Hullabaloo! UT’s First Home Football Game

1893 Yale Princeton Football.

Above: Yale vs. Princeton on Thanksgiving Day, 1893, at the Polo Grounds in New York City. More than 40,000 attended the contest, including the fans who paid to sit on Coogan’s Bluff in the distance. At the moment this photograph was taken, the UT football team was playing its first-ever game in Dallas.

Well, the foot ball fever has struck Austin at last,” declared the Austin Statesman in December 1893. For years, local citizens had been reading newspaper and magazine articles about a game called “foot ball” that had become wildly popular in the northeastern United States. “The game has taken a high place in the affections of the American undergraduate,” reported Century Magazine in 1887. “In the three colleges in which it is played most successfully, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, the undergraduates would give up base-ball more willingly than foot-ball.” An Americanized version of the British sport rugby, spectacular contests between city or college teams drew enormous crowds. An annual Thanksgiving bout between Yale and Princeton had escalated to the point that it was played on neutral turf, at the Polo Grounds in New York City, in front of forty to fifty thousand spectators. Finally, on the sunny Saturday afternoon of December 16, 1893, the people of Austin were going to witness a genuine, bona-fide, actual-factual football game for themselves, as the University of Texas hosted the San Antonio Foot Ball Club.


Technically, football had already been seen in Austin, though it better resembled the sandlot variety. In December 1883, less than three months after the University of Texas had formally opened, a group of UT students decided to have a football game. They were inspired, in part, by the reports of the Thanksgiving Day contests back East. With no other team available, one of the would-be players – law student Yancey Lewis – arranged a match with the Bickler School, a private preparatory academy in downtown Austin. Lewis had been a tutor at Bickler before he enrolled at the University. In a week, both schools had to form teams, learn the rules, and practice. The game was held on a less-than-ideal patch of pasture land near the present day Blanton Museum of Art. No one on the field had actually seen a football game, and there certainly weren’t any refs available to enforce the rules. No matter. Both sides muddled through, though when it was over, the Bickler School was victorious, two goals to none. And poor Yancey Lewis had suffered the worst of it at the hands of his former students. For the rest of the academic year, UT lost all interest in football.

Over the next decade, football at the University was an on-again, off-again affair. Students would attempt an intramural game one year, then pass on it the next. Not until the fall of 1893, after men’s football clubs had been established in Dallas, San Antonio, and Galveston, did the University field its first “official” squad.

1893 UT Football Team.Portal to Texas History

Above: The 1893 University of Texas football team.

The team’s debut was an away game against the undefeated and heavily favored Dallas Foot Ball Club on Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1893. The University was a last-minute substitute for the Little Rock, Arkansas men’s club, which was unable to make the trip to Dallas. Instead, the UT squad and a group of supporters took the train north, and in front of 1,500 fans, pulled off an 18 – 16 upset. “Our name is pants and our glory has departed,” griped The Dallas Morning News.

Next on the schedule and just over two weeks later, on December 16, the San Antonio Foot Ball Club arrived in Austin to take on the University team.


Football practice was held on the northwest portion of campus, where the Texas Union building currently stands, but the field wasn’t of the quality desired for a formal game. Wanting to be good hosts, the UT team acquired access to the professionally groomed fields at the new Zoo Park, just west of town at what is today the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) complex next to the Tom Miller Dam. (If you’ve eaten at the Hula Hut restaurant, the fields would have been just across the street.)

Austin Dam.1893.

Above: The original 1893 Austin Dam, replaced by the Tom Miller Dam in 1940. Zoo Park fields were across the street from the dam’s turbine generators, seen on the right.

In the summer of 1893, the city celebrated the opening of the ambitious Austin Dam. Made of granite, 60 feet high, and nearly 1200 feet long as it stretched across the Colorado River, it was at the time one of the largest dams in the world. The dam brought with it the promise of reliable electric power for the city and a potential economic boon. It also created a lake. Dubbed “Lake McDonald” for Austin Mayor John McDonald, who had convinced the city to build the dam, the lake offered novel recreational opportunities, including rides on a steamboat christened “Ben Hur.” Docked next to the dam, the boat – and the lake itself – soon became a popular getaway spot for the city. Within months, the surrounding acreage saw new development. Businessman Dick Bulian opened Bulian’s Garden Saloon and Picnic Grounds, a small zoo with Texas wildlife was accompanied it (though details are sketchy), and an athletic field was created, primarily for the Austin city baseball team, but used for other sporting events as well.

