Loveable old Will Rogers and Soapsuds take center stage in a special edition of the Mailbag.
Welcome back to a special holiday edition of the Mailbag!
We normally try to bring the Mailbag to you on Friday, but with the semester over we broke with tradition for this semester-ending, winter-breaking holiday special.
So, are we bringing you some thoughtful holiday content?
Hardly… We're here to talk about a man and his horse.
Early this semester we covered a topic about a campus legend and exactly how we view it. We titled it “Print the Legend.”
Today we're going diving into another deep-seated tradition here in Raiderland we were asked about recently.
At issue today is a horse's hindquarters, a college down south, and if the two were meant to intersect.
As almost any Red Raider knows, Will Rogers and his horse Soapsuds sit in a place of honor on Texas Tech's campus. They guard the entrance to these hallowed halls and have proudly done so since 1950 thanks in large part to one of Rogers' good friends, Amon G. Carter.
The president and publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Carter was an advocate for a “great state college on the plains” and was the first board chairman for Texas Technological College.
Carter fought hard to get the statue placed just in front of Memorial Circle at the university's main entrance. There today, you will still find “Loveable old Will Rogers and his favorite horse, ‘Soapsuds,' riding into the Sunset.” And that beautiful grassy area leading into Texas Tech on Broadway, just before you get to Rogers and Soapsuds, is the Amon G. Carter Plaza.
The statue at Texas Tech is one of three Carter had cast. The other two reside in Fort Worth and at the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma.
But it's our version of the statue and the legends surrounding it that we're focusing on today.
And since we work for the university and like to keep things family-friendly, we aren't going to make much mention of one of the infamous legends surrounding Will and Soapsuds.
What we are going to do is dive into the most famous of the legends and see how things shake out.
“According to one legend, the plan to face Will Rogers so that he could be riding off into the sunset did not work out as it would cause Soapsuds' rear to be facing downtown. To solve this problem, the horse and Will were turned 23 degrees so the horse's posterior was facing in the direction of Texas A&M, one of the school's rivals.”
Another version of the story has the statue being similarly shifted after a couple of Aggies painted some of their gaudy maroon on Will and Soapsuds following a football game.
That story also has been shared as the lead-in to the tradition of the Saddle Tramps wrapping the statue before home football games.
As with our previous printing of the legend, there was much consternation as to how exactly we should go about confirming or denying that this is actually a thing.
We did some sleuthing to try and find old stories confirming the 23-degree shift or anybody from days long gone admitting that this was, in fact, the intent.
We chased down a story from 1956 that mentions paint on the statue, but the paint was pink and the vandalism was in the Administration building as well. Texas Tech students were questioned as suspects. A story from 2002 also mentions graffiti but there's nothing to indicate it being maroon.
And while we did find a disrespectful posting on the TexasAggs website about the legend, we didn't find much primary source information.
So, we started reaching out to people and, not shockingly, hit a few more dead ends.
If we're being honest, this is where we figured out something important: We're not going to be able to prove or disprove intent.
With that much clear, we turned down a different path to try and find confirmation of our own that the horse's rear faces A&M, and we knew just where to turn. A few months back we started working with an instructor named Don Bundock in construction engineering on a couple of projects, so we reached back out to him.
“We've got you covered,” he said, and put me in touch with another instructor named David Spears to help figure things out.
Spears set up a time to meet our team at the statue and brought a surveying class over to determine exactly where old Soapsuds' hind end was pointing.
“This ought to be fun,” he said, and with that, a class of students from the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering jumped right into the task at hand.
We'll admit, this was an exciting time. We were kind of hoping a straight line would drop right in the middle of Kyle Field, but it was not to be.
A direct bearing superimposed over a map shows the horse's rear end to be pointing well west of Aggieland – a true shame.
“What were they thinking?” Spears asked after the fact. “Maybe some Aggies or some Longhorns moved it in the dead of night.”
Maybe they did!
Or maybe the statue has been bumped by too many students returning from a night out. Or, maybe, when the statue was placed we didn't have people as good as our construction engineering students and instructors to figure out EXACTLY where it needed to be pointed to line up with College Station.
What we do know for sure is that the horse's rear end points in a southeasterly direction and Texas A&M is, in fact, southeast of Lubbock.
So that's that.
As Will Rogers once said: “Do the best you can, and don't take life too serious.”
Happy Holidays, Red Raiders.
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