Pig’s dead. Dog gone.
A century ago, the University gathered to say farewell to a true, loyal, and vociferous friend. Pig Bellmont – a tan and white dog named “Pig” – was UT’s first live mascot. A faithful resident of the Forty Acres for nine years, his unexpected death from a car accident on New Year’s Day, 1923, affected the University community deeply. Hundreds of mourners attended Pig’s funeral and burial on the campus, and the event drew national headlines.
Born February 10, 1914, Pig was but a seven-week old puppy when he was dispatched to Austin to live with his new owners, Theo Bellmont and his family. A native of Rochester, New York, Bellmont (right) attended the University of Tennessee, played football and basketball, ran track, was an accomplished gymnast, and graduated in 1908 with a law degree. A natural leader, his interest in physical training and education won him the position of Director of the Houston YMCA, where he worked to expand the programs and influence of the “Y.”
Bellmont’s efforts were noticed by UT President Sidney Mezes, who was looking for someone to oversee what was a quickly-growing athletics program. At the time, college sports in much of the nation was coordinated by an Athletic Council composed of faculty, students, and alumni, while each sports team was managed by a student volunteer who oversaw the budget, scheduling, transportation arrangements, uniforms and equipment, and gate receipts. By the 1910s, intercollegiate athletics had prospered to an extent that universities everywhere were looking for full-time administrators.
In December 1913, Mezes hired Bellmont as the first athletic director for the University of Texas, a position he would hold until 1929. His many legacies include the “T” Association for athletes who had earned a letter, the founding of the Southwest Athletic Conference, and the 1916 hiring of Berry Whitaker to initiate an intramural sports program, which has since evolved into the Division of Recreational Sports.
Bellmont, his wife, Freda, and their two children moved to Austin the following month, in January, 1914. The family had already purchased a soon-to-be-born pet dog, but the puppy remained in Houston until after he was weened.
The dog joined the Bellmonts in March, and it was immediately evident that he was a special character. An adventurous pooch, he refused to remain confined to the family’s backyard northwest of campus, and instead followed his owner to work on the Forty Acres. The UT campus was an exciting place, full of attentive students, squirrels to chase, fields of bluebonnets in the spring, and plenty of trees. Bellmont introduced the dog to a few sports contests, who found the games loud, fun, and very much to his liking. It wasn’t long before the affable puppy was adopted by the campus community, and though UT athletic teams were already known as “Longhorns,” the dog was understood to be the University mascot.
Of course, the puppy needed a name, a topic which generated serious discussion. The matter was solved later in the spring when the dog, while exploring the environs of west campus, found himself standing next to Gus “Pig” Dittmar (left). A captain of the football team who also hailed from Houston, Dittmar was named All-Southwestern for three years and was mentioned as an All-American by Walter Camp. An honors history major, his professors urged him to apply to Princeton University for graduate school. Dittmar’s nickname – “Pig” – was given to him by fellow UT students who thought he could pass through a defensive line “like a greased pig.”
The football captain, though, also just happened to be bowlegged. “Dittmar was rather noted for the graceful way in which his underpinnings curved,” reported the UT student Longhorn Magazine. With the puppy and Dittmar standing together, students noticed that the dog’s legs evoked some similar characteristics as the football player. Seized by a happy inspiration, “Let’s call him Pig!” was the decision of the day, and the new University mascot was dubbed Pig Bellmont.
For the next three years, Pig greeted students and faculty on daily rounds. He frequented classrooms. Sometimes he reposed under the professor’s desk, while on other occasions he eagerly joined class discussions. He climbed the marble stairs up to the reading room of the University Library (today the Architecture and Planning Library in Battle Hall) in search of a scratch behind the ears or a lap in which to snuggle. When he was hungry, Pig sometimes visited the University Cafeteria, then housed in a temporary pinewood “shack,” though he preferred the cuisine of the boarding houses west of campus. At night, Pig retired under the back steps of the University Co-op.
Of course, Pig was a regular at home and most out-of-town athletic events. He paced the sidelines during football and baseball games, and ventured indoors to the gym for basketball season. Pig merrily lent his voice to the support of UT teams and developed a profound dislike for anything related to rival Texas A&M. “If you say ‘A&M’ to him, he will promptly lie down as though ready to give up the ghost in disgust,” related one account. “On the other hand, say ‘Texas’ to him and he starts barking with joy.”
Pig was so loyal, some of the University’s athletes suggested that he deserved a letter, which was granted by the athletic department. (That the athletic director was also Pig’s owner probably helped in this regard.) Naturally, Pig wasn’t able to don a standard UT letter jacket. Instead, a small brass “T” was fashioned at the University’s mechanical shop and attached to his collar. Pig was inducted as the only canine member of the “T” Association.
When the United States entered the First World War in 1917, Pig enlisted. The war transformed the campus overnight, as the University sponsored three military schools on its grounds. The largest was School of Military Aeronautics (SMA), known informally as the “West Pont of the Air.” A precursor of the Air Force Academy, the SMA was created to provide basic technical instruction for beginning pilots before they moved on to flight training. Housed in the buildings on the Little Campus, just north of the present day Dell Medical School (only John Hargis Hall and the Nowotny Building remain), several hundred soldiers at a time arrived for six-week sessions. Pig joined them. If a long hike was part of the day’s activities, Pig was usually near the front. He kept an eye on the barracks while the cadets were in class and faithfully attended inspection each evening. The cadets recruited Pig as their mascot, included him in their graduation photos, and he twice took the train ride to Dallas where the cadets were sent to begin flight training. When he had time, Pig wandered back to the main campus to check in on UT students, most of whom were part of the Student Army Training Corps.
