Researched by: Hog Database’s Jacob and Sharp Williams
Written by : Sharp Williams (edited and supplemented June 10, 2012; edited and supplemented November 12, 2012 with articles from Caleb Hardwick)
The University of Arkansas began playing football in 1894 and by the 54th game some 11 years later, Arkansas’ football team was referred to publicly as “The Razor-backs.”
How and why the University of Arkansas “Cardinals” became the Arkansas “Razorbacks” is not as simple as the prevailing story found in an online post Hugo Bezdek and the 1909 Razorbacks from the University of Arkansas Athletic Media Relations Department or on a 2009 steel marker found close to the University campus. The version lacks context which might make fans think otherwise about Arkansas’ mascot transition, but before another word is written about it, let’s make a couple of things very clear.
This post does not label University of Arkansas’s rendition “inaccurate.” To the contrary, as far as the events are detailed, they appear to be accurate. Moreover, this post is not here to criticize the University’s account as leaving out a broader truth. Local events happening more than 100 years ago, regardless of a person’s skills and time, are hard to find.* All this post intends to do is to open the gates to a broader understanding of why the University of Arkansas became the Razorbacks because there is certainly more information to come beyond this post.
The popular version of our “Cardinal” to “Razorback” transition found at the link above tells us:
According to newspaper accounts and the history of the university, the Arkansas football coach Hugo Bezdek stepped down from the train to address the throngs of students that came to meet the team. It was during his recounting of the 16-0 win over LSU that Coach Bezdek was to have said that the team played:
“like a wild band of Razorback hogs.”
The name resonated with the students and the newspapers, and from that moment forward, Arkansas teams were known as Razorbacks.
And the above is the way that the University of Arkansas commemorated the occasion in 2009.
More permanently memorialized on Dickson St. at the intersection with the train tracks near George’s Majestic Lounge about 3 blocks off campus, is an almost identical account typeset in a 2009 steel marker that reads:
Following a 16-0 victory over LSU in Memphis on Nov. 13, 1909, the University of Arkansas Football team was greeted at the Fayetteville train station across the street by a crowd of fans and students. Arkansas was 5-0 after the win and would finish 7-0. Head coach Hugo Bezdek delivered a speech to the crowd, saying the team played “like a wild band of razorback hogs.” The name was a hit with the student body, which voted in 1910 to change the official mascot from Cardinals to Razorbacks, giving Arkansas one of the most unique and recognizable mascots in the country. This marker was placed in recognition of 100 years of the Razorbacks.
Stepping back, consider Hugo Bezdek for a moment, particularly as if he was a current college football coach. The reality is that his career was not much different than we see today from football coaches in terms of moving from place to place. From the College Football Hall of Fame is the following biography of Bezdek:
Hugo Bezdek played fullback at the University of Chicago and was third team All-America in 1905. He played second base on the college baseball team. He was the football coach at Oregon in 1906, Arkansas 1908-12, Oregon again 1913-17, and Penn State 1918-29. He was Penn State’s baseball coach 1920-30 and director of athletics 1930-36. In 1937-38 he coached the Cleveland Rams. And in 1949 he went back to college coaching for one year at Delaware Valley. His college coaching record was 127-58-16. He also coached the Mare Island (CA) Marines after the college season ended in 1917. Bezdek was in the Rose Bowl three times -with the 1916 Oregon team, 1917 Mare Island, and 1922 Penn State. He managed a baseball team, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1917-19, doing this job in the summer between his football coaching assignments in the fall. The Pirates hadn’t had a winning record in five years, but Bezdek brought them to fourth place. His Penn State football teams in 1919-22 went 30 straight games undefeated (3 ties). His best players at Penn State included Harry Wilson, Bob Higgins, and Glenn Killinger. Hugo Bezdek was born April 1, 1884, in Prague, Bohemia; he came to the United States in 1889. He died September 19, 1952.
