Unveiling the myth behind a branded BEVO

By Louis Ojeda Jr.

This season’s Texas-Texas A&M football score will long be remembered as the final meeting between the two programs as conference foes, but perhaps the most significant score in this storied rivalry was early in its history.

It is widely believed that the Texas Longhorns mascot’s name originated from the altering of a “13-0” brand on a steer done by the Aggies. It’s a tale they take pride in knowing they’re responsible for the naming of their bitter rival’s beloved Bevo. But how much truth is there to this story?

First, let’s look back on what is known to have actually occurred.

The rivalry resumed on Nov. 19, 1915 after a four-year hiatus due to reckless fan behavior in their last meeting in Houston. It was the Longhorns’ first-ever trip to College Station and the Aggies came away victorious 13-0.

The following year at the Thanksgiving Day game in Austin at Clark Field, two cowboys escort a frightened steer that makes its first and only appearance during an elaborate halftime presentation as a gift to the students. The longhorn was purchased by Steve Pinckney, known as “the grandfather of the longhorn,” and 124 other Texas alums. Although the university had been known as the Longhorns since 1904, there was no live mascot prior to this time on campus other than a dog known as “Pig.” But Pinckney had wanted a real longhorn that represented the university.

After the 21-7 Texas victory, the idea of branding the score and a “T” on the steer is discussed by UT students, but there were protests of animal cruelty. The suggested date for the branding is March 2 – Texas Independence Day. However, several Aggies had an idea of their own.

On Feb. 11, 1917, five A&M students and another individual travel from Waco to a South Austin stockyard where they broke into a pen at 3 a.m. and brand “13-0” in eight-inch characters on the longhorn’s right hide.

After discovering the brand, UT students again debate on what to do with the steer. Some suggest branding “21-7” over the “13-0” while others favored a barbeque.

From here is where the story seems to differ depending on who you ask.

For decades the legend told was that the “13-0” brand on the longhorn was altered by changing the “13” to a “B,” the dash to an “E” and somehow fitting a “V” in there to spell “BEVO.”

Jim Nicar, director of the Texas Exes UT Heritage Society, began researching the story in the spring of 2000 and found evidence that disputes the tale.  

“I was just going to flesh out the story I thought was already true,” he said. “The brand was never changed. That other stuff is just a myth that popped up somewhere and people just kept repeating it and it became fact by way of the newspapers repeating and repeating.”

The December 1916 issue of the University of Texas alumni magazine, The Alcalde, gives a detailed recap of the Thanksgiving Day events. Within the article describing the halftime presentation of the steer it states “His name is Bevo. Long may he reign.”

“He was called Bevo in print two and a half months before he was branded,” Nicar said.

As the years pass, the steer is kept but forgotten after the United States enters World War I. Still costing the university 60 cents a day to keep the longhorn at a ranch near Austin, the Athletic Council makes a decision.

“Since they didn’t want to spend the money, they decided to make him the main course,” Nicar said.

On Jan. 20, 1920, more than 200 invited guests from the University of Texas and A&M College of Texas attend a banquet in Austin where Bevo was barbequed. During the celebration, speakers praise the renewed friendship and spirit between the two schools.
The February 1920 edition of the student published Longhorn Magazine describes the illustrious event and it’s no surprise what the Aggies were presented.

 “It specifically says they gave the side of the hide with 13-0 to A&M,” Nicar said. “It doesn’t say we changed it to say Bevo or something like that or anything else.”  

According to documents at the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A&M, former university archivist Charles Schultz began to find if there was any truth to the myth in the summer of 1974.
In a letter written to Schultz from Hans Rothe, one of the six involved in the 1917 branding, he states “they did have the branding by blotting out the 13-0 brand into Bevo.” However, Schultz never found any evidence that suggests it was ever altered.

“If you look into our own research at A&M, we knew a lot of the myth wasn’t true at least as early as the 1970s,” said Mary Manning, Texas A&M Assistant University Archivist. “Even after Charles Schultz wrote an article for the Texas Aggie (magazine) that the myth wasn’t true, it still continued.”

David Chapman, former director of the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, worked alongside Shultz in researching the story more than 30 years ago.

“I’m very well convinced that the brand was not altered, at least at that time period,” Chapman said. “It’s clear the thing was named Bevo before it was ever branded.”

But if a re-branding never occurred, how did the myth begin and how did Bevo get his name?

The most common suggestion for the name is from a popular beverage sold at the time called “Bevo.” Nicar also believes it may have evolved from the term “beeve,” which means beef.

Archivists at Texas and Texas A&M have yet to discover any photograph or article during that time period that proves the brand was in fact altered. However, it seems that no matter how much evidence is revealed that challenges the myth, the story will continue to be told.

“I think that many more people (at Texas A&M) believe the myth than the documented evidence we have,” Chapman said. “It’s been told so many times and 90 percent of the people believe it.”

It’s not clear how or when the myth began, but the naming behind Bevo is just one of the dozens of tales passed down over generations at both universities.

“It’s a funny thing about those college myths, some people don’t want to change it,” Nicar said. “They like the story.”