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.
Texans Know How.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Duck Camp helps incoming students learn about campus activities, organizations and Tarleton’s rich traditions. It’s a bonding experience helping new Tarleton Texans start their college days off with excitement and enthusiasm. Texans Know How!
The first week of school each fall is Howdy Week – a friendly and fun kick-off for the year! Student organizations and university departments welcome new and returning students with super fun events, free food, and giveaways.
Launching of the Ducks, Midnight Breakfast, Silver Bugle Hunt and so many more events bring current students together and welcome Alumni back to campus.
During convocation, the start of Howdy Week, incoming students are officially welcomed to the Tarleton family. Each student lights a candle whose flame will burn until their life is finished, and their Tarleton brothers and sisters extinguish their flame at the Silver Taps Ceremony.
The Founder’s Day Celebration, which originated in 1902, was a tribute to John Tarleton celebrated each November to coincide with Tarleton’s birthday. Today the Student Government Association coordinates Founder’s Day activities in April. Events include the Silver Taps Ceremony and May Féte.
The Silver Taps ceremony is a somber event that honors the faculty, staff, students, and alumni, who died during the previous year, it has been held for many years in conjunction with Founder's Week activities.
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.
True Tarleton Texans honor the campus by not walking on the grass. This long-standing tradition is one reason the Tarleton campus has retained its beauty for more than 100 years. In addition, Texans refrain from walking on the Texan Rider mosaic in front of the Tarleton Center and the university seal in front of the Thompson Student Center.
The number of trees on campus matches the number of counties in Texas. Each tree has a small silver tag on it. Every year campus trees are damaged or lost due to natural causes. Tarleton’s tree renewal efforts provide for planting new trees annually to replace those that have been removed.
The story of the red brick used in many iconic Tarleton buildings began early in the 20th century. Coaxed by Tarleton benefactress Pearl Wiley Cage, brick plant owner Edgar Marston donated material in 1902 to build the campus’ first red brick building. Marston and other business owners later provided funds to make Tarleton part of The Texas A&M University System. Today, much of campus boasts an actual Acme Brick color, Tarleton Blend.
Alumni Island features the statue of our founding father, John Tarleton and his pet duck Oscar P. This statue is 10 feet tall and is a symbol of history, tradition, and far-reaching vision. University events are held in this area and it is also used by students to meet and socialize between classes.
Read the Purple Book to learn about all of Tarleton’s traditions, including the bonfire and the infamous Purple Poo.