What Goes with Turkey, Stuffing and Pumpkin Pie? Football!

Football Is a Thanksgiving Tradition

When the Arkansas Industrial University Cardinals ran on the football field for the first time in 1894, it did so only 24 years after Congress declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. As new autumn traditions, it was almost inevitable that football and Thanksgiving would be celebrated together. Indeed, football is a Thanksgiving tradition even here in the Ozarks.

Three rows of men in different uniforms sitting and standing in front of a stone building with arched windows.

This photo of the Arkansas Industrial University football team was taken in 1896, two years after its formation and Thanksgiving Day trouncing by the University of Texas. Latin Professor John Futrall, who coached the team in its early years, is on the third row, far right, wearing a dark suit. He would later become president of the institution after it was renamed the University of Arkansas. Photo is from the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History’s Washington County Historical Society Collection (P-793).

The new Cardinals football team had an unlikely coach in John C. Futrall, a young Latin professor who later became president of the institution after it was renamed the University of Arkansas. Futrall was tasked with leading the very green Cardinals in an 1894 Thanksgiving Day match in Austin with the more experienced University of Texas team. The outcome was nothing short of humiliating. Texas soundly handed the Cardinals their birdseed by scoring 54 points. Arkansas couldn’t even get on the scoreboard. An intense Arkansas-Texas rivalry had begun.

Razorback Football Is a Thanksgiving Tradition

As years passed, the Cardinals became stronger and more threatening. When Arkansas defeated LSU in 1909, then-coach Hugo Bezdek declared his team had played “like a bunch of Razorback hogs.” A few weeks later, the team lived up to Bezdek’s assessment in a Thanksgiving game in Little Rock against Washington University, who lost with a score of 34 to 0. Arkansas celebrated its first-ever undefeated season, and The Arkansas Gazette proclaimed a “new era” for the “cardinal-clad gladiators.”  A year later, this new powerhouse became the Razorbacks.

Football players on a field with a tree-covered hill, bleachers, building and a sign that reads,

The Arkansas Razorbacks appear to have made a touchdown in this photo taken on the University of Arkansas campus in 1938, a year before President Franklin Roosevelt shook up Thanksgiving Day football plans by moving the holiday up a week. Note the WPA sign in the photo. The Works Progress Administration was an infrastructure program created by Roosevelt as a way to pull the nation out of the Great Depression. Photo, taken by William Carl Smith, is from the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History’s Ada Lee Smith Shook Collection (S-2009-79-10).

A Challenge To Coaches

A challenge to Thanksgiving Day football came in August 1939 when President Franklin Roosevelt moved the holiday from the last Thursday of November to the fourth (November had five Thursdays that year) to help boost the Depression-era economy with a few extra shopping days before Christmas. It also boosted outrage by football coaches who now faced a dilemma: how to reschedule their Thanksgiving Day football game on short notice, including the Razorbacks’ game against Tulsa. (So upset, Ouachita Baptist College’s coach in Arkadelphia threatened to vote Republican!) Many governors heard these outcries, including Arkansas’ and Oklahoma’s, and ignored Roosevelt’s declaration. The Razorbacks played Tulsa as originally planned and won.

Now, all states observe Thanksgiving on November’s fourth Thursday with millions spending the day watching their favorite professional football teams compete on television.  Without a doubt, football is a Thanksgiving tradition. Thanksgiving Day Razorback football, however, didn’t survive. Yet a newer tradition takes place: Razorback football on Black Friday.

Originally published in the November/December 2022 issue of Butterfield LIFE magazine for Butterfield Trail Village, Inc.

Henry, O., & Bailey, J. (1996). “Instantly in the Red”. In The Razorbacks: A Story of Arkansas Football (pp.6–7, 23-25). essay, University of Arkansas Press.
The Thanksgiving holiday. US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2022, from History.House.gov
Serving Arkansas and Beyond. University of Arkansas. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2022, from Uark.edu/athletics
Arkansas is at Last Triumphant. (1909, November 26). The Arkansas Gazette, p. 1.
Odom, J. (2022, September 30). Razorbacks football team. Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from Encyclopedia of Arkansas
Infoplease. (n.d.). Perpetual calendar. Infoplease. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://www.infoplease.com/calendar/193911

Arkansas Football Coaches Bemoan Changing of Thanksgiving Holiday. (1939, August 15). Hope Star, p. 4.
Associated Press. (1939, November 23). Half of States Are Thankful Today, Rest Will Wait a Week. The Daily Oklahoman, p. 20.
Associated Press. (1939, December 1). Porkers Win Easily Over Tulsa, 23-0. Northwest Arkansas Times, p. 9.


