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Williamson County TX
Williamson County

Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Hutto Hippo

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
The hippopotamus is a large, aggressive herbivore indigenous to equatorial Africa. Oh, and Hutto, Texas.

Of course, the sub-species Lone Star hippo exists only as the mascot for Hutto High School. In recent years, as Hutto's proximity to Austin has caused it to boom, Hippos have been showing up painted on walls or in statuary form as public art. So, other than the happy alliteration, both Hutto and hippo beginning with an "h" and each containing four other letters, how did Hutto and hippo become connected?

Former Hutto mayor and retired state worker Mike Fowler, in a brief article posted on the Williamson County Historical Commission's web site, says Hutto's identification with hippos dates to 1915. That year, legend holds, when a circus train stopped at the International & Great Northern depot in Hutto, the troupe's animal keepers tended to their various exotic creatures. They needed to be fed and watered.

Somehow, the story continues, a hippo escaped. Being a riverine creature by nature, the 2,000 to 3,000 pound, big-bellied, short-legged animal headed for the nearest body of water, which was Cottonwood Creek. To the delight of local residents, from school kids to farmers to merchants, circus personnel had quite a time getting the wayward hippo out of the muddy water and back on the train. The show had to go on and so did the hippo.

While the large African mammal remained at large, the Hutto depot agent is said to have wired the nearby depots at Round Rock and Taylor an urgent message on the order of: "Stop Trains. Hippo Loose In Hutto."

If all that happened, it didn't make much of a splash in the newspapers. A check of a large digitized newspaper web site reveals only two instances where the word "hippopotamus" appeared in Texas newspapers in 1915. Neither mentions anything about an escaped hippo causing a sensation in and around Hutto. (To be fair, the website does not contain the back issues of every Texas newspaper.)

On April 10 that year, the El Paso Herald carried a long page-one story on the Belgium Congo (then an African colony a fourth the size of all Europe). Well into the article, the author noted that the "list of native animals includes elephants, the hippopotamus, buffalo, antelope, chimpanzee, rhinoceros and crocodile."

The second hippoppearance came in the June 12, 1915 edition of the Houston Post. That Sunday's issue of the Bayou City newspaper featured a line drawing of a wide-mouthed hippo, beneath which appeared a poem by some anonymous rhymer:
"This is the hippopotamus.
His name is much too long for us.
He has a big ungainly frame
About as awkward as his name.
He would not win a prize, I know
At any sort of beauty show.
In fact his virtues are so few
I cannot mention one to you."
Well, not so in Hutto, where hippo and Hutto practically have become synonyms. Exactly when that happened apparently went unrecorded, but at some point not too long after the purported hippo incident, the Hutto school decided the hippopotamus would make a fine mascot. By 1923, Fowler notes in his article, an image of a hippo was printed on the graduation announcements.

Naturally, some theorists who all loyal Hutto residents doubtless view as hippo-crites have advanced other stories about the town's toothy, big mouthed icon. Both of the "alternative fact" stories are based on football, which has been a huge part of Hutto's culture well before its school could field more than a six-man team.

One of the stories has the coach of a visiting team declaring the stout Hutto players of Swedish or German descent were "big as hippos." The other story, which seems much less likely, is that the Hutto team could not afford fancy jerseys so instead used feed sacks for their uniforms. Again, the coach of a team in town to face the Hutton six is said to have declared that they looked like hippos in their makeshift jerseys.

However Hutto and hippo became linked, as Fowler writes, Hutto is "the only school district and the only community in the United States to have the hippo as its primary identifier."

Doubtless with all due apology to George and Ira Gershwin and their famous "You say tomato, I say tomhato..." song line, the Hutto cheerleaders regularly rally the crowd at Hutto High sporting events with this cheer: "You say Hutto, we say hippo."


© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" April 6, 2017 column

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