Public transportation to Zoo Park was provided by the Austin electric trolley system, which, thanks to the dam and its electric power, replaced the slow, mule-drawn streetcars. A special line ran west on Sixth Street and out along what is today Lake Austin Boulevard to deliver visitors to the dam and nearby attractions.

1893 Austin Dam

Above: Looking across the Austin Dam. The steamboat Ben Hur is docked on the left (where the Hula Hut restaurant can be found today) and the power house on the right. The Zoo Park athletic field was behind the power house. Poorly engineered and constructed, the Austin Dam failed in 1900 and was replaced in 1940 by the Tom Miller Dam, which created present-day Lake Austin. Click on the image for a larger view.

Below: The Austin electric trolley system was, in part, a result of electric power supplied by the Austin Dam. On the right, at the corner of Sixth Street and Congress Avenue, the tracks turned on to West Sixth and continued out along today’s Lake Austin Boulevard.


For more info, UT history professor Bruce Hunt has written about the Austin Dam here, and the city’s electric trolley system here.


As most of Austin had never seen a football game, the day was full of surprises for the uninitiated. A few hours before the 3 p.m. start time, traffic picked up on the unpaved road out to Zoo Park. Additional trolley cars were added to accommodate the demand, which joined a steady caravan of horses and carriages, all full of people excited to see see the game. “The broad boulevard was alive with carriages and vehicles of varied types, all moving in the same direction,” reported the Dallas Morning News.

The University colors were everywhere. Ribbons were worn on lapels, tied on to canes, wrapped around hats, decorated horses, and woven into the wheels of carriages. But they weren’t the burnt orange seen today. In the 1890s, all four of UT’s buildings were constructed of pale yellow pressed brick and limestone trim. From a distance, the campus appeared gold and white, and the students decided to adopt the colors for the football team. While the official hues were listed as “old gold and white,” the ribbons were various shades of yellow. (How UT chose orange and white as its colors is here.)

UT Campus in the 1890s Above: The UT campus in the 1890s, as seen from the southwest at the corner of Guadalupe and 21st Streets. From left, the Chemistry Lab building, smokestack of the small power plant, two-thirds of the old Main Building, and B. Hall, the men’s dorm. All were made from yellow pressed brick and limestone trim. The wooden fence along the perimeter kept out the local town cows. Click on the image for a larger view.

The Zoo Park field wasn’t equipped with bleachers. Instead, the crowd stood around the sidelines and jockeyed for the best views. Texas Governor James Hogg was among the spectators, though he remained atop a high spring wagon and enjoyed the game from its height.

As the masses grew, so did the noise. University supporters repeatedly broke into the ‘Varsity Yell, at the time UT’s first and only cheer:

Hullabaloo!! Hoo-ray! Hoo-ray! Hullabaloo!! Hoo-ray! Hoo-ray! HOO-ray! HOO-ray! Varsity! Varsity! U! T! A!

Each yell was followed by an onslaught of tin horns. The vuvuzelas of their time, tin horns were generally children’s toys, occasionally heard at parades. But UT students had brought them en masse to the game, and the commotion was more than an unnamed Austin Statesman reporter could bear. In his account of the day, the calm of the field was constantly interrupted by the “ungodly snort of the asthmatic tin horn.” That women students were using them defied all sense of social convention and certainly wasn’t considered ladylike. “The way some of those girls did blow was a caution,” continued the reporter. “With cheeks puffed out and eyes starting they tooted and tooted, at the same time putting unlimited confidence in the garments which so tightly fitted their trim figures. How the strain was stood in several instances is a mystery to the masculine mind.”

