When Texas Tech finally opened its doors in 1925, its beginnings were a bit bumpy, the result of the president’s choice of a bust of Abraham Lincoln in the new school’s administration building.
Some professed the controversy to be more of a whisper than outcry, more molehill than mountain.
But on the record are at least two who believed Honest Abe not worthy of being included with busts of Columbus, Washington, Lee, and Woodrow Wilson, those being the president’s choice of five great Americans to line a hallway of the chief executive’s office floor. Even the suggestion of including Columbus and Lee today would precipitate a university president being driven into a safe space, seclusion, a suspended social media account, and, ultimately, banishment from planet Earth.
Judge J.M. Richards of the Tom Green United Confederate Veterans of Weatherford, best remembered for his instrumental role in helping to drive 13 saloons from Parker County — and thereby making the place uninhabitable — said in an appeal printed by the Star-Telegram and Dallas Morning News that Lincoln’s greatness consisted mostly in the achievement of Grant and Sherman and exaggerated by the “cheap penny-a-liner writers.” (That stings a little.)
He suggested the compromise candidate of William Jennings Bryan, perpetual presidential wannabe.
In another part of the state, a resolution passed unanimously by the Texas Division of the Daughters of the Confederacy, which endorsed, to no surprise, Captain Infidelity.
Lincoln should be replaced with Jefferson Davis. “Abe Lincoln does not belong even in a crowd with the bust of Jefferson Davis.”
In perhaps his first executive decision, President Paul Horn said he was staying with the Great Emancipator.
Another sculpture on campus, erected almost 20 years later, evokes even more symbolism. It links Texas Tech to its George Washington.
It is the work of art of Will Rogers atop his horse Soapsuds, the same striking work by Electra Waggoner Biggs that sits in front of Fort Worth’s Will Rogers Memorial Center. It was given to the university and city by the same man: Amon Carter.
Now, it’s football season.
Though few, if anybody, look at it this way, the annual football game between Texas Tech and TCU, which this year occurs on Nov. 5 in Fort Worth, is actually a meeting of cousins through a shared uncle, Uncle Amon.
The game is a natural rivalry between schools who share Texas’ Western frontier. Fort Worth is where the West begins, and Lubbock is its hub.
This year, the game had already risen to a different level with TCU’s new head coach Sonny Dykes, West Texas born and bred, and an alum of the Texas Tech Red and Black.
But the rivalry is now heated up to full Carolina Reaper with the news this summer that TCU would not sell single-game tickets for the Texas Tech game. Only fans who purchase a multigame package will have seats. To Texas Tech fans, the announcement was a crystal-clear indication that TCU was trying to keep out, or limit, the Tech fanbase in Amon G. Carter Stadium, which always attracts a big red-and-black contingent for these games. Same for basketball.
And, in fact, on Twitter, Jeremiah Donati, the TCU athletic director, said the university would in all probability adopt the same policy for the basketball game with Texas Tech.
Shortly after that, more kindling was added.
TCU recruiting coordinator Bryan Carrington, merely doing his job, appeared on Twitter with a message about a new NIL program rolled out by a Texas Tech collective. Every school now has a collective of alums and boosters looking for avenues for the school’s athletes to cash in on their name, image, and likeness. In July, the Tech collective announced that every scholarship football player and 15 walk-ons would all receive one-year contracts for $25,000 each.
That could buy some rounds at Pancho’s.
Carrington said prospective football recruits shouldn’t make decisions on where to attend school over “donut seeds.”
“An extra 2K a month ain’t maximizing off your NIL. It’s a glorified stipend check.”
Then, he deployed this grenade.
“The reality is that that extra 2K, it’s gonna be a concrete ceiling for most players in scarce markets that are oversaturated with 85 scholarship players attempting to ‘build their brand’ in a desert.”
He capped his tweet with a cactus to symbolize the desert. The emoji was adopted by Tech fans, even head football coach Joey McGuire, as the Red Raiders’ symbol for this college football crusade playing out in the West.
Stuck in the middle is the ghost of Amon Carter, who likely would be having a grand ol’ time with this family feud.
Carter’s status as a benefactor at TCU is embodied in the football stadium named for him. He was the driving force in getting the original arena built in the 1930s. Today, his grandson, Mark Johnson, is chairman of TCU’s board of trustees.
Less known about Carter is his role in the establishment of Texas Tech, the school the Texas Legislature in 1923 voted to place somewhere north of the 29th parallel and west of the 98th meridian.
Lubbock and the greatest cotton-growing region of the world, the farmers boasted, would eventually win out as the location.
The school was a personal triumph of Carter who, with his newspaper as his voice, almost single-handedly was responsible for its establishment.
No one lobbied harder for it. In those days, the Star-Telegram’s distribution zones extended all throughout West Texas. Fort Worth, after all, was merely where the West began.
For his troubles — and proving that no good deed goes unpunished — Gov. Pat Neff asked the biggest booster of the school to be its first chairman of the board of regents. Carter couldn’t really say no, though he wanted to apparently.
