Being a mascot is a serious responsibility in the Lone Star State. While all are adored, some have origin stories larger than life. If you haven’t read the first installment, you can see it here.
University of Texas – Bevo
“His name is Bevo. Long may he reign!”
The famous words printed in the December 1916 issue of the Texas Exes Alcalde led to the longstanding tradition of Bevo, the University of Texas Longhorn. After the UT football win over the Texas A&M Aggies, editor Ben Dyer rushed the publication to press to cover the 21-7 victory and the special halftime occurrence from the game; a longhorn was led onto the field and presented to the student body as UT’s first living mascot.
Although one of the best-known tales on campus has it that a group of Texas A&M Aggies pranked their rivals by branding the longhorn mascot “13-0” (reflecting A&M’s 1915 winning score) and forced UT to turn the brand into “Bevo.” The Longhorns clarify that the name came long before the Aggies’s infamous antics.
In fact, Ben Dyer’s reason for calling the new mascot Bevo was believed to be in relation to the plural form of the word beef (which was also a slang term for cattle), beeve. And due to the popularity of a Gus Mager comic strip in the 1900s and 1910s that commonly added “o” to the end of character names, it was a nationwide fad to nickname friends in the same fashion. A combination of the two ideas led many to suggest the origin of the famous Texas Longhorn’s name.
Today, Bevo is an icon known and loved by all who support the burnt orange and white. He can be seen at every home game and makes appearances at countless events, charities, and functions when he is not roaming his 250-acre ranch in northwest Austin. The property is owned by John T. and Betty Baker, the championship cattle breeders who have owned and supplied UT with each beautiful mascot since 1988. Raised from babies to bulls, the Bakers teach their cattle to be comfortable around people and noise in order to obtain the docile nature of each new Bevo.
The special treatment does not stop there. Bevo also has a designated team of student handlers who are selected and trained to care for and transport him to each of his scheduled events. Named the Silver Spurs, these honorary students learn to safely halter Bevo, spend many hours working with the animal, and wrangle him into his customized trailer built to fit the size of his iconic horns. This is all in addition to fulfilling their philanthropic mission to support scholarships, outreach programs, and expenses tied to Bevo’s caretaking.
Upon retirement, the Silver Spurs Alumni Association is responsible for conducting a search for the next longhorn to uphold and preserve the Bevo tradition. Given the adoration of UT’s most recent addition to the legacy, Bevo XV has been setting the standard since his introduction on September 4, 2016. Following in his predecessors’ hoof-steps, Bevo proudly and successfully represents the iconic orange and white.
Southern Methodist University – Peruna
In the 1930s, the energetic and feisty nature of one 150-pound, black Shetland pony sparked the idea for a perfect live mascot to represent Southern Methodist University. Thought to resemble the same spirit of the university, the pony was donated to SMU and started a longstanding tradition. Later they dubbed their mighty mascot Peruna, and the name stuck, as it derived from a popular medicine known as being “full of kick” – just like each pony that represents the university.
Given that Peruna came before the official naming of the university’s chosen mascot, the election of mustangs was a fitting choice given the other contenders on the ballot were bison and greyhounds. Though their wild horse mascot was embodied through a small pony, it certainly fit the bill better than the possible alternatives.
However, those close to SMU know to never underestimate Peruna by his or her size. Historically, these spirited ponies have been known to cause Texas-sized chaos despite their 2-foot high stature. Past and present Perunas commonly have bold personalities, with a reputation for loving to prance, kick, bite and run! In fact, the pony was once infamously known as the deadliest mascot in the NCAA after Peruna V served a fatal kick to New York’s Fordham Ram.
Much like other mascots, Peruna is handled with only the best of care. Ponies boasting the Peruna name have been escorted in spirited red and blue trailers and been granted hotel elevator privileges on away games. Peruna’s stable location is kept a secret, and his or her handlers are the only students with access, a precaution that was implemented after one too many rumors of other universities planning to steal Peruna as a prank.
When Peruna is not running down the football field alongside her handlers (or dragging them as some would say), he or she is roaming freely on a secured ranch location. But according to Peruna’s Facebook page, some of his or her favorite hobbies include taking photos with the SMU Mustang fans!
University of Houston – Shasta
“Shasta (She has to). Shasta have a cage, Shasta have a keeper, Shasta have a winning ball club, Shasta have the best.”
These written conditions were the winning submission for Alpha Phi Omega’s 1947 Name the Mascot competition held in the University of Houston’s Daily Cougar. Coincidentally, the newspaper had a heavy influence on both the mascot selection and the mascot’s name.
According to UH tradition, the cougar has been the faithful mascot of the university since 1927 when it was selected by former professor John W. Bender who joined the faculty after serving as Washington State University’s head football coach. When Bender arrived, students were looking for a name for their university newspaper. Being fond of his previous mascot, the cougar, he suggested they call the newspaper the cougar due to the grace, power, and pride that it embodies. After unanimous agreement, the name was established and all student groups from that point forward became associated with the cougar.
However, it was not until 1947 that Houston obtained its first live cougar mascot. Shasta I was purchased by Alpha Phi Omega (APO) from a wild animal rancher and was given her name based on the famous phrase “…Shasta have the best” that won the mascot naming contest. Shortly after, a group of Houston students referred to as the Cougar Guard was formed to care for Shasta and transport her to football games to hype up the fans.
During one of Shasta’s away-game travels to the University of Texas, an unfortunate mishap with her cage door led to a severed toe injury – giving the Longhorns an opportunity to harp on a weakness, as they all held up a three-finger hand signal, wrapping their thumbs over their ring fingers to symbolize the injured mascot. However, the next time the two teams faced off (fifteen years later), UH tied UT 20-20, and the Cougars embraced the hand signal as their own in a sign of redemptive pride. Shasta I lived on to hold the longest reign from 1947-1962.
Shasta II through V each had their own individual characters that added to the Cougar spirit. Shasta III through V each lived in Shasta’s Den in Lynn Eusan Park on campus; however that tradition was retired after Shasta V’s death in 1989. The live mascot tradition actually ceased altogether and was exclusively replaced with costumed students until 2011 when the Houston Zoo brought in an orphaned cougar cub from Washington State. The UH Alumni Association paired up with the zoo shortly thereafter, and the cub was dubbed Shasta VI – the first live mascot to reign for UH in over two decades.
Continuing to live at the Houston Zoo, Shasta welcomes visitors to view his cougar habitat and UH students are even welcomed in for free!