1890s FootballerA few minutes before the start, the University and San Antonio teams entered the field and were greeted by another round of cheers and horns. The players were all outfitted with the standard uniforms recommended by Spalding’s Official Guide to Football, then the sport’s most trusted reference. Along with a long sleeved jersey, according to the Guide, “the ordinary player should wear a canvas jacket … home-made or purchased … and lace up in front so that it can be drawn quite closely.” Trousers were to made of some “stout material” and well-padded, “quilting in soft material over the knees and thighs.” Long woolen stockings were often covered with shin guards, and leather shoes – “kangaroo skin preferably” – which were provided with a replaceable leather spike to prevent slipping, completed the outfit. Naturally, Spalding’s sold the equipment for a nominal fee.

A glaring omission from the uniform was something to shield the head. While a few players strapped nose guards over their faces, most went without any protection. Instead, they grew their hair longer, and at game time wrapped bandages around their heads and over the tops of ears (to prevent ears from being pulled and torn), which pushed the hair up into a mop. The mat of hair was supposed to be sufficient cushioning to prevent severe injuries.

As football became more popular and college players grew their hair, the style became a trend. “Long hair the rage. The football players have set the fashion,” was the title of an 1893 article by the Dallas Times Herald. “An epidemic of long hair is upon us,” though it cautioned that not all who sported long hair were footballers. “The football man with his flowing locks is the hero of the hour, and so every young man must needs let his hair grow in the hope of making people think that he, too, is a leader on the gridiron field of mud and glory.”

Above: From the Dallas Times Herald, “scrubbing brush, chrysanthemum, and mop varieties” of football hair styles, as well as an illustration on the “practical advantages of hair padding.” UT players preferred the chrysanthemum.

Below: An 1894 issue of Puck, a humor magazine published in New York City, ran a cartoon spoof on football players and their hair pushed up in to mops.

Puck Magazine.Thanksgiving 1894.Football

Heavy traffic out to the park delayed the arrival of the two referees by a few minutes, but the game was ready to begin at quarter past the hour. The San Antonio team won the coin toss and chose to take the ball. Unlike a modern kick-off, play simply commenced in the middle of the field. San Antonio led off with a flying wedge and gained 12 yards on the first play.

The flying wedge, a popular mass movement play introduced by Harvard in 1892, was used by both teams. As with many early football plays, it was inspired by war tactics. In this case, the wedge took its cue from Napoleon’s use of a heavy concentration of military force upon a single point of the enemy line. Ten men, tightly lined up in a “V” formation, ran full speed against a single defensive player across the line of scrimmage. The ball carrier was protected behind the “V.” In later years, the wedge was deemed too dangerous for football, especially when the players weren’t wearing headgear.

While San Antonio was successful early, it didn’t last. The UT players employed their own wedge – so effective in their upset victory against Dallas two weeks before – and scored two touchdowns in the first half. At the time, touchdowns were worth five points, with an extra point kicked afterward. At halftime, it was UT 12 and San Antonio 0.

The second half didn’t fare any better for the visitors. “At a glance, the most inexperienced eye saw that the ‘varsity men far outclassed their antagonists,” observed the Dallas Morning News. (The term ” ‘varsity,” with an apostrophe, was a commonly-used contraction of the word university.) Repeated fumbles by the visitors cost them two safeties, worth one point each. On the rare occasion when San Antonio captain Jack Tobin found himself with the ball and was running upfield, he was almost always stopped by UT co-captain Paul McClane. As the News reported, “before [Tobin] traversed three yards, Paul McClane tackled him and incontinently sat on his head til his compressed lungs, all filled with fine sand, could sound the wail of surrender – ‘down’.”

The University scored two more touchdowns, but extra point kicker Ad Day “seemed to have lost his rabbit’s foot,” as both of the kicks went wide left. In the waning seconds of the game, despite a valiant defensive effort by San Antonio, UT half back Dick Lee “made a pretty run, and by excellent interference and much shoving, reached the goal line just between the posts, and touched down again amid yells and horn music.” Day found his footing again, and made the extra point. The University had scored five touchdowns, three extra points, and two safeties, and defeated the San Antonio Football Club 30 – 0.

