graduates of the long-extinct Savoy Male and Female College gathered for their
first reunion in 1938, several of the men did a little reminescing about the Indians
fights they had back in the day.|
But the engagements they survived did
not involve firearms or bows and arrows – they had been plain old fist fights.
Nor had the bare-knucle combat happened during the days of the Wild West, but
at a time most people would assume to have been fairly civilized, the mid-to-late
Robert B. Halsell established the college 10 miles west of Bonham
in Fannin County in 1876. At the time, hostile Indians continued to constitute
a threat in West Texas, but by then
longer-settled Northeast Texas enjoyed relative tranquilty. Still, Indians trouble
periodically broke out at the college, where about half of the 350 students came
from reservations in Oklahoma, then still Indian Territory.
boys didn’t like for us to go with the Indian girls,” Savoy graduate and reunion
banquet master of ceremonies Gus W. Thomasson recalled more than a half-century
later. “Those Indian girls were very pretty and we dated them every time we could.
And every time we dated we had to fight as soon as we got back.”
the students fought fair and used only fists. Even so, Thomasson remembered, “We
had some mighty good scrapes.”
Maybe that’s why the college’s 1887-88
catalog had a rule barring Savoy students from carrying pistols.
than when difficulties arose over girls, Thomasson said, the Indians made “amiable
and congenial schoolmates.”
administrative field officer for the Works Progress Administration in Dallas,
Thomasson played a key role in securing funding for construction of a gymnasium
for Savoy’s public school. Named in honor of the college founder, the $16,000
structure was built of native stone. The old bell that once marked academic time
at the college hung in the new gym.
Guided by another Dallas
resident and Savoy graduate, attorney E.A. McMahon, the college’s ex-students
used the Aug. 7, 1938 dedication of the new gym as the centerpiece of their first
reunion. One hundred twenty-five former students, mainly from Texas,
Oklahoma and Arkansas gathered, as the Savoy Star later reported, “to pay tribute
to the founder of their alma mater, to revive old memories and draw tighter the
band of love that has bound them together through the years.”
started on Aug. 6 with speeches, reminescing, a 75-cent-a-plate banquet catered
by the Grayson Hotel in Sherman,
and more speeches. Just as they had done decades before as young college students,
the alums competed in a spelling bee using an old blue-back speller and finally
enjoyed a levee.
The levee had been a big part of campus social life,
since the non-denominational college prohibited dancing. In fact, despite Thomasson’s
fond memories of socializing with Indian girls, college rules barred any male-female
interaction except officially sanctioned activities with chaperones.
the catalog put it: “The male and female departments will be kept separate, except
in recitations, and in no case shall pupils of one department be permitted to
associate with those of another.”
So at levees, in lieu of dancing, students
walked around a hall in pairs as music played and stern-faced college faculty
members monitored the proceedings. Nearly a half century after their graduation,
the gray-headed alums did it again minus the chaperones. Of course, some of them
had to use their canes.
Some attending the reunion were Choctaw Indians
from Oklahoma. But if any of them still carried a grudge over their Anglo classmates
having dated Indians, it went unreported.
One of the Choctaws, indentified
only as “Mr. Gardner,” gave a speech likening college founder Halsell to “a modern
Moses who led many of their tribe out of the slavery of illiteracy into educational
freedom.” Another Choctaw, J.E. Culberson, repeated the talk in his native language.
to the old catalog, college tuition ranged from $4 to $5 a month, even less for
the college’s secondary students. Students who couldn’t afford to live in town
for $10 a month could stay in residence halls at the college for $3 a month.
However, Professor Halsell does not seem to have been motivated only by money.
“No one, worthy or unworthy, was turned from its doors,” former student Mrs. J.B.
May remembered. “The entrance fee was an ambition for an education and a willingness
The college burned in 1890, never to be rebuilt.
burned at the peak of its success and glory,” former student J.B. Maxey said at
the 1946 reunion, “… at a time when that type of college [private] was bound to
wane, as a new era was being ushered in when schools were supported by the state
But the Savoy Male and Female College lived on for years
in the memory of those who clearly got a solid education there. The reunions continued
until 1962, when the last four surviving Savoy students gathered one final time.
© Mike Cox
- January 11,
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