Football Helmet

Donated by Peggy Gregory

This football helmet was worn by Donald Gregory in the 1940s. He was born in Mountainburg (Crawford County) in 1932, where his father Floyd ran a mercantile. The Gregorys later moved to Fayetteville, where Floyd opened Gregory’s Men’s Store on the downtown square.

leather football helmet

Donated by Peggy Gregory

This football helmet was worn by Donald Gregory in the 1940s. He was born in Mountainburg (Crawford County) in 1932, where his father Floyd ran a mercantile. The Gregorys later moved to Fayetteville, where Floyd opened Gregory’s Men’s Store on the downtown square.

“Dazzler” Bicycle Lamp

Donated by Robert and Marion Roglin

Manufactured around 1910 by Powell & Hanmer of Birmingham, England, the Dazzler is a carbide lamp powered by acetylene gas, produced when water, housed in an upper chamber of the lamp, drips into a lower chamber containing calcium carbide. The acetylene gas serves as fuel for a flame—the lamp’s light source. 

Powell & Hanmer exported their bicycle lamp under the name “Dazzler,” while the same model sold in England went by “Panther.”

In addition to lighting the way for bicyclists in the early 1900s, carbide lamps were used to light up buildings, lighthouse beacons, and automobile headlights.

Speaking of bicycles, we’re located on the Razorback Regional Greenway, a fun and safe way to ride your bike to the museum.

Indian Clubs

Donated by Edward Moran

These Indian clubs belonged to Thomas F. Moran (1865-1950). Born to Irish immigrant parents in Worcester, Massachusetts, Moran lived in Fayetteville after he retired as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1910. He was married to Elizabeth Barbara Schipperus; they had two sons, Thomas and Edward.

In the early 1800s, British soldiers stationed in India were impressed by the fitness of many Indian military personnel. The secret of the Indian soldiers’ excellent physical condition was their use of wooden clubs as part of an athletic training program. Swinging the clubs in a variety of patterns around the body leads to improved upper body strength, muscle tone, and agility.

From the mid-1800s into the 1930s, Indian clubs were a popular part of exercise routines in physical education classes in the United States.

Illustrations from As Others See Us or, The Rules and Customs of Refined Homes and Polite Society, F. B. Dickerson Co., 1891.

Chess Pieces

Guy Howard (seen here playing chess) made these chess pieces sometime in the mid-1900s in the workshop he had behind his home on Price Street in Springdale. The knight (horse-head) pieces were carved by Howard’s friend, Ralph C. Miller. The crowns on the king and queens are made of old bottle caps that have been filled with glue, set with beads or rhinestones, and painted.

William Guy Howard (1876-1965) moved to Northwest Arkansas from Nebraska as a young boy. He had a lifetime of public service in Springdale as city attorney during World War I, mayor during World War II, and municipal judge in the 1950s. To many local folks, Howard was known simply as “the Judge.” He was also a collector of prehistoric and Native American artifacts, which he displayed floor-to-ceiling in his home. In 1966 the Springdale City Council voted to purchase Howard’s massive collection of some 10,000 prehistoric and historic artifacts and 260 books and pamphlets on anthropology and archeology. This was the founding collection of the Shiloh Museum.

Baseball Mascot Shirt

Donated by Susan and Orville Hall Jr. 

Growing up in Fayetteville in the 1930s and 1940s, Orville Hall Jr. was surely the envy of all his buddies when he wore this snazzy shirt emblazoned with professional baseball team mascots of the day. Several teams on the shirt no longer exist. The St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954. The Washington Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961 to become the Twins. The New York Giants remained in New York until 1957 when they and the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to San Francisco and Los Angeles, California.