Governor Hogg remained an interested spectator throughout, and “cheered the boys when a telling play was made.” After the game, the governor was the recipient of both the game ball and an “impromptu oration” by the crowd. But the Austin Statesman reporter was through. Football was just to loud.

UT Football .1893.Dallas Morning News

Above: Running interference for the ball carrier. From the Dallas Morning News.

Photo sources: The image of the 1893 UT football team and photos of the Austin electric trolley system were found at the Portal to Texas History web site produced by the University of North Texas, while the images of the  Austin Dam can be found at the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Online History Center.

Why is UT in Austin?

A statewide election placed UT in Austin. Or was it in Tyler? You decide.

1908 Postcard.Old Main with bluebonnets

On the final day of March, 1881, Governor Oran Roberts signed the bill that formally established the University of Texas. Among its provisions, the campus was to be placed “at such locality as may be determined by a vote of the people.” though it allowed, if the voters chose, to separate the medical department from the main university. Roberts called for a special election on September 6 and declared the city of Austin a candidate. But while the capital city was an acknowledged favorite, history had taught its citizens to be wary of competition.

Above: Austin in 1881. The view up Congress Avenue to the old Capitol building.

Austin was founded in 1839 to serve as the capital of the Republic of Texas, but when Texas joined the Union in 1845, its status as a state capital had been provisional. It wasn’t until 1872, when the city defeated Houston and Waco in a statewide election, that it formally became host to state’s government. In order to win the University, Austinites knew they would have to campaign.

Alexander Penn Wooldridge (known as “A.P.” to friends) was the young and energetic lawyer chosen to lead the Austin effort. Born in New Orleans, educated at Yale and the University of Virginia, Wooldridge arrived in Austin in the 1870s and quickly established himself in social and legal circles. He was the driving force to organize the city’s public education system, chaired the first Austin School Board, and would later serve as Austin’s Mayor. A 14-person committee assisted Wooldridge in the effort.

In early May, the group published an open letter to all Texans in the state’s newspapers and argued that the capital was an ideal place for a University. It was central, granite and limestone quarries existed nearby for university buildings, and students could observe the state’s government in action while acquiring their own education. Even the “healthfulness” of Austin was promoted as “its mortuary report showing the smallest death rate of any city in the South or Southwest.”

Along with ads in newspapers, Austin promoted itself on bills hung on the walls of county courthouses and post offices, an effective medium at the time. Supporters state-wide sent lists of friends and acquaintances to committee members in order to compile an enormous mailing list.

By June, as the summer sun warmed the state, the temperature of the location debate also began to rise. Along the heavily populated Gulf Coast, Galveston and Houston worked together to convince voters to divide the campus, then competed against each other for the prized medical department. Galveston’s campaign was more aggressive, and it published a letter to voters similar to Austin’s address. As the largest city in Texas at the time, Galveston bragged about its two hospitals where medical students could receive practical experience and “closely watch the progress and treatment of different diseases.” The city already had a small medical school, the Texas Medical College, and its facilities were to be turned over to University. Because Galveston was a port city, it also “boasted” of having a greater variety of illnesses to observe.

Houston’s chief spokesman, State Senator Charles Stewart, countered by pointing out that his city was a major railroad depot, and was therefore subject to a greater number of visitors. “I can safely say,” Stewart crowed, “that there are ten, nay perhaps a hundred railroad travelers to one by ship.” The senator also mentioned the frequency of injuries suffered by railroad workers, and declared it would be “God-giving charity for Texas to locate her University where these men could receive proper care and treatment.” Fortunately for Texas, tourism wasn’t yet a major industry. The contest between Galveston and Houston as to which was the most disease ridden and injury prone wouldn’t have fared well in a vacation brochure.

Among the rivals to Austin, Waco was the most vocal. It also touted a central location and easy access by railroad, along with “cheap and abundant fuel, excellent water,” and its “highest degree of healthfulness.” Waco wasn’t afraid to fire a shot at Austin: “While exempt from the noise, bustle and confusion of a commercial metropolis, Waco is free from the distracting scenes, corrupting influences and fevered excitements of a political capital with its multitudinous temptations to allure the young into paths of vice.” The chair of Waco’s campaign committee was a popular lawyer and former city attorney named William Prather, who would later serve on the Board of Regents, and then was appointed by his colleagues to be the University’s president. President Prather was well-known for ending many of his speeches to students with the phrase, “and always remember, the eyes of Texas are upon you.”

