Sam Houston State University has had various mascots over its existence, but none rallied a school and won its heart quite like Tripod.
Sure, some of us have heard of this ancient unofficial mascot, but most of us on campus were not even born before this dog died nearly 50 years ago.
Sam Houston State University President Dr. Jim Gaertner remembers Tripod as “probably the best cared for ‘mammal’ in East Texas.”
This un-officially “official” Sam Houston mascot arrived on the Sam Houston State Teachers College campus with a bit of swagger, sometime in 1948; at the time he was estimated to be about 7 years old. Tripod’s name implies that he only had three legs, but that isn’t true. Tripod had all four – the left, front paw was injured before his arrival at SHSU.
“He acted like he was important, never seeming at all impressed by those around him,” said Gaertner. Tripod’s breed is was unknown, but the president of Sam Houston during Tripod’s years on campus, Dr. Harmon Lowman, once explained Tripod’s undocumented heritage. “Tripod was an all ‘plain dog,’ Lowman . “His ancestor’s were probably mongrels, too, but they were no scrubs. It was simply good dog blood that flowed through his veins.”
Tripod lived a very luxurious life for a dog, or human. Food was always left out. When he was sick he was cared for, and he was allowed to go wherever he pleased. “I was a student during Tripod’s ‘reign’ as king of the campus,” Gaertner said. “He would appear at our fraternity house door, at any hour, and be treated royally as long as he chose to stay.”
In 1959, a student by the name of C.M. Hooper described Tripod in slightly less regal terms: “He is fat, lazy, and takes his shade where he finds it, but he is our mascot, and we love him.”
There was never a door closed or a food bowl empty on campus, and it appeared that everyone on campus, be they of two-legged of four-legged variety, loved Tripod.
“The three-legged Don Juan of College Hill” is how Dan Rather, “The Houstonian” editor in 1953, described Tripod’s reputation in one newspaper account.
No one was a bigger Tripod fan than Lowman.
Once at a university football game Tripod wandered onto Pritchett Field. The crowd laughed as the referee tried to shoo Tripod away. Then, when the referee gave up on verbal threats and kicked Tripod off the field, the laughs suddenly turned to threatening screams, prompting a near-riot.
Lowman abandoned his seat to confront the referee.
“You can kick mebut you had better not kick that dog!” he implored.
Early on the morning of Jan. 9, 1962, Tripod was found whining and sick. Someone took to the nearby Sigma Chi house for food and treatment. Later that day the beloved mascot died.
Three days later the campus said good-bye to Tripod with a funeral worthy of a king. The Bearkat band played Tripod’s March, ROTC fired a three gun salute, and Lowman delivered a heartfelt eulogy. Fourteen years on campus may rival the slackest of students, but no one was ready to see Tripod “graduate.”
Today Tripod rests just a few feet below where “his” Old Main once stood. A headstone was placed at the site of his burial in remembrance of one of Sam Houston State’s biggest three-legged supporters. The headstone reads, “Tripod: 1941-1962, Beloved Mascot, Loyal Supporter, Friend of Students.” Lowman, in his eulogy, probably best captured the campus’ feeling for Tripod: “Yesterday a student asked me if the college would adopt another dog to take Tripod’s place.
I replied that there would never be another Tripod.”