If you venture into downtown Lufkin you may see a mural depicting a turn of the century music troupe. If you then walk over and look at the Texas State Historical Marker near the wall painting you will read the story about the band, a famous group of musicians known as the “Lufkin Hoo-Hoo Band,” a funny name for a group that brought quite a bit of notoriety to the East Texas Piney Woods city.
What in the world is a hoo hoo you may ask? That is also a good story. Five men who worked in the lumber industry found themselves waiting on a slow coming train in Gurdon, Arkansas in 1892. Bored, they did what many men with a lot of time and little to do often engage in: they retired to the local hotel bar and had a few “adult beverages.” Duly lubricated, Bolling Arthur Johnson, a reporter for the Timberman, a trade magazine, and George K. Smith, a secretary for the Southern Lumber Manufacturers, along with three mill managers, George Washington Swartz, William Starr Mitchell, and Eddy Barns began to discuss and debate the idea of forming a “lumberman’s fraternal organization” that would “promote and protect the business interests of the timber industry.” When Ludolph O.E.A Strauss, who managed the Malvern Lumber Company in Gurdon joined them, the men began to sketch out the outlines of their proposed group, which they dubbed the Ancient Order of Camp Followers, a name which certainly suggests that the men found their task somewhat amusing. To add to their bemused air, Johnson informed the group that he had earlier coined a word, “hoo-hoo,” which he used to describe something unusual. Since they thought their proposed fraternity was certainly unique, the name they eventually gave for their order was International Concatenated (which Johnson called a “hoo-hoo word for united) Order of Hoo-Hoo. Their group struck a chord, and although they initially decreed that there would never be more than 9,999 Hoo-Hoos in the world, at its height the fraternity claimed more than 100,000 members.
Since Lufkin lies in the center of the Texas timber industry, one would think that a Hoo-Hoo chapter would be the genesis of the Lufkin Band name, but in true Hoo-Hoo fashion, that was not the case. A tradition in many towns of the late 19th century was to have a “town band,” usually a marching or brass band that played at community events, parades, or often at evening concerts. Lufkin had such a band in the 1890s. It was sponsored by the Lufkin Weekly Tribune and played downtown at the city’s Cotton Square. The Tribune Band, as they were known, was mostly a “ragtime” band, a style of music popular at the time. Johnny Bonner, a Lufkinite living in Houston, had grown up listening to the town band, and he remembered their quality. Bonner had also become a member of the Order of the Hoo-Hoo. So, he contacted band members Tom Humason and C.M. “Kit” McConnico, and invited the Tribune Band to come to the National Hoo-Hoo Convention in Milwaukee.
They were the hit of the convention, were named the “official band of the Hoo-Hoos,” and gained a national following. From that point forward everywhere they traveled they were billed as the “Famous Hoo-Hoo Band of Lufkin, Texas.” They traveled and played at various Hoo-Hoo gatherings, Elks Club meetings, and were even the only Texas band to be invited to play at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. The band members received no pay for their performances, but as their fame grew local firms and businesses—especially the Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company (Lufkin Industries) and the Angelina County Lumber Company—supported the band by hiring talented musicians in the area whose sole job was to perform in the band. The band even composed their own “theme song,” the “Hoo-Hoo March,” which they played as the opening number of every concert, and it also became the official song of the Order of the Hoo-Hoos. The city, through business donations, built the band a rehearsal hall on Cotton Square, and eventually the Lufkin Opera House, which not only became the home of the Hoo-Hoo Band, but also attracted other acts and attractions to the East Texas city.
The heyday of the Hoo-Hoo Band ended with World War I. City Marshall “Kit” McConnico was the unofficial leader of the Lufkin troupe, and when World War I began he recruited a company of soldiers—many of them Hoo-Hoos — to join the fighting. McConnico would not get to Europe as he died before they could leave, but the Hoo-Hoos had to take a hiatus. When they returned, things were just not the same.
The world — and East Texas — had changed, and town bands became scarce. High School bands became the new focus. The Lufkin Opera House burned in the 1920s, and while the Hoo-Hoo band played on for a few more years, by the time the Depression began the famous band with a funny name was no more.
East Texas Historical Association provides this column. Scott Sosebee is executive director,email@example.com.