Once the war ended in 1918, Pig resumed his duties on the campus. He was a regular at football rallies and games, was often seen having a “vocal competition with the frogs” at the spring-fed pool just behind library (where the West Mall Office Building now stands), and chaperoned couples taking moonlight strolls across the campus. More than once, he accompanied the women’s hiking club on a 20-mile trek from Austin to San Marcos.
On one occasion, Pig was “expelled from the library for talking too loudly.” The Daily Texan student newspaper reported the incident and defended the dog. “It was a case of gross discrimination,” griped the Texan, “for Pig was not making a bit more noise than various other loquacious occupants of the north end of the reading room.”
Pig, though, was also getting older. By the early 1920s, he had noticeably mellowed from his spirited younger days, and he was going blind in one eye, a condition that would have significant consequences.
Early on Monday morning, New Year’s Day 1923, Pig was hit by a Model T Ford in front of the Texas Theater on the Drag, just north of 22nd and Guadalupe Streets. His partial blindness may well have been a factor. He was apparently only injured and made several of his usual appearances before he decided to retreat under the back steps of the University Co-op, but the injuries were to be fatal in the long term. Pig’s body was discovered mid-afternoon on Thursday, January 4th. The news was a tragedy for the entire campus and the decision was made to provide a proper farewell for the loyal canine.
On a partly cloudy Friday afternoon, January 5th, starting at about 3:30 p.m., Pig Bellmont lay in state in front of the University Co-op, while the American flag that flew above the building was lowered to half-mast. He rested in a specially-crafted black casket, draped with evergreen boughs and orange and white ribbon. Assembled the previous evening, the closed casket included a viewing window. For the next hour-and-a-half, hundreds filed by and paid their final respects.
By 5 o’clock, members of the Longhorn Band had arrived and a one-of-a-kind funeral procession was underway. Playing Chopin’s “Funeral March,” the band led a somber and respectful crowd south on Guadalupe to 21st Street, then east to the old Law Building, where the Graduate School of Business building now stands. Behind the parade was an impressive column of automobiles – mostly Model T’s – which brought still more grievers. Carrying the casket, Pig’s pallbearers were members of a new student group called the Texas Cowboys.
The band made its way to a tiny grove of three live oak trees just north of the old Law Building. Rows of folding chairs were provided for the mourners, but quickly filled, and it was standing-room only for the service. A few of the children present, desperate for a better view, scaled the trees and sat in the lower branches.
When everyone assembled, Thomas Taylor, the red-haired founder and first dean of UT’s engineering school, climbed upon a wooden crate to be seen by all and delivered an impassioned eulogy for the fallen mascot. “Let no spirit of levity dominate this occasion,” Taylor began, “a landmark has passed away.” The Texan reported that Taylor, “In a voice that he could not restrain from trembling slightly . . . recited those lines penned by Lord Byron as a song to his dog. ‘I do not know what joys await Pig Bellmont on the Other Side. But I do know this: that if there is a place of Elysian happiness for dogs, Pig will join that great dog of Lord Byron. Certainly, no dog was ever more deserving of such a reward as he.’”
Taylor’s speech, published the same month in the Alcalde alumni magazine and later in his memoirs, concluded: “In that haven to which he is gone there is a rainbow spanning the sky, reaching almost to zenith, composed not of the prismatic colors but of two colors – Orange and White – and on that rainbow are the word, ‘Always loyal to the team, and win or lose, the team.’ The Orange in that rainbow will recall to him the golden opinions that he has left behind in the hearts of thousands of students and ex-students of the University, and the White in that rainbow will testify to the fact that for nine long years on our campus his record of loyalty was spotless white.”
Following Taylor’s remarks and with dusk approaching, the band played “Taps” as Pig’s casket was lowered into a prepared grave. “Then, as the last low strains of the call died away,” observed The Texan, “and as the listeners were standing breathless, there wafted on the air the notes of the same call, from another point on the campus.” It was a lone trumpeter who, on cue, played “Taps” for Pig in front of the old Main Building.
The students left a makeshift, handwritten placard with a simple epitaph: Pig’s Dead. Dog gone. Harry Beck, the University’s long serving Superintendent of Grounds, had planned a formal marble tombstone to read: Pig Bellmont, Only a dog, but true to Texas, Born: February 10, 1914, Died: January 4, 1923. The marker, though, was never placed.
News of Pig’s passing and his funeral was reported in newspapers across Texas as well as in national publications. The Houston Post lauded, “Pig never missed a football game nor any other large assembly of students, and he frequently attended classes and studied in the library,” while the Corsicana Daily Sun claimed, “Students know better than to stride recklessly into a classroom when the professor is in the midst of a profound dissertation, but Pig always chose the middle of the class hour to march majestically in and take his place in front of the desk.” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Theo Bellmont had been offered a three-month old English bulldog as a new mascot, but it was simply too soon to replace the venerated Pig. Nationally, the popular Outing magazine provided a full account of Pig’s funeral for its readers and added, “His spirit was genuinely one hundred percent Texas, and he left folks know it. He had a pair of eighty-horse-power lungs that were brought to disturbing defense for his ‘alma mater’ whenever the name was mentioned.”
Theo Bellmont received sympathetic messages from many alumni and friends, including a telegram sent by Gus Dittmar, then in Houston: “I mourn with you and all of Varsity the loss on my old namesake. I hope that he is now in the happy hunting grounds of all good dogs, where there are endless rows of trees, under the shade of which he may lie; where there are huge stacks of fat bones upon which he may gnaw; and where there are thousands of autos for ‘Pig’ to chase.”