Bevo, the bovine booster of the University of Texas Longhorns, is a nearly century-old institution.
There have been 14 incarnations of the mascot, with the 15th making its game-day debut this Sunday at the Longhorns’ opener against Notre Dame. But Bevo wasn’t always a beloved fixture on the sidelines.
In fact, people kind of hated him.
But, first, let’s back up.
The first Bevo was bought by Steven Pinckney in 1916 for $125. Pinckney was a former Longhorns team manager who worked at the U.S. Attorney General’s office under fellow Texas-Ex Thomas Watt Gregory (the namesake of the gym). Pinckney had come across the burnt orange steer while working a cattle-rustling case in Laredo.
He gathered money from alumni, and Bevo I debuted at the 1916 Texas-Texas A&M game.
Jim Nicar, an amateur UT historian and Texas-Ex, says the debut lacked the measure of majesty that’s now associated with the mascot. There was a halftime speech and a proper introduction, but the steer – which, at the time, was nameless – didn’t stick around.
“He was too wild and too frightened,” Nicar says.
Morris Midkiff of the Statesman interviewed former athletic director Theo Bellmont about the debut in 1932. Bellmont said the steer was not only wild and frightened, but also starving:
I remember distinctly when the steer arrived here. He was shipped in a boxcar all by himself and had not been fed for several days. Consequently, he was plenty irritable when he reached Austin. It was necessary for us to call for aid from some real cow-punchers to tame Bevo sufficiently.
The longhorn was taken to a stockyard in South Austin and the Longhorns went on to win the game 21-7.
Then, Nicar says, there was a debate among students and alumni. Some alumni wanted the longhorn to stick around – roaming free on campus, Nicar says – but students didn’t really take to the creature.
The school had already had a mascot, a dog named Pig Bellmont, since 1914 – a mascot that, unlike a wild steer from South Texas, was pretty congenial. But, many wanted to brand the steer "21-7" to mark the victory over the Aggies.
Ultimately, that didn't happen.
Months later, in February 1917, some Aggies ended up breaking into the longhorn's stockyard and branded the steer "13-0," the Aggies' winning score of the football game in the 1915 season. That, Nicar says, is where things got complicated and the origins of Bevo get murky.
For years, Aggies claimed that UT students rebranded the steer – changing the "13" into a "B," the dash into an "E" and inserting a "V" in there – that the origin of the mascot's name came from a last-ditch, face-saving measure to hide the "dire deed," as the Statesman called it, to read "BEVO."
That narrative prevailed for decades. It became part and parcel of Bevo's story, and nobody ever questioned it, Nicar says.
Until, in 1999, Nicar started looking into the story for an article in The Alcalde, the UT alumni magazine, and he made a discovery.
"It never happened," Nicar says. "There's no mention of him being rebranded or having the brand change. In fact, there was evidence of it not happening."
Nicar says there were no mentions in the Statesman, the Daily Texan, the Alcalde or any other publication he could find of the rebranding. They all mentioned the A&M brand after the supposed cover-up of the "BEVO" brand.
While Nicar's piece raised plenty of eyebrows on the 40 Acres, it also caught the attention of an archivist at A&M, who was skeptical. Nicar says he faxed over everything he had to him and, after he pored over his research, the archivist wrote an article that, Nicar says, was "delicately worded."
But, all of this doesn't get to the origin of the name: Bevo. There are a few prevailing theories.
Nicar tracked the first usage of the name "Bevo" to the December 1916 issue of the Alcalde detailing the festivities of that day in November:
But there are a few elements to consider as to how that was chosen by whomever chose it.
"We don't have the smoking gun yet," Nicar says. "There's not a letter written. One thing that's missing is the Daily Texan from the day after the game. There's no copy in the archives or anywhere else that I've found, so far, that probably has an article in there that says 'Here's why.' Or we just haven't found a letter in the archives [that says] 'We're naming him Bevo because.' We just haven't found that yet."
Some point to brewer Anheuser-Busch, which, as it prepared for a likely prohibition of alcohol in the United States, hedged its bets and made an oat soda that it called "Bevo."
It's a cut-and-dry narrative, Nicar says, but it's not likely that the near-beer is the smoking gun.
"That would be like naming the steer 'O'Doul's," he jokes. "It doesn't make any sense."
While the Bevo near-beer debuted in 1916, it hadn't exploded in popularity.
While there was a statewide promotional campaign, an appearance of "Bevo ponies" at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas in 1916, Bevo's production didn't really take off until a few years later in 1919.
Another theory of Bevo's etymology stems from a popular practice of adding "o" at the end of names in the early 20th century.
Nicar points to a popular cartoon called "Sherlocko the Monk," which was part of the "Hackshaw the Detective" comic strip.
The Gus Mager-penned strip, which ran from 1913 to 1922, popularized the fad of adding an "o" to names of characters such as Knocko, Watso and Henpecko.
This later inspired the Marx brothers, Groucho, Chico and Harpo.
Nicar suggests that the popularity of the comic strip and the Marx brothers could've had a hand in the ultimate decision to name Bevo.
The final piece of the puzzle deals in yet another colloquialism. The usage of the word "beeves," or "beev," to describe cattle. It was fairly commonplace in Texas to use the word to describe the cow as a whole in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The most famous example of this is in the William B. Travis letter from the siege at the Alamo, in which he cites the incursion of "20 to 30 head of beeves" into the walls of the doomed mission as proof that "the Lord is on our side."
Nicar says he thinks it was a combination of all three factors, but he's still searching for that smoking gun.
Whatever the case may be, the first Bevo was shipped out to the Iglehart Ranch west of Austin in 1917. It reportedly cost $10 a day to feed the beast, which made only one appearance and didn't inspire near the level of fondness as its descendants, which have gone on to attend inaugurations and be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
The first two Bevos were met with relative antipathy. In the first three decades of the university's use of a live longhorn as a mascot, the two Bevos made one appearance each – the first against A&M in 1916 and the second against SMU in 1932, when a Mustang yell leader threw a megaphone at him.
The school didn't solidify the mascot until after World War II, when the university dedicated money to Bevo's care and assigned wranglers, the Silver Spurs.
But no Bevo had it worse than that first one. In 1919, after years on that ranch, the school decided he wasn't worth the cost or effort anymore.
"It finally dawned on us that Bevo was more of a liability than an asset," the former athletic director Bellmont told the Statesman in 1932. "After leaving him on the Iglehart ranch for nearly a year he was brought into town again, slaughtered and barbecued."
But, while the first Bevo didn't go quietly into that green pasture, as every other Bevo has, his death did serve a purpose.
He was served at the 1919 season banquet attended by both Longhorns and Aggies alike. His hide was divided in two, with one half going to Texas and the other half – which still bore the 13-0 brand –going to A&M.