In September 1924, Tom Renfro and his former roommate Howell Cobb moved to Austin to enroll in the University of Texas Law School. Both were recent graduates of Howard Payne College in Brownwood, and Renfro had been elected to represent his district for the 1925 state legislative session. Like scores of freshmen before them, they lived in old B-Hall for their first semester. Later, they moved to a private residence in North Austin. Although adequate, the living arrangements were far from ideal, and Renfro began to develop a new idea. He described this vision to Cobb in the following words:
“We’ll establish a club on this campus composed of men whom we believe to be honorable and with whom we would like to associate as friends while in school and after we leave campus.”
Cobb was receptive to this idea, and the two began recruiting friends to be in their club. In a short time, they found six students who they thought would be appropriate for their club. As for living arrangements, they found a location above a dry cleaning shop located just south of the law school. The eight members began to call themselves the Tejas and referred to each other as braves, with the intention of emulating the friendliness of the East Texas Indians. Throughout the spring and summer, they continued to recruit new braves. By the end of September, there was a total of nineteen Tejas braves. Many were fellow law students, but there were also representatives from other colleges.
On September 27, 1925, the braves held their first official meeting at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel. Renfro was elected president, an office he would keep for the first two years. The following year the club was asked to join the Interfraternity Council. The club chose to remain independent from the Greek system, and has remained so ever since.
As the club expanded, it soon outgrew its home above the dry cleaners. By 1927, the Club had moved to a new place of residence on 1907 Nueces. In 1928, the club moved for a third time to a house on 307 West 26th Street. (This is currently the location of the U.T. Communications Building.) This would be the home of the Tejas Club for the next eighteen years.
Between 1928 and 1946, the Tejas Club experienced some of its most prosperous years despite the adversities of the Great Depression and the Second World War. During this period there were at least three Daily Texan editors, four head cheerleaders, four presidents of Alpha Phi Omega, and braves in the Silver Spurs and Friars. As far as student government, the club almost always had one brave involved each year. (At times there were as many as four.) One out of every three Student Association presidents during this period was a Tejas brave. Academically, the Tejas Club was always near the top. In the thirty-two years between 1933 and 1966 when the university monitored GPA of student organizations, the Tejas Club never ranked below sixth place. On eight occasions, the Tejas Club had the highest GPA of any student organization, male or female. This era of incredible academic and political success was not with out its share of hard times.
During the thirties the Tejas Club, along with everyone else, had slipped into the depression. At times the club was so stretched for money that they were forced to borrow from a local bank to pay the rent. Between classes, most of the braves worked at least one job to earn extra cash. The Second World War was also a time of extreme difficulty for the Tejas Club. Many of the braves were drafted and at one time the club only registered nine members. Four braves were killed in action serving their country in WWII. Despite the hardships, four Tejas braves served as Student Association president between 1943 and 1947. The United States and the Tejas Club made it through the war but rough times were still ahead.
With the end of the war, the United States officially came out of a deep depression and the future shone bright. After a short stay at a location on 2303 Red River, the club moved in 1951 to another house at 2205 Rio Grande. In 1953, the club moved out of the Red River and Rio Grande houses and moved to yet another house located on 214 Archway (the old Sigma Nu house.) The constant movement of the club was taking its toll on the organization. In 1952, the alumni of The Tejas Club raised money quickly to help the Club from a financial standpoint. After the fundraising effort, some of the alumni realized that a permanent organization should be created to help the Club deal with potentially unforeseen difficulties. Among those men were J.O. Garrett, Jim Mahon, David Heath, Gray Evans and John Plath Green. Together, they prepared a charter for the Tejas Foundation. On February 16, 1953, that charter was filed by the Secretary of State’s office, successfully creating what has become a strong and sustained alumni association. The purpose of the Tejas Foundation was (and still is) to assist the active membership of the club by:
After the purchase of the house, the Tejas Club regained the status it was so familiar with during the thirties and forties. The club continued to have braves whose academic standings led the university and represented nearly every college on campus. This is a tradition which continues today. Two other important additions were made to the club around this time period. The first was Gwen Holmes Jamison who was the much-loved cook for the Tejas Club for twenty-one years. Not only was she one of the best cooks of any student organization, but for almost every brave she was a friend, confidant, and mother away from home. At her first day on the job in 1949 she cooked dinner for six braves, the next night nine, and the night after that fifteen. News of Gwen soon spread beyond the club and soon she was preparing dinner for sixty-five! It was a rare day during the fifties and sixties when Gwen did not prepare lunch for thirty and dinner for twice that number. The Tejas Club soon found a new friend in Mable Boles who became house mother in September of 1960. Throughout the sixties she remained the “number one friend” of Tejas. In addition to hosting Sunday brunches and weekend parties, Mrs. Boles was always there to give advise or just lend a listening ear. In May of 1970 Mrs. Boles retired from her job as house mother. Five years later the club voted her the fourth honorary brave of Tejas.
Some of the greatest leaders and most notable Tejas Alumni in the club’s history came from this period. In 1955, Harley Clark – Head Cheerleader, Student Body President, and Xinesi – invented the Hook’em Horns hand sign, a Texas tradition still used today by Longhorns around the world. Other notable alumni include Frank Cooksey (Mayor of Austin 1985-88), Rex Tillerson (CEO of Exxon Mobil), Alex Cranberg (UT System Board of Regents Member), Steve Poizner, and Austin Ligon (Former CEO of CarMax).
The history of Tejas would not be complete without mentioning the renovation of the Tejas House. The Tejas Foundation has always been instrumental in keeping the house in a livable condition. However, during the early 1990′s, forty plus years of fast college living had noticeable taken its toll on the teepee. Neglect by the braves left the house in a run down condition that always needed repair. It became clear that the club either had to do some major renovation on the house or buy a new one. There were serious arguments for both sides but in the end it was decided that the house would be kept.
Since the formal renovation has been completed, braves have done minor work on the house here and there. Braves have demonstrated some carpentry skills that are not too shabby. In some cases, the original look of the house has been restored and the Braves continue to live at 2600 Rio Grande today.
The Tejas Club made the transition into the new century without any major problems. We celebrated our 90th Anniversary in 2015. The club is still going strong, with members active in many areas of campus. We have officers or contributing members in organizations such as the Student Engineering Council, Business Council, the Texas Union, Texas Blazers, Foreign Policy Council, the Athletic Council, Student Government, the Texas Exes Student Chapter, Silver Spurs, Texas Cowboys, and Longhorn Band.
Over the past couple of years, Tejas Braves completed some important projects for the club. Some nice artwork was located for display in the house, thanks to a generous alumni, Blake Justice. And J.W. Walthall contributed photographs from his portfolio to the house, many of which are hanging in the living room.
The club continues to organize the March 2nd Texas Independence Day Breakfast, our annual honorary breakfast for graduating seniors and outstanding faculty. In addition we will have our regular events, including such events as the Bob Pees Croquet Tournament and Crawfish Boil and our weekly Tejas Coffees.