Origin of SHSU’s mascot: Sammy the Bearkat

At Sam Houston State University, we call each other Bearkats. How many students know the reason why though? The origin of the Bearkat is an important and rich chapter of our university’s history.

In 1923, when our university was named Sam Houston Normal Institute and students carried the mantle, “The Normals,” a name change occurred. Our home away from home was called Sam Houston State Teachers College. Meanwhile, the athletics department originated the nickname the “Bearkats.”

“It was a good fighting name of the time,” Reed Lindsey, a student-athlete at the time, said.

In addition to the Bearkat name was the slogan, “Tough as a Bearkat.” The motto was developed in the athletics department, which referenced the toughest attributes of both wild cats and bears. However, some people still believed that it was a reference to an actual animal. There were also discrepancies with the spelling of the word “cat,” people used a ‘c’ or a ‘k.’ Eventually, the spelling was established that the word would be spelled with a “’k’—this allowed the cat/bear hybrid not to be associated with a real animal.

In the late 1940’s, SHSU President Dr. Harmon Lowman tried to change the mascot to the Raven. He wanted a closer connection to Gen. Sam Houston, who was nicknamed “the Raven” among the Cherokee. However, the alumni became attached to the Bearkat name, so the Raven was dismissed.

Despite clearing up the confusion of what a Bearkat was, during the 1950’s through the 1970’s, the university decided to keep an actual bearcat on campus and allow students to care for it. However, the animal that was housed at Sam Houston was a kinkajou, a small mammal from South America that resides in the raccoon family, sometimes referred to as a bearcat or honey bear. Eventually, the kinkajou was released due to its trouble with adapting to life in captivity.

In 1959, Sammy the Bearkat was born. Sammy’s original design had him sporting a papier-mâché head wearing a sailor’s hat. The original designers of Sammy worked in a group effort that included Assistant Dean of Women Dorothy Meek, art instructor Mabel Taylor and many art students and cheerleaders.

The first Sammy the Bearkat was Gilbert McEachern, a student at the time, who volunteered to wear the mascot outfit, although the outfit was made for the cheerleaders.

“[The Art Department] asked if there was anyone to do it, so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it,’” McEachern said.

Since that day, Sammy the Bearkat has been the official mascot and will be celebrating his 60 birthday this year.

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