Arkansas Football Manifesto: Why We Are Razorbacks

Sharp TuskContributor IISeptember 2, 2011

1967-2000 Arkansas Razorbacks Logo
1967-2000 Arkansas Razorbacks Logo

Unique mascots aren’t the same as special mascots. Before the Sugar Bowl, we heard explanations of buckeyes and politely seemed interested when all we really wanted to ask was, “What were they thinking when they named their mascot after nuts and trees?”

Not even a directional Cajun school surrounded by tasty orchards chose “Pecans” as their mascots. “Kudzu”  would be more dynamic than buckeyes.

Closer to home, as our friends and family at Arkansas State University chose a new mascot, they sought to embody their locality and exhibit the spirit that exemplified ASU, its students and alumni.

Followers of the process understood the ASU community’s sense of pride and identity as they chose the Red Wolves mascot. Undoubtedly unique, the Red Wolves are special and avoid the mundane. It was a job well-done.

With certainty, our great grandfathers and great, great grandfathers considered their purpose no differently at Arkansans than ASU when they chose the Razorbacks as the University of Arkansas’ endearingly unique mascot some 100 years ago. They wanted to embody the spirit of the place and Arkansans' tenacity in one representative. But to understand their reasoning is not so simple.

Razorbacks are not here, not even in the deep woods for us to see. While we may understand something of them by observing today’s feral hogs, the razorbacks’ natural behavior is only one part of what compelled Arkansans to embrace them as the University of Arkansas’ official mascot.

People's perceptions of the razorbacks cemented the relationship.

Arkansas State Red Wolves Logo
Arkansas State Red Wolves Logo

Stories from the late 1800s and early 1900s detail the razorbacks’ character, albeit with a smidgen of exaggeration. However, as they describe the razorbacks’ never-say-die spirit and their pound-for-pound grit, the stories tell us about the connection forged between Arkansans and the razorback hogs who roamed the area.  

To understand the connection between the people and the razorback hogs is to understand the connection which the University of Arkansas Razorback memorializes. It is to understand why the University of Arkansas’ mascot is the Razorback.

The stories which follows tended to circulate from paper to paper for periods as long as years from first publication, so they became ingrained in local and national lore. It is only appropriate to start with a description of:


 It Can Outrun a Greyhound and Whip a Wolf or a Bear.

An esteemed contemporary gave space to the following communication from a subscriber on “The American Hog.”

“Arkansas has a greater variety of hogs and less pork and lard than any state in the Union. An average hog in Arkansas weighs about 14 pounds dressed with its head on and about six pounds and a half with its head off. It can outrun a greyhound, jump a rail fence, climb like a parrot and live on grass roots and rabbit tracks.   

It hasn’t much tail or bristle but plenty of gall. It will lick a wolf or a bear in a fair fight. It is called razor-back because it is shaped like a sunfish. In hunting a razorback, it is always shot at sideways, for there is not a ghost of a show to hit it otherwise, any more than to shoot at a split shingle. It can drink milk out of a quart jar on account of its long, thin head.  

This type of razorback is known as the stone hog because its head is so heavy and its nose so long that it balances up behind. The owner of this type of hogs usually ties a stone to its tail to keep it from overbalancing and breaking its neck while running.  If the stone is too heavy, it will pull the skin over its eyes, and it will go blind.”

The Pittsburgh Press, March 10, 1907, p. 15

[The story above circulated for some time. Not needing multiple accounts of the same story, I skipped over duplicates, but I recall one attributing original publication to “The Arkansan” newspaper.]

That was not the only story which told of the razorback’s prowess. From the New York Times dated October 28, 1907 came this short account.


Colorado Ranchmen Furnish a Story of a Desperate Fight.

Special to The New York Times.

MANITOU, Col., Oct. 27. – "There is a suspicion that a nature faker has penetrated to the ranch of Grove Brothers, near here, for a strange tale has been brought from that place. It is said that while a huge Arkansas razorback hog battled for its life with a big brown bear yesterday, three unarmed men watched.

The bear, so the story goes, sneaked upon the hog and was surprised when it gave battle. The brutes fought savagely for two hours,  when they fell exhausted. The bear had enough, and after a brief rest crept away, while the hog raised up on its forefeet and glared at it."

Tale of a Hog and a Bear [It might have happened 103 years ago, but it still makes me want to stand up and cheer!]

