If you’ve been in Lubbock long, you’ve heard this: The statue of Will Rogers on his horse at Texas Tech is positioned so the horse’s hind end faces Texas A&M.
The statue is one of the most well-known and revered landmarks on the campus. Its connection to the Tech-Texas A&M rivalry is a source of lore and legend, especially since its position was altered from its original placement. With A&M preparing to bolt from the Big 12 Conference to the Southeastern Conference in July, the Aggies will make what may very well be their last appearance in Lubbock, at least for the foreseeable future, on Saturday.
While we shouldn’t expect Will Rogers to change directions after the Aggies leave, two things are certain:
1. There is another reason the statue was turned from its original position.
2. The statue, along with the Tech seal and other noted campus landmarks, will be adequately protected from would-be vandals by Saddle Tramp sentries throughout the night Friday and well into the wee hours of game day, a tradition that has been carried out by the student spirit organization for more than 10 years, according to Chris Snead, associate vice president at the Texas Tech Alumni Association.
A little history
The statue memorializes Rogers, a noted actor, author and
humorist during the 1920s and 1930s.
Amon G. Carter, a longtime personal friend of Rogers, commissioned sculptor Electra Waggoner Biggs to create the work after Rogers died in a plane crash at Point Barrow, Alaska, on Aug. 15, 1935.
The replica bronze casting that graces the Tech campus is one of four. The original was commissioned by Carter in 1936 and donated to the city of Fort Worth in 1942. It is in front of the Will Rogers Memorial Center. Another is located at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Okla., with a fourth on the grounds of the Anatole Hotel in Dallas.
In a brief ceremony Feb. 16, 1950, the statue was presented to Tech by Charles A. Guy, then-editor of The Avalanche-Journal. Guy made the presentation on behalf of Carter, publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and a personal friend, who was out of town on a business trip. Carter also was the first chairman of the Tech board of directors.
The statue, titled “Into the Sunset,” depicts Rogers on his horse, Soapsuds. An inscription at its base reads “Lovable Old Will Rogers on his favorite horse, Soapsuds, riding into the Western sunset.”
The statue, near the Broadway and University Avenue entrance to the Tech campus, initially faced a more northwesterly direction, so as to have Rogers and Soapsuds riding off toward the West Texas sunset. But that initial placement had the hind quarters of the horse facing toward downtown Lubbock, much to the consternation of some local officials.
To solve this problem, the statue was repositioned “in the late 1960s or ’70s,” according to Snead. It was moved 23 degrees so the horse’s posterior faces more toward College Station, and away from downtown Lubbock, or so the story goes.
“In reality, it’s 23 degrees south from north,” Snead explained, “and faces in the general direction of College Station. But to be honest, it probably faces closer to Leander and Austin. But that’s OK. The story is still good.”
As to who decided to position the statue as it is currently, few, if anyone, living can recall. One rumor related by Snead was “several members of the football team picked it up and moved it, then got so tired they just dropped it off there.”
“A lot of stuff is based in rumor, and we’ve tried to piece it together based on what we know,” Snead said. “The myth just grows. With that whole rivalry heating up during the last decade, the whole Will Rogers thing has taken on a whole new life. But there’s nothing wrong with that.”
The life-size statue weighs 3,200 pounds, and its cost has been estimated at $25,000. The statue stands at 9 feet, 11 inches tall, though some of the tales and real traditions associated with it have stood taller through the years.
The Saddle Tramps started wrapping the statue in red crepe paper prior to every home game in the 1970s, according to Snead.
“It’s an undertaking,” said Snead, who serves as an adviser to the spirit group. “It takes five guys more than four hours and quite a bit of crepe paper on Thursdays. Then they go on Midnight Raider, walking the campus and putting streamers on all of the light poles. If Texas Tech wins, then the streamers get to stay up until Sunday morning. If Tech loses the football game, they have to go immediately and take it down.”
The statue is wrapped and draped in black crepe paper as a way of mourning national tragedies and the deaths of those beloved to the university. It was last draped in black Sept. 11 to mark the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks. It also was draped in black in August following the passing of longtime Lubbock and Texas Tech sports broadcaster Jack Dale, Snead said.
With A&M’s impending departure from the Big 12, some have wondered whether the statue will be repositioned once more, perhaps pointing the horse’s behind toward another conference foe.
“I think he will probably stay right where he’s at,” Snead said. “It’s a good tradition, one that has been passed on. I just say now that it points to our rivals down south. I don’t reference one over the other. There are lots of rumors and legends that go with that statue.”