Looking Back at Baylor: ‘Hurrah! It’s a BEAR!’

Bob Nelson carries Baylor's mascot on his back, 1940.
Bob Nelson carries Baylor’s mascot on his back, 1940.

This piece by former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth originally was published in The Baylor Line in June 1980, then was reprinted in Looking Back at Baylor (1985), a collection of Keeth and Harry Marsh’s historical columns for the Line. Blogging about Texas periodically features selections from Looking Back at Baylor, with hopes of sharing Keeth’s work with a new audience.

Students and alumni proudly say, “I’m a bear!” when speaking of their time at Baylor. But, had history played out differently, they could have been saying, “I’m a buffalo!” or even “I’m a bookworm!” Neither has the same charm. Today, in honor of National “Hug A Bear Day,” learn more about how the Baylor Bear came to be (Note: we do not recommend trying to hug Joy or Lady!). 

During the first seventy years of Baylor’s existence, the university chose no mascot with which to identify itself. Even when The University of Texas had become known as the “Longhorns,” Rice Institute had adopted the “Owls,” and Texas A&M employed the alternate designations of “Aggies and “Farmers,” Baylor’s intramural teams were known simply by the university’s name. After the selection of the school’s official colors in 1897, the athletes sometimes referred to themselves as the “Green-and-Golders.”

Chita, one of the Baylor live bear mascots, is placed into protective custody so that she does not get kidnapped by students from Texas A&M prior to Baylor’s Homecoming Game that year. Taken October 1, 1946.

Then, during a chapel speech in October 1914, former student George Baines Rosborough issued a challenge to his audience: “Baylor ought to have a mascot,” he said, “for use on pennants, pillows, pins, medals and college paraphernalia generally, and around which to wreath the sentiment of the school in poems and songs and yells, and in college customs which add so much to college life.”

Rosborough proposed a contest to remedy the deficiency and guaranteed its success by offering a five-dollar gold piece as a prize to the winner. Endorsing the proposal, the campus newspaper, the Lariat, predicted that “the man or woman who selects a mascot that will take with the student body will go down as one of the immortals of Baylor history.”

The contest’s rules were not particularly stringent: “Entries may consist of any object, animate or inanimate, simple or compound, real or fanciful, [which is] suitable for the purpose in view . . . . Each entry shall consist of a black-a-white or green-and-gold sketch or drawing . . . . Only such details as could easily be duplicated on felt pennants should appear in the drawing . . . .”

By mid-November twelve entries had been submitted. Eventually, by the deadline date of December 10, nearly two dozen prospective mascots had been proposed. A few days later, students voted for their choice.

The Lariat of December 17, 1914, announced the contest’s outcome: “Bruin Is Elected Patron Saint Of All Baylordom.” In the balloting the Bear had won a two-to-one victory over the Buffalo, with all other entrants trailing far behind. While the newspaper never listed the roster of candidates, one contemporary account suggested that the also-rans may have included the Antelope, the Frog, the Ferret and the Hook-Worm (perhaps a misprinting of “Book-worm”?)

Taken in 1979, we believe that this is Baylor Bear Mascot “Abner,” sitting at the desk of then Baylor President Abner V. McCall.

The winning entry had been submitted by Miss Doyle Thrailkill, a freshman coed from San Antonio, who immediately announced that she would present to the university its first live mascot. Apparently she was unable to fulfill her promise: Baylor’s first real bear, Ted, arrived in 1918 as a gift of the United States Army Engineers who were leaving Waco’s Camp MacArthur at the end of World War I.

Miss Thrailkill did, however, contribute to the 1915 Round-Up a fictitious account of the mascot’s selection. This fable presupposed that the mascots of several other universities had gathered, late one night, to choose their future colleague from Baylor. At last they decided to make their selection by interviewing each of the contestants. By this means they were able to eliminate all but two of the competitors:

The decision finally came to lie between the Bear and the Buffalo. This question was put to each: “If you had been mascot last year, and had been licked in football, what would you do this year?”

“I’d lick them back,” sputtered the Buffalo, angrily.

But the Bear coolly plucked a burr off his shaggy coat and said: “I’d stampede the Longhorns, scratch out the Farmers’ eyes, stick my paw into the honey pot and bring out the whole blamed comb of victory . . . .”

Far off in [Georgia Burleson] Hall, a girl sleepily murmured as a pleasant dream of the mascot passed over—“Oh, don’t you love a bear hug?”

And over in the Greer House [a men’s boardinghouse on Fifth Street] a sleepless swain was terrified by the voice of his roommate, shouting from a dream of victory: “Hurrah! It’s a BEAR!”

Bear trainer doing a sic ’em with a Baylor bear.

For more great Baylor bear mascot photos, check out our centennial Flickr album, celebrating 100 years of Baylor bear mascots!!

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