The Amon Carter Collection at TCU contains the former publisher’s papers. His support of Texas Tech is spelled out there in two boxes containing letters, editorials, and some pictures, along with blueprints of the original layout of the Texas Tech campus.
The first chairman of the board of regents at Texas Tech didn’t even finish high school, but he had what you needed for the job: money and influence.
“Dr. Carter” — Amon was presented an honorary doctorate by the school … the only diploma he ever received — would get his chance to leave, but only after serving out his four-year obligation and on his terms and after a scuffle with the two-headed governor, Miriam and James Ferguson, better known as Ma and Pa Ferguson, perhaps still Texas’ most notorious political power couples.
At the 1926 Thanksgiving game between Texas and Texas A&M in Austin, Amon just happened — with imaginary quotes between “just happened” — to be sitting behind the governor and first gentleman — himself a former state chief executive — both of whom he was continually at odds with.
His rooting interests that day were A&M and Ma’s opponent that election season, Dan Moody. He shouted vigorously for both throughout the game before finally being escorted out of the stadium by a Texas Ranger, not the Corey Seager kind of Texas Ranger.
The incident found its way onto front pages everywhere, including the New York Times, which devoted four columns to the episode.
“He was as drunk as a boiled owl,” Ma declared, rather, vented. “He was drunk and waving a cane, and I know it was filled with liquor.”
Ma then announced at the same session with reporters a $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of persons “worth more than $5,000” who violated Prohibition laws, and she specifically made sure to point out one guy she suspected, a “North Texas publisher,” she asserted, who dispensed pints of liquor by the dozens in public places.
Amon and his wife, who would probably know best, denied he had been drinking that day, though he was, in fact, known to give as gifts canes full of liquor, and he never denied showing warm hospitality appropriate for oil executives one particular weekend.
As far as the accusation that he was one of those people worth more than $5,000, Amon said that couldn’t possibly be him because “never having had a highway contract, I cannot possibly fit into the millionaire class.”
The Star-Telegram had recently exposed irregularities at best and downright corruption by the Fergusons, through the state highway commission, granting road contracts to friends in return for, ahem, kickbacks, payola, sweeteners, inducements, or graft.
Pick a word, any word.
Amon Carter’s pen was mightier than the sword, weapons of war, and the Fergusons.
The point of including this anecdote is that Ma also demanded that he resign his position as chairman of the board of Texas Tech, claiming he was unfit to serve. Amon believed, like just about everybody else in Texas, that it was Pa who was calling the shots from the governor’s mansion. He also believed it was Pa, not Ma, who was leveling these charges.
The chairmanship was the highest public position he ever held. Had Ma stayed silent, he probably would have resigned before the completion of his term. Now, backed into a corner by an ultimatum made through political animus, he then, of course, refused.
“My appointment was made by Governor Neff for four years, two of which I have yet to serve,” he said. “I fully appreciate the responsibility and dignity which naturally accompanies a position of trust of this kind.”
He then not-so-subtly pointed out “Governor Jim’s” past with respect to higher education in Texas, a not-so-veiled reference to the controversy that grew out of the governor’s demand that the board of regents of UT remove faculty he disapproved of. When the board refused to cower, he vetoed just about the entire funding for the university.
That set off a series of events that led to his impeachment and cemented his name in history books.
It no doubt made Amon’s day when that November Dan Moody did unseat Ma Ferguson, second only to breakfast for Eleanor Roosevelt at Meacham Field in 1932. Ma was back in the statehouse, and she and Pa were left standing outside. They simply showed for the meeting uninvited, and Amon simply ignored them.
“I ordered it. I paid for it,” he said before adding that he also controlled the invitation list.
Days later, he informed Moody his intention to leave his post at Texas Tech, which would not have existed in the 1920s had it not been for Amon Carter’s prestige and standing.
In a letter to the new governor, Carter said he wished to leave, but that he wasn’t leaving without an enduring “warm spot in my heart for this college and its future.”
His valedictory message: “They can always count on my support in every consistent way possible.”
Among the most notable ways in carrying out that covenant was the Will Rogers sculpture, presented to the school in 1948 and erected in what is now known as the Amon G. Carter Plaza. It came with a $500,000 donation for a new gymnasium, all from his foundation. Wyatt Hedrick, the acclaimed Fort Worth architect who designed Texas Tech’s administration building, designed the statue’s base.
Legend says Soapsuds’ backside intentionally faces Texas A&M. In truth, Will Rogers and Soapsuds face west for a reason, for that was the land of Rogers. (The Aggies — or, rather, some Aggies — did vandalize Will one season. Since then, the Saddle Tramps wrap the structure in red crepe paper before every home game.)
The other was membership in the Southwest Conference.
For 29 years, beginning in 1927, Texas Tech campaigned for inclusion in the SWC. Each time, the Matadors/Red Raiders dealt with rejection. By the time it was finally accepted in 1956, Texas Tech had endured a long operation without anesthetic.
The school’s most robust advocate was its former chair, who lobbied just as hard as he did the legislature the better part of 10 years to get the university established.