A Bohemian (Czech Republic) immigrant, Bezdek coached the University of Arkansas for five seasons from 1908 through 1912 after attending college in Chicago and coaching in Oregon for a year before returning to Oregon. While we have not learned, if it’s possible at all, what Bezdek knew about Arkansas, her people, or the University before coaching here, it is not hard to imagine that Bezdek would know less than coaches such as Hatfield or Nutt who lived in Arkansas and went to the University of Arkansas before taking their jobs, and that Bezdek would be more like the Lou Holtz or the Bobby Petrino of his day. All were good or great coaches, but “fighting Razorbacks” flowed in Ken Hatfield’s words, and Houston Nutt threw an upside down “Hook ‘em Horns” after the Razorbacks defeated the Texas Longhorns 27-6 in the 2000 Cotton Bowl. No matter how good Bezdek, Holtz, or Petrino were as coaches, they were people who would learn the bulk of what they knew about Arkansas after they arrived and are unlikely people to capture Arkansas’ culture and imagination.
Even before Bezdek, razorback hogs were well-ingrained in Arkansas’ culture. As detailed in Why We Are Razorbacks!, smallish, feisty, tough-as-nails, razor-back hogs roamed wild in numbers through Arkansas as the area was settled. Although razor-backed hogs were also found in Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and elsewhere, they were known frequently as the Arkansas Hog around that time with the points being — Razorbacks were already close by and in the consciousness of Arkansans. But with a newly discovered find courtesy of Arkansas Baseball researcher Caleb Hardwick at ArkBaseball.com, razorbacks may not have been only in the consciousness of the people but associated with other sports teams at the time. Here’s a reference from the November 27, 1902, edition of the Dallas Morning News to “Razor-backs” in a cheer for the Texas and Pacific football team against a Little Rock club:
Looking back through issues of “The Cardinal,” the early name for University of Arkansas’ yearbook, there is little reference, if any, to the football squad being known as “The Cardinals.” *** For instance, in the summary of the football season in 1907 “The Cardinal” the language used to describe the football team is not “The Cardinals,” but rather it is “her team,” as in the university’s team being the team of the alma mater, i.e. sweet mother. For that matter, the “Review of the Football Season” section in the 1910 “The Cardinal” as cited in the article above by the University, never calls the football team “The Cardinals” but does continue to refer to the football team as “her team” in somehow familiar language.
“To step from near the bottom to the summit of success of the “Dixie” gridiron is the record of Arkansas University during the season of 1909. Heretofore, Arkansas had been considered by her rivals as a very good team from which to win a game, but a defeat coming from this giant was greatly lamented. It has been a hard struggle for Arkansas to place herself on par with the best universities in the South and Southwest, but with the close of the ’09 season the hard battle seems completely won.”
The 1910 “The Cardinal” never references Hugo Bezdek’s stump speech but it does use the word “Razorbacks.”To be fair, the source of the Bezdek speech is a newspaper account (or newspaper accounts). The 1910 “The Cardinal” recounts:
“Drury’s score was due to a decision of the officials which was not in accordance with the rules. [Does "away" officiating ever change?] The college lads played a hard game and owing to the earliness of the season gave Arkansas an interesting game. It was not until after the Drury game that Coach Bezdek was able to get his men down to hard work. The next week’s practice made a wonderful difference in the team work. By the following Saturday, Arkansas was in shape for Fairmount College, who invaded the “razorbacks’ ” camp, but were routed by the score of 23 to 6.”**
The circumstances surrounding the official version question the impressions given by “The name was a hit with the student body” and “The name resonated with the students and the newspapers, and from that moment forward, Arkansas teams were known as Razorbacks.” The portrayals are as if the event was a “Eureka” moment for Bezdek and Arkansas Fans alike and tends to attribute to Bezdek some keen insight into the place of Arkansas and her people that captured their imaginations. Maybe the unlikely Bezdek did strike a cord with the Arkansas faithful; however, the better explanation is probably more accurate.
To the extent that the versions leave one with the impression that Bezdek was the first to attribute the word “razorbacks” to the University of Arkansas, they are inaccurate. Both the University of Arkansas Baseball and Football teams were referred to as “The Razorbacks” before Bezdek ever set foot on campus.
The following was found while attempting to gather accounts of early football games, although this is not a football reference. In black and white from 105 years ago, the University of Arkansas’ baseball team’s pitcher is referred to as the “Razorbacks’ lengthy southpaw.” The article flows without a hitch as if it were written today. The link to the actual page in the Google News Archive is here. Scroll down the page to the bottom. [It’s the closest hyperlink to the actual article.]