Those stories added to the lore of razorback hogs which already had a well-known, instigator-type place in history. A disagreement over a couple of razorback hogs ignited the storied feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

“Undoubtedly  the most sensational feud in the history of the country has been that of the McCoys and the Hatfields, an interstate affair involving Kentucky and West Virginia. Like most feuds, it originated in a very trivial dispute, a quarrel between old Randall McCoy and Anse Hatfield, better known as 'Devil Anse,' over the ownership of a pair of razorback hogs that would not have brought $3 in the open market.

The dispute finally got into the courts, and after the trial, a Hatfield witness was mysteriously slain, presumably by one of the McCoy boys. Three of them were arrested, tried and acquitted. War then began at a rate that promised the speedy extermination of both families. From 1882 to 1887, when the two states were aroused to a realization of the situations, killing and burning went on unchecked.” (bold added)

Some of the Famous Vendettas of the Feud States; Carry on an Unending Warfare,The Deseret Evening News, Salt Lake City, Utah, May 30, 1903, p. 10 via Google News Archive.  The whole thing makes it all the more curious that an Arkansas favorite son and former head football coach was named “Hatfield.”

From authors’ points of view, one can appreciate their affinity with razorbacks. But the following story is not from a “news” paper; rather, it's from a publication which leaned toward literary works. Undoubtedly, this story is meant to be read in the voice of Frank Broyles because without a distinct Southern Drawl, the words will not properly respirate a hogs' breath of familiarity.

For those which proceed directly, imagine the firm bellowing words drawn with crusty sincerity from a war veteran’s mouth as he sits dressed in a proper suit, with his shirt buttoned to the top and laced with a ribbon-style, black string tie, tied in a bow, on a shady antebellum porch blanketed in a hot summer’s day.


How He Befriended the Wild Hogs of Arkansaw.

“And there you are, sah—there you are,” said Kurnel Bunker as he wiped off his chin and smoothed down his legs in temporary satisfaction. “Yes, sah, I am the man who stood by the wild hawg of Arkansaw when it was touch and go with him, and it has always been a source of great satisfaction that I pulled him through and gave him his legal rights.”

“It was in the winter of 1888-9, sah,” continued the Colonel as he half-closed his eyes and put his finger tips together. “For a hundred y’ars the razor-back hawg of Arkansaw had been allowed by custom to roam at will. The land was his.  

He was in the swamps and on the highlands, and he had only to look out for b’ars...The ideah that anybody would seek to legally curtail the rights and privileges of the wild hawg would have been laughed at. Arkansaw is a stickler for custom, sah—a stickler for custom—and 50 different Legislatures had come and gone and the hawg had not been referred to. But a foe had risen up at last—a secret, insidious foe.

It was in the person of a Majah Scarbones, elected to the Senate, and he had planned as craftily as a Spaniard. One day, he sprung  his trap. He introduced a bill limiting the perigrinations of the razor-back hawg to a distance of two miles.  Egad, sah, but think of that!  An Arkansaw hawg can’t keep his legs limber unless he travels at least twenty miles a day.  

To confine him to two miles, or even to seven or eight, would bread his heart in a month.  He hasn’t got the wings of an eagle, but he’s so full of patriotism that he can’t be harnessed or harassed by legal technicalities.

The Kurnel paused, and looked around to see if the glass at his elbow had been refilled. It hadn’t, and a sigh escaped him as he went on.

“When that bill was read by its title the Senate was in an uproar. A dozen different Senators at once waited upon Majah Scarbones to ask if he was serious in introducing the bill. He replied that he was, and upon my honah, sah, he was so well prepared with facts and figures that he quickly won most of them over to his side.   

He showed, sah—that insidious Majah Scarbones showed in black and white that there were 1,260,000 hawgs running at large in the State of Arkansaw. Every one was a razor-back hawg—jest bone and skin and bristles, and of no value as a porker. If those 1,260,000 razor-backs were penned up, the State would be the gainer by 175,000,000 pounds of pork and bacon yearly. Figure that at 10 cents a pound, and you can see what kind of an argument he had. In the co’se of a week, he had a majority of both Houses with him.  

Then, sah, I rode up. Then, sah, Kurnel Bunker unfurled his banner and stepped forth as the sole champion of the wild hawg of the soveriegn State of Arkansaw. There were, sah, the Legislature vs. the razor-back, Kurnel Bunker v. the Legislature, with the Kurnel standing alone but determined to die in his tracks.