He used his editorials as both a carrot and axe.
In one in 1952, he argued that Tech’s inclusion is a two-way street. The SWC, of course, would be good for Tech, but Tech would also be good for the SWC. What Tech provides would only increase, Carter said, as the college continues to grow in prestige and importance.
“It is obvious from any standpoint that Tech is well qualified for admission,” he said. “Through years of patient striving to meet the supposed requirements of the Southwest Conference, it has knocked over one objection after another. It has the enrollment, its 6,500 students making it the third-largest state school in Texas. It has the athletics staff, the stadium facilities. It has demonstrated, through frequent meetings with Southwest Conference teams, that it is able to offer them worthy competition. It maintains a sports program more varied and balanced than some of the conference schools can boast.”
In another, he gave a stern talking-to to his other relative after alleging backdoor secret deal-making in yet another Tech brushoff.
The mechanics of the meeting were suspect, he said. First, the faculty representatives voted to have a secret ballot, which passed. Then, they voted and denied expansion at the time. Then, they voted to accept no applications for admission for the next three years.
“Then, the ballots were burned!”
Tech did have a supporter in that meeting in Texas faculty representative Dr. Vernon Schuhardt, a valuable ally who believed Tech would be a decided asset to the conference.
What really irritated him was that a motion by Schuhardt died for lack of a second.
“Rather shoddy treatment,” the Op-Ed declared. Particularly he felt that TCU, because of its own and Fort Worth’s long association with West Texas, “might, as a friendly act, have seconded the motion.”
“Last week’s meeting of the faculty committee afforded TCU another unusual opportunity to speak for Tech and to propose membership for it. But apparently it did not do so. It is a keen disappointment to the many friends of TCU in Fort Worth and West Texas. A proposal by TCU, under the circumstances of the long struggle for Tech’s admission and the many rebuffs, would seem the least it could have done.”
Why, he wanted to know, this discrimination against Texas Tech and West Texas?
A cartoon ran with the editorial. It showed representative schools of the SWC sitting atop another, oversized football player, representing Tech.
In yet another, he pressed and encouraged Tech to keep pushing the envelope. Certainly, he said, gaining SWC admittance will not happen “acceding meekly to the admonition to go off and stand quietly in the corner.”
Even as Amon’s health began to fade, he stayed by Tech’s side, complaining of yet another rejection letter as Tech being “given the cold-shoulder treatment” and condemning what he said was “doubletalk and double-dealing.”
Texas Tech football coach DeWitt Weaver wrote in 1952, thanking Carter for his support and assuring him that “we of Texas Tech have just started to fight.”
In January of 1954, Carter remained adamant after the Red Raiders’ 11-1 Border Conference championship that ended with an appearance in the Gator Bowl against Auburn.
He wrote a letter to Weaver: “You are the envy of all other college teams. You should have been selected for the Sugar Bowl … and Tech should be in the Southwest Conference. So, keep up the good work, and if the college authorities do not recognize you, the public in Texas will demand it.”
Carter asked that the Braniff charter carrying the team stop by Fort Worth with a landing and reception for the team at Amon Carter Field, the airport he built as leverage against Dallas as the forerunner to DFW, as it returned from the Gator Bowl in 1954.
“What glowing accounts the coaches, the team and the others brought back of the wonderful reception at Amon Carter Field. How typical of your graciousness and generosity it was,” said Clifford Jones, by then Tech’s president emeritus. “I join all of them in deepest gratitude not only for your personal kindness, but for the generous support of the Tech team … and for support of TCU in Southwest Conference matters.”
Jones had inserted an asterisk in red pen after “TCU.” Below the letter the notation was explained. Jones wrote in his own penmanship: “I know full well how that came about.”
Amon died in June 1955, almost a year before the SWC finally gave Texas Tech its papers, announced after a meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Four years after his death, the Amon G. Carter Foundation donated $25,000 to Texas Tech for an athletic trophy room that overlooked the Jones Stadium field.
There is much irony in what happened 40 years later when Tech was included in the Big 12 and TCU was left out. It also makes you think about what TCU’s prospects might have been had Amon Carter been around in the early 1990s.
He was a vestige of another time and working under completely different circumstances, but if politics really were the difference between TCU missing out initially on the greener pastures of the Big 12, it’s difficult to imagine Amon Carter not mixing it up, as he did with Ma and Pa Ferguson (and others), with Ann Richards, Bob Bullock, and Pete Laney.
Considering all that history, it seems safe to assume that Amon would be a passionately neutral observer of all the goings-on with this scrape between Texas Tech and TCU.
The first game between the two was in 1926, a 28-16 Horned Frogs victory. TCU won again in each of the next four years. The two didn’t meet again until 1936, Sammy Baugh’s senior season. The Red Raiders finally won, 7-0, in Lubbock.
“On behalf of the other Fort Worth students at Texas Tech and myself, I wish to express our gratitude for the many things you have done and are planning to do for our school,” student Don Brown wrote in 1952.
“We are proud to be from the same city as Texas Tech’s No. 1 backer and supporter.”