After giving the information above to Jacob at Hog Database, he revealed that he had more, something to go along with the article above found from his own independent search. In addition to the May 13, 1907, Arkansas Razorbacks baseball account above, Jacob’s research nails the issue. Below is an account dated November 8, 1906, from The Fayetteville Daily for a preview of the Arkansas-Missouri football game in 1906. As Jacob points out, the Arkansas-Missouri review has an air of being current as the Tigers enter the SEC next season and with talk of the game becoming a season-ending rivalry game. The title speaks for itself.
Both pieces are from the 1906-1907 school year, one year or more before Bezdek came to the University of Arkansas. One is from football and the other from baseball. (Basketball began at the University of Arkansas in 1924 as a University team sport.) One is from a local publication while the other is from Lawrence, Kansas newspaper.
When Arkansas Baseball researcher Caleb Hardwick at ArkBaseball.com saw the original post here, he used his access and time to a subscription news archive to search for Razorbacks and forwarded convincing accounts. Of the four accounts one is of the fifth of 77 meetings between the University of Arkansas and the University of Texas out of the November 1, 1907 Galveston (Texas) Daily News. Twice the paper uses the words “Razorbacks” in its rendition of the game:
But the information Caleb and the subscription database provide push the time before Bezdek back further. Once again out of Kansas is a newspaper account a from three weeks before the Arkansas-Missouri matchup referenced above. On October 14, 1906, the Kansas City Star reported on the Arkansas-Kansas football game with “Razorbacks” in the headlines and referred to throughout the story:
However, the most impressive account of the lot from Hardwick pushes the reference to the Arkansas Razorbacks back to the first game of the 1905 season against Kansas where the Arkansas team lost 6-0. On October 8, 1905, the story from the Kansas City Star was “Kansas 6, Arkansas 0 – Jayhawkers Defeated the “Razor-backs” After a Hard Tussle” :
In the 1905 season, Hugo Bezek was playing ball at the University of Chicago and had yet to coach the 1906 season at Oregon before becoming the University of Arkansas’ football coach prior to the 1908 season. While coaches A. Brown and Frank Longman guided the University of Arkansas’ football team through 1905, 1906, and 1907 seasons, newspapers in Lawrence, Kansas; Kansas City, Kansas; Galveston, Texas; and most importantly, Fayetteville, Arkansas referred to the University of Arkansas’ teams as the “Razor-backs.”
While University of Arkansas’ factual account for the football team is technically correct, it is undeniable that the mascot “razorbacks” was associated with the University of Arkansas’ baseball and football teams at times that pre-dated Hugo Bezdek’s arrival on campus by almost three years.
While our focus was on newspaper accounts, friend and frequent reader Root66 (yes, a pig-styled play on Route66), to whom many thanks go, points us to a book from two of the greats in Arkansas sports journalism, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Jim Bailey and the late Orville Henry, The Razorbacks: A Story of Arkansas Football. ^
At pages 19 and 20, Bailey and Henry recorded the story of Camden, Arkansas, native Phil C. Huntley^^ who played football for Hugo Bezdek’s 1909 University of Arkansas football team.
“He was a driver,” said the late Phil C. Huntley, who at 88 in 1973 was the only living member of Bezdek’s undefeated 1909 football team. “Playing the other team on Saturday was the easiest thing we did all week.” “He coached everything,” Huntley said of Bezdek. “Football-great success. Baseball–great success. He tried to get track started. He was all things to all men. He understood the importance of placing his program in front of the public. He had cards printed and distributed in towns like Rogers, Springdale, and Fort Smith advertising his home games. It was the first athletic advertising the school did .”
He would be important now even if he had been less successful. It was Bezdek who changed the team from Cardinals to Razorbacks.
“We were on a trip in Texas, getting off the train for a stroll– I think in Dallas,” said Huntley, Bezdek’s center from 1908 through 1911 and his graduate aide in 1912. “Somebody yelled, ‘Here come the hogs.’ See, there were a lot of jokes about Arkansas at that time.
“Bezdek stopped and thought a minute. He said. ‘Hmmm, boys, I like that. We’re the Razorbacks from now on.’ I’ve heard and read a lot of ways it was supposed to have come about, but that’s how it really was. It took a year or two for it to catch on with everybody, but it started right there.”
Another account has Bezdek telling the student body, in a pep-rally setting, that the team “played like a band of wild razorbacks” in a stirring 1909 victory over Louisiana State. Probably he did; the story is not necessarily in conflict with Huntley’s version.