The Kurnel turned half-way round to stare at his empty glass, and by this time, the hint was too broad to be neglected.  He made a long drink of it, and finally proceeded:

“My first step in the matter was to see Majah Scarbones. The Majah is a gallant man, sah, and a gentleman from head to heel. I invited him to walk in the garden of a friend, and when the trees and bushes hid us from observation, I produced my pistol and said:

“Majah, how far do you reckon it is from here to that white rose-bush?”

“‘Nine paces to an inch,’ says he.”

“‘And would that shortage of three feet make any difference to you under the circumstances?’ ”

“‘Not the slightest. I’m never fastidious as to whether it’s nine or 11 paces.’ "

“The Majah drew his pistol, sah, and walked down to the rose-bush, and I left him to give the word.  We both fired at ‘three.’ The Majah’s bullet tore through my hat, while mine grazed his shoulder and drew blood. The shock caused him to drop his weapon, and as he stopped to recover it, he said:

“‘Kurnel Bunker, would it be an impertinence to ask what it is all about?’ "

“‘Majah Scarbones,’ says I as I went nearer.  ‘You have introduced a bill to limit and confine the wild hawg of Arkansaw. That bill shall never pass except over my dead body. I have been the foe of oppression all my life, sah, and I shall die as I have lived.  

The stars of heaven cannot be controlled by the will of tyrants, and neither can the razorback-hawg. He has always been with us. He is a part and parcel of us. He is a feature on our landscape and an emblem of our boundless freedom, Majah, let us keep on firing.’ "

“But the Majah declined, sah—the Majah declined,” said the Kurnel, as he softly rubbed his hands together. “He had taken a certain stand as a Senator, and as a gentleman of honah, he was bound to maintain it up to a certain point.  

That point was reached when blood had been shed. In five minutes, I showed him the fallacy of his arguments, and he came down from his tree and abandoned his position. There we were, you see—Majah Scarbones v. the razor-backs—Kurnel Bunker vs. Majah Scarbones, with the Kurnel on top.  But I still had Judge Hopewell in the House, to deal with.   

He had become an enthusiast on the hawg-law, and it was a question whether I could bring him to reason or not.  He was terribly put out that the Majah should have deserted him, but it only made him the mo’ determined.  After a few days I called on him at his rooms at the hotel. When we had greeted each other, I said:

“Judge Hopewell, we will not uses pistols on this occasion, as we might damage the furniture.  We both carry Bowie-knives. You are a man of honah, and you know me to be the same. Let each one blindfold himself, and at a signal, we will hunt for each other.’  “

“'Is this about the hawgs?’ he asked as he made ready.”

“It is. While Kurnel Bunker lives and breathes in the State of Arkansaw, no Legislature shall pass a law to deprive the razor-back of his boundless freedom. If you kill me, sah, in this combat to take place, you can push your bill as you will, but while I can raise my voice it shall be in defence of the undefended hawg.’ "

“With that, sah,” said the Kurnel, we proceeded to business. “When we had blindfolded ourselves, we began creeping about, and presently, I made a stroke which pinned the Judge to the wall through his shirt. There was no precedent to go by, but after some talk, we decided that honah must be satisfied. My stroke was meant for his heart, and it was not my fault that it only caught his shirt.  Then we sat down to argue about the bill, and in a quarter of an hour, he had changed from an enthusiast to an opponent.    

How had I brought it about? Why, sah, I simply talked snakes to him. I had it down black and white that the State of Arkansaw was populated, so to speak, by at least 100,000,000 snakes. I was also prepared to prove that those 1,260,000 wild hawgs kept that yearly crop of 100,000,000 snakes down to about 20,000 a year, and that without the hawgs, no man could walk out doahs without being bitten.   

It was all figures—all figures, and to be relied on, and later on, when I put ‘em befo’ the Senate in a speech, I was cheered to the echo and the bill killed as dead as a herring. There it was, sah—the Legislature of Arkansaw vs. the wild hawgs—Kurnel Bunker and the wild hawgs vs. Majah Scarbones and Judge Hopewell, and the Kurnel coming in under the wire a full length ahead. And that was it, sah, and that was the way, sah: and now, if this occasion seems to you to be a propitious one for imbibing another.”

It was so ordered and the Kurnel didn’t even leave a fragment of ice in the glass.

"Kurnel Bunker." Meriden Daily Republican, Meriden, CT, p. 4, September 27, 1898 via Google News Archive.

The love of Arkansans for the Razorbacks cannot be said any better.  Now you know the essence of why we are the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.

Woooooooooo Piiig  Soooooooooiiiiieeee!!  RAZORBACKS!!

SharpTusk is a Featured writer on Hog Database. 

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