The Kidnapping of Sammy, 1917

In yesterday’s comments section, someone asked about the story of the dastardly kidnapping of Sammy by some sorry A&M cadets after a basketball game in 1917 and his subsequent rescue by a group of Rice students. By today’s standards this is an utterly incredible story, the kind of thing that now gives rise to visions of lawsuits and serious jail time. This is the basic narrative as reported at the time by the Thresher:

Sammy Thresher story 2

I seem to have had problems scanning the second page, but you can see it here. It’s completely crazy. Completely.

Happily enough, a good deal of material surrounding this episode has survived and is scattered across several collections. Here is a galling photo from the A&M archives of Sammy decked out as a cadet. I believe the entire A&M senior administration is here, gloating:

Sammy at A&M 1917

But all was not lost. Here’s a photograph I found during all the digging I did in the gym before it was renovated—Rice students enjoying their quasi-victory. Note that they hired a professional photographer to take the picture:


Just by the way, the young man second from the right in the bottom row is Jimmy Waters, discussed here and here. (Go look. It’s good.)

And finally, a young coed’s heart rending poem titled “The Martyr Sammy:”

Sammy Poem 1917



Bonus: I can’t resist one more. This comes, of all places, from the papers of Rice’s first professor of Biology, Julian Huxley. Huxley was already in Europe, serving England in World War I when he received from Rice math professor Griffith Evans a handwritten copy of the Thresher story above. It was copied word for word from the Thresher’s account of the incident, in five examination booklets (they weren’t blue yet, by the way, but white). I don’t know why he did this instead of just clipping out a copy—it’s just lost to history, I guess. Here’s the first page of this very long document:

Sammy story GCE to JSH 1917

But what makes me include it here (and what makes me laugh) comes at the very end of the last page. Evans, writing to the ornithologist Huxley, adds a note of his own:

Sammy story 2

“You will probably see that the sex of the bird changes during the reading.” I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.



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8 Responses to The Kidnapping of Sammy, 1917

  1. mjthannisch says:

    I am glad I got you stirred up, some great stuff there.

  2. Gloria Tarpley '81 says:

    Just loved this post — thanks, Melissa!

  3. C Kelly says:

    I think we can all agree that this is an early instance of “Rice Fight Never Dies!” And the fact that Julian Huxley is involved is fantastic.

  4. Robert Flatt says:

    Melissa –
    I assume you know that this event was researched by Tsz Wong for her senior thesis in Dr. Boles’ History Seminar (HIST 446 I think) – “Rice Through the Birds Eye: The Adoption and Development of the Athenian Owl as a Collegiate Mascot” – December 2010. This paper was used for the historic background to my recently published book – “Rice’s Owls” – which includes this story about the theft of the mascot in 1917.

  5. Charles Maynard says:

    Note the inscription on the photo of the rescuers: “The Party that invaded A&M of Texas…” As a Rice and UT alum, I consider that a fitting riposte to Aggies who delight in referring to UT as TU.

  6. almadenmike says:

    Here is a link to the Feb. 15, 1917, issue of the Thresher that contains “The Men Who Went After The Owl” photo and story (on pages 1 & 5 — The photo caption is: Left to Right—Top row: Vernor, Clark. Middle Row: B. Moore. Bright. Carr. Fulweiler, J. Parker. Bottom Row: Dain, Payne, Waters, Drummond.

    While this story gives the detective’s name as “Snowball”, a retelling in the Nov. 13, 1953, Thresher (p. 6, “Condensed from the Rice Engineer” — ( gives his name as “Sam Snow.”

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