Evidently Bezdek had seen some of the wild hogs that roamed Arkansas, and the lean, evil-tempered razorback impressed him. When he made up his mind he was coaching Razorbacks rather than Cardinals, he did his best to spread the word.
Mr. Huntley’s first-hand account talks about a Bezdek speech in Dallas being the beginning while Bailey and Henry acknowledge the companion Fayetteville “a band of wild razorbacks” account. Necessarily the University would want to memorialize events that happened in Fayetteville if at all possible. How odd would it be for Arkansas Fans and administration to go to Dallas and put a marker there? But Mr. Huntley’s words are telling, “It took a year or two for it to catch on with everybody, but it started right there” and in Bailey and Henry’s words, Bezdek had to “spread the word.”
Bailey and Henry asked themselves the question about when Arkansas became the Razorbacks separately from Mr. Huntley’s version that “it started right there.” They continued:
When did the mascot change become official? We can only tell you for sure that the school yearbook remained the Cardinal through 1915. It became the Razorback in 1916. By the 1920s the Woo Pig Sooie (properly, Whoooo PIG! Sooie) cheer had been established, as had the logo of the snorting, charging red razorback.
The book does not say how much research Bailey and Henry did into Mr. Huntley’s assertion or whether it was one of the things they intended to cover in detail. Even in 1973, they had about 80 years of Arkansas football history to cover which would necessarily entail some time and editing choices for their book. However, Huntley’s assertion that the Razorbacks’ name began “right there” must be viewed a little differently in light of history’s 20/20 vision. To Huntley as a teenager from Camden, Arkansas which is about 45 miles from the Louisiana border as the crow flies , Huntley may not have known that the University of Arkansas teams were sometimes referred to as the Razorbacks.
From the newspaper accounts, from Mr. Huntley’s account of a Dallas speech and that the name took a “year or two to catch on,” from the Fayetteville rally speech, from Bezdek’s personal history and the association between Arkansans and Razorbacks, and from Jim Bailey’s and Orville Henry’s impressions that Bezdek had to “spread the word,” the picture emerges that Bezdek was campaigning for a change in the University of Arkansas mascot name with an informal, even common, name already present in the media when Bezdek arrived. The current prevailing account distills all of the events into one moment of creation but was much more likely to be a part of an evolving history of how the University of Arkansas became the Razorbacks.
At best, Bezdek should be credited for a game ending drive and a winning drop kick and not for inventing the forward pass.
* As found buried in the stacks at The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock, a masters thesis written in 1982 by Michael Yancey Alison entitled, The Arkansas Traveler: The First 75 Years talks about how the University of Arkansas’ student newspaper in the form resembling a newspaper as we know it, and not a literary magazine, first began publishing in October 1906 as The New Ozark. In October 1907 The University Weekly began but as Alison’s approved thesis tells us only three copies of the first year of The University Weekly are known to exist, and one of those at the time was sitting in the archives (at least thirty-one years ago) at the University of Tulsa. At best, the University of Arkansas’ student newspaper has potentially important information for not much more than a year, if that, before the transition took place.
** It’s interesting to note that “The Cardinal” continues as the yearbook for the University of Arkansas through 1915, and the first issue of “The Razorback” begins in 1916.
*** I have not determined or seen anything definitively which tells me whether the team was named after the color chosen or the Cardinal bird. Unlike the 1916 Arkansas Razorback which had a Razorback logo on the front, the absence of a bird and reference in Jim Bailey and Orville Henry’s book cited elsewhere here tend to make be believe that cardinal refers to the color. For now, the issue as far as this post is concerned remains open.
^ The Razorbacks: A Story of Arkansas Football, New Edition was published in 1996 by the University of Arkansas Press while the first edition was published in 1973 by Strode Publishers in Huntsville, Alabama. The reference comes from the New Edition.
^^ The dilemma on the proper spelling of Mr. Huntley’s name is apparent. The University’s walk spells it “Huntly” while Mr. Henry and Mr. Bailey spell it “Huntley.” Facing the choice whether the guy carving names in cement in 1910 spelled PC’s name correctly or whether Henry and Bailey did, I’m siding with Orville Henry and Jim Bailey.
Special thanks go to the ladies in the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies for their assistance with the aging volumes.