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Plowboys, Texans, and TexAnns

By Chris Guthrie

Prior to 1925, Tarleton’s athletic teams did not have an official nickname. Fearful that the school’s teams might become struck with some sort of horrid derivative title like “Junior Aggies,” Coach and Athletic Director William J. Wisdom offered a five dollar prize to the person who could come up with the best original nickname for Tarleton’s teams. However, the contest was cut short when wisdom came up with a nickname of his own. In an oft-repeated story, Wisdom was walking across campus one day when he suddenly hit on the name “Plowboys.” Since the name was certainly distinctive and accurately reflected the rural backgrounds of the majority of Tarleton students at the time, Wisdom declared that the contest was over and kept the five dollars for himself.

Wisdom’s nickname of “Plowboys” served Tarleton’s teams well for thirty-six years, from 1925 to 1961. However, Tarleton’s elevation to a four-year senior institution in 1961 prompted many “students, faculty, and leading dignitaries” to argue that “the name Plowboys is not appropriate for our new role as a liberal arts college.” As a result the Tarleton Student Council voted unanimously on October 2, 1961 to “present the student body with an opportunity to change the name Plowboys if they so desire.” The council accordingly organized a campus referendum for October 4th. When they arrived at the ballot box (at the old Recreation Hall), students could either select and deposit a “yes” ballot (indicating they favored a name change) or a “no” ballot. If they favored a name change, students were also invited to write their suggestions for a new name on their “yes” ballot. Five hundred and eighty one students participated in the referendum and the results were overwhelming: 403 “yes” votes to only 178 “no” votes. Only a small portion of those who cast “yes” votes made specific recommendations for a new name. But of those who did respond, “Texans” headed the list of potential replacement names. Other suggestions included Trojans, Chargers, Knights, Cowboys, and Tornadoes. The Student Council then organized another election for the following week (October 11), drew up a ballot which listed all the name suggestions, and instructed student voters to circle the one they liked the best before casting their ballot. The Council also ruled that a name had to have an absolute majority of the votes cast in order to be adopted. Most observers figured that this rule would require several run-off contests before an undisputed winner emerged.

The results must have surprised them. Out of 660 votes cast, the name “Texan” received a first-ballot absolute majority of 332 votes. “Cowboys” came in a distant second with 150 votes and the four other names only collected 178 votes together (why so many people felt that “Cowboys” represented “our new role as a liberal arts college” better than “Plowboys” must always remain a mystery). Although a bit bland and unoriginal, and certainly lacking the distinctive character of “Plowboys,” the winning nickname of “Tarleton Texans” did have a certain alliterative quality and proved to be easily adaptable to the introduction of women’s interscholastic athletics in 1968. Although some argued that the name “Texans” could easily be used to describe female teams without any kind of modification, college officials nonetheless selected the feminized version of “TexAnns” as their nickname. The alternative, they argued, was to have Tarleton’s female teams called the “Lady Texans” in local newspaper headlines. The nicknames “Texans” and “TexAnns” remain the official nicknames of Tarleton athletic teams today. But the name “Plowboys” has not completely disappeared. A male spirit organization founded in 1983 adopted the old name as their title and thereby saved “Plowboys” from complete oblivion.

Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999. pp. 293-294.