Traditions and History

Tarleton State University, more than 120 years old, boasts an incredibly rich history and tradition. From its 1899 opening, Tarleton has focused on creating memories for students that will transcend time and establish permanent bonds and relationships.

A favorite tradition is Purple Thursday, when students, faculty and staff sport their purple Tarleton gear.

Read the Purple Book to learn about all of Tarleton’s vaunted traditions, including the bonfire and the infamous Purple Poo.

You can also check out our interactive historical timeline – learn the full story of how a gift from a local rancher evolved into today’s university, how Tarleton became the first university to become part of The Texas A&M University System in 1917, and so much more.

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Texans Know How.

Important Figures

john tarleton painting

John Tarleton

A New Englander, John Tarleton began his journey at a young age, working in many different areas and eventually moving to Tennessee. He invested his salary in government certificates to acquire 10,000 acres of land in Erath and Palo Pinto counties, becoming a rancher. In his will, Tarleton donated $85,000 to support a college that has transformed into Tarleton State University.

Read more about Tarleton’s founder!

Oscar P

Oscar P

Legend has it that John Tarleton had a pet duck named Oscar P who went everywhere with him. The two were so close that Oscar P is said to be buried with Tarleton. You can see Oscar on the larger than life Tarleton sculpture on campus. At various student activities, the Purple Poo rally Tarleton students by raising the spirit of Oscar P.

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Purple Poo

The Purple Poo is the oldest spirit organization in the state of Texas, evolving from the early 1920s Ten Tarleton Pepper and Ten Tarleton Sisters spirit organizations. The Poo, whose members are secret, attend many student activities on campus, masked and dressed in costumes, with the mission to promote the spirit of Tarleton.

Learn more about the Purple Poo!

Spirit Gesture

Tarleton Texans show their spirit by raising their hand folded in the shape of Texas. The shape is created by extending the thumb out, the pointer and middle fingers upward while folding the ring and pinky fingers inward to point at where Stephenville would be located on a map of Texas. This gesture is referred to as the “States Up” and came into common practice around 2010.

The Texan Rider

Although Tarleton’s athletic history dates to 1904, no nickname for its athletic teams came until 1917 when the college joined The Texas A&M University System and were known as the “Junior Aggies.” In 1925 legendary coach and athletic director W.J. Wisdom offered the attractive figure of $5 to any student who could come up with a sports moniker that he liked. The story has it that one day while walking across campus, Wisdom thought of “Plowboys” (many of Tarleton’s athletes then were agricultural students with rural and farming backgrounds). Wisdom liked the name so much he kept the money.

In 1961, college officials sponsored a contest for a new athletic nickname to reflect Tarleton’s new status as a four-year college. Top three vote-getters were “Texans,” “Rockets” and “Packrats.” “Texans” was chosen. All the men’s athletic teams were referred to as the “Texans”, and the women’s teams slowly became known as the “TexAnns.” Last year, the students agreed to refer to all teams as “Texans.” The Texan Rider emerged in the 1970s as the university mascot.

Annual Events

Defenders of the Bonfire

On November 29, 1939, North Texas Agriculture College rivals flew over the Tarleton campus and attempted to bomb our bonfire while also raiding our land by truck. Tarleton students threw objects at the plane, which then crash landed. The NTAC students were captured, given a block-T haircut and sent on their way. The annual homecoming bonfire bears the name of the hero of that defense, L.V. Risinger, who died in 1994.




Purple Book

Read the Purple Book to learn about all of Tarleton’s traditions, including the bonfire and the infamous Purple Poo.