M students, a former student, and others, equipped “with all the utensils for steer branding” broke into the South Austin stockyard at 3a.m. It was a struggle, but the Aggies were able to brand the longhorn “13 – 0,” which was the score of the 1915 football game A&M had won in College Station the year before.

“While Texas University students were debating what should be done with the Longhorn steer…, “ reported the Statesman, “a delegation of Aggies stole silently into the pen in which the steer is kept in South Austin and turned the trick.” The Alcalde magazine was more pointed: “The worst has happened. Bevo, the Varsity mascot … has been basely mutilated with the hated numerals 13 to 0. Miscreants, who boast of former attendance at a little insignificant college over in the sticks in the vicinity of the back door of Bryan proclaim complicity in the dire deed.”

Only a few days later, amid rumors that the Aggies planned to kidnap the animal outright, the longhorn was removed to the Tom Iglehart ranch west of Austin. In six weeks, the United States entered World War I, and the University community turned its attention to the conflict in Europe. Out of sight and off campus, the branded steer was all but forgotten until the end of the war in November 1918.

Since food and care for the animal cost the University 60 cents a day, and because the steer wasn’t believed to be tame enough to roam the campus or remain in the football stadium, it was fattened up and became the barbecued main course for the January 1920 football banquet. A delegation from A&M was invited to attend, “and the branding iron was buried and the resumption of athletic relations, after an unhappy period… duly celebrated.”

The banquet was opened by UT President Vinson, who remarked that when he first saw Bevo presented on Clark Field, he never dreamed that “he would ever allow the beast to come into a position of such close proximity with his ribs as the animal now occupied.” Stephen Pinckney told of the longhorn’s purchase and arrival in Austin. Alfred Bull from A&M related how the steer was branded, “and the story lost none of its zest in the telling of it.”

With the speech-making concluded, the side of Bevo’s hide—which still read 13 – 0—was presented to the Aggies. “The head and horns of the celebrated steer are being mounted and are to be added to the various souvenirs of the athletic department,” noted the Longhorn magazine, a monthly published by UT students.

“The half of the hide bearing the mystic figures 13 to 0 was presented to A and M with appropriate ceremonies. The remainder of the hide will be preserved and properly branded each succeeding year as the Longhorns humble the Farmers. A significant aspect of this feature is that the brands are to be small in order that the skin may not too soon be used up.”

Photos from top: Old Main floodlit for the first time on Thanksgiving eve, 1916; faculty don academic regalia for the inauguration of President Robert Vinson; Bevo presented to UT students at halftime of the football game; Bevo branded 13-0 on Feb. 12, 1917; the six Aggie “miscreants” posed for photos at a park in Waco later the same morning.


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