In late summer 1919, Nacogdoches’ sports fans turned their attention toward college football, but with SFA still years away from their first drive from scrimmage, most fans here rooted for the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas Fighting Farmers.
The Farmers — renamed the Aggies in the 1940 — were one of the most dominant teams of era under coach Dana X. Bible. In 1919, the squad of T-Men — so called for the large letter T on their uniforms — featured two Nacogdoches residents on the offensive line. R.C. Davis played tackle and George Millard was a guard, the Austin American-Statesman reported Aug. 31, 1919.
“Our August team is the best we have had in five years, and it should get better every day until the end of the season,” W.L. Driver, athletic director for the university that is now Texas A&M told the newspaper.
Driver’s statement was bold in the “rah-rah” sort of way most coaches and athletic directors speak before a season. But Driver’s assessment wasn’t hyperbole.
The 1919 Farmers ended the season 10-0, outscoring opponents 275-0 in one of the greatest college football performances of the early half of the 20th century. National championships weren’t truly honored in those days, but decades later the Farmers would be recognized as the top team form ’19.
The 1919 season was a huge rebound for the program. The previous outing had been more or less a wash. The Farmers finished third in the Southwest Conference behind Texas and Oklahoma with a record of 1-1 in conference. They fell 7-0 to rival Texas for their only loss of the season. But most starters from both teams had left school for military service in World War I.
A&M’s schedule in 1918 consisted mostly of games against teams made up of military opponents from places with names like Ream Field, Camp Mabry and Camp Travis Remount.
The war still hung heavy over the 1919 season.
“All men who left school to enter the service are eligible to participate in athletics this fall, also freshmen will be permitted to play their first year,” Bible wrote in a letter sent to football players dated Aug, 20, 1919. “Let me have a letter at once stating you will report Sept. 15th, ready to fight for victory, fair and square, hard but clean.”
The motto for the 1919 season, Bible noted in the letter, would be “They Shall Not Pass” — a rallying cry from the Great War’s horrific Battle of Verdun.
Bible himself had enlisted for the war, serving as a pilot during a year away from A&M.
To a modern spectator, a 1919 college football game would be almost unrecognizable. Players were not required to wear helmets, and those who did wore leather caps without face masks. Players wore pads, but they weren’t as bulky or protective as today’s gear.
The game itself relied heavily on running plays. The first legal forward pass had been made just 13 years before by St. Louis University’s Bradbury Robinson. The ball players used was quite different than the modern football. It resembled a rugby ball — short and stout — rather than the standardized elongated ball used today.
Of course, the seasons hadn’t shifted enough that the baseball diamonds around East Texas were empty yet.
Barnstorming teams of black players presented from playing alongside whites were all the rage in the African American community.
In early August, the Nacogdoches Heavy Weights traveled back to Rusk to take on Kennedy’s Black Cats., losing 6-3, the Dallas Express reported.
Two players identified only as Williams and White switched teams and played for the Black Cats in a game later in month against Jacksonville.
The Aug. 23 Dallas Express said of that match: “The game did not start until 7:30 p.m. The game was not very interesting. Only six of the Cats played … Darkness ended the game on the sixth inning.”
Revival wraps up
A massive revival by famed circuit preacher Charles Reign Scoville finally wound down on Sunday, Aug. 3. Scoville headed next to McKinney. The Rev. Tolbert F. Weaver of Nacogdoches wrote this account of the revival which was published in the Courier-Gazette on Aug. 23.
“No one can appreciate the marvelously results obtained in this meeting except those who were familiar with the conditions here. In the first place, there had never before being a united effort to save this town from sin. Too much prejudice and indifference existed even to have a pastors association or an inter-church council. Never have I see in a place this size as many unaffiliated ‘ex-church members,’ ‘has beens’ and “wouldn’t-be’ supporters.
“The last night of the meeting was one of the greatest services I’ve ever attended — 102 came forward. There were a total number of 1,344 people who came forward in the meeting for a closer walk with God. Of those who had never confessed Christ, there were probably 600 who responded to this call. Dr. Scoville’s influence here will be wafted down the years.”
Scoville and his ministry team received an offering of an offering of $4,200 in Nacogdoches, according to The Houston Post. That’s about $60,800 in 2019.
A fatal accident
On Aug. 8, 1919, the Associated Press reported a tragedy along the railroad tracks in Nacogdoches.
“Sam Braley, 22 years old, a brakeman on the Texas & New Orleans railroad was killed by the train he was attached to here last night. His body was taken to his home in Jacksonville,” AP reported.
Braley was younger than the news reports said. Sam Houston Braley was born Feb. 1, 1900, in Jacksonville. The image on his tombstone shows Braley wearing the outfit of a World War I serviceman. In the photo, he looks more like 14 or 15 than 19.