The town of Tyler, about 200 miles northeast of Austin, was another candidate for the main campus. It was ready to contribute the unused ten acres of the defunct Charnwood Institute, and offered its own opinion of the capital city. The Tyler Courier warned not only of the “din of drunken legislators” in Austin, but declared the city’s white limestone buildings were “so blinding to the sight that green goggles are peddled like peanuts upon the streets, and that sore eyes and blindness are the frequent result.” Tyler’s citizens were understandably upset. One of their favorite residents, Governor Roberts, was publicly supporting rival Austin.

Not to be outdone by the larger cities, several small towns also submitted bids to host the University. The Cleburne Chronicle advocated placing the campus at Caddo Peak in north central Johnson County, because it was a “moral place” and far away from the “busy haunts of man – and woman.” Thorp’s Springs, just south of Fort Worth, declared that “no intoxicating liquor will be allowed within four miles of the University,” as soon as it got it.

As its final task, the Austin campaign committee was charged with designing, printing, and distributing the ballots for the election. The committee was aware that most voters in the state favored a separate medical branch, but many of those who supported Austin also wanted the entire University. To complicate matters, Governor Roberts’ proclamation had announced the capital only as a candidate for an undivided campus. This posed a serious problem. Voters who favored a separate medical school might choose a town other than Austin for the main site. If Austin was to receive enough votes for all or part of the University, the ballot had to be skillfully worded.

Wooldridge devised a ballot that presented to the voter all of the possible choices, but was decidedly biased for Austin. Approved by the committee, the ticket read, “For” or “Against” separation of the departments and, “For Austin for the Main Branch.” Blanks were included to write-in a choice for the location of the entire campus, and, if needed, the preferred city for a separate medical department. But to vote for another city for the main branch, the word “Austin” had to be physically marked out and another written in its place. The committee suspected the ballot might upset Houston and Galveston, as it allowed for the possibility of an undivided campus, but hoped Austin’s supporters would be content with the design. Instead, Austinites thought the committee had cleared the way for the separation of the University. No one was satisfied.

As expected, Houston and Galveston cried foul, and charged Austin with selfishness for wanting the entire campus. By early August, rumors reached the capital that an alliance had formed between the gulf cities and Tyler to deny Austin any part of the University if it should, directly or indirectly, oppose a detached medical branch. If the Austin committee’s ballot was used in the election, Houston and Galveston threatened to vote for Tyler for the main campus. Despite the high visibility of the campaign, voter turnout for the special election was expected to be small. The danger of a coalition against Austin was real.

The Austin committee sought a legal interpretation as to the form of the ballot and tabulating procedures, and addressed an inquiry to the State Canvassing Board. The Board consisted of Governor Roberts, Attorney General James McLeary, and Secretary of State Thomas Bowman.

On August 19th, the Board released its opinion, which was a lengthy and divided one. Roberts and Bowman concurred, while McLeary dissented. McLeary argued that if separation won, votes for an undivided campus should be ignored. Roberts and Bowman declared that if the voters opted to separate the medical branch, the votes cast for both the main branch and the entire university would be counted, and the city with the largest combined total would win the main branch.

Turnout for the election on September 6th was indeed sparse. Less than eighteen percent of eligible voters cast ballots. When the results were announced, Austin was declared the winner of the main branch and Galveston the seat of the medical school. Out of 56,480 votes, 38,117 were in favor of division to 18,363 against. Austin received 16,306 votes for the main branch and 14,607 for the entire university, for a combined total of 30,913. Tyler was second with 18,420 votes for the main branch, but acquired only 554 for the entire campus, for a sum of 18,974. Galveston and Houston had remained true to their word. If the canvassing board had dismissed the ballots for an undivided campus, the University’s main branch would have been located in Tyler.