A series of memories long forgotten: An Aggie death in Waco

In 2004, Baylor fans enthusiastically rushed the field and took to the goalposts after defeating Texas A&M in overtime. Lariat File Photo.

By Matthew Soderberg | News Editor

A fight broke out, a man was murdered and a rivalry was etched in stone for generations to come. But another tragedy stifled the memory, and few remember the day an Aggie was killed in Waco.

It was obvious why the two teams were rivals from the start — 90 miles separate the schools, the all-male atmosphere at Texas A&M clashed with the coed nature of Baylor, and the constant meetings thanks to the Southwest Conference all play a part. What is less obvious is what came first: the name of the rivalry or the name of the riot. T.G. Webb, 1997 Baylor alumni and author of “Battle of the Brazos,” said the rivalry grew to enormous proportions early on.

“By the early 1920s, it had achieved the status where it was as popular as the UT-A&M game in the state of Texas,” Webb said. “The crowds were some of the biggest at any game in the state.”

On Oct. 30, 1926, nearly 94 years ago, tempers flared as the Aggies and the Bears met in Waco. The few years before the fight saw some angst, but nothing compares to the halftime melee where a cadet had a piece of chair smash his skull.

“You had this car come onto the field that had a bunch of women on it, and they were each wearing placards, and on the placards there were scores from previous big Baylor wins,” Webb said. It was the site, though, of the vehicle.

“In 1924, Baylor had brought a vehicle onto the field mocking the Aggies, and it had swerved near the Aggie team during halftime, so A&M had warned Baylor, allegedly, that if they bring a car on the field, there’s going to be trouble,” Webb said. “Baylor did it anyway.”

A cadet took off from the stands, sprinted onto the field and dove into the driver’s seat of the moving vehicle. After an Aggie seemingly attacked the supposedly harmless car, the stadium erupted. Hundreds of students from each side stormed the field at the Texas Cotton Palace in Waco. Fans ripped off pieces of chairs to use as bats and clubs to attack their foes in the open air.

“The cadets just said they couldn’t take it anymore. A&M would do what they called calisthenics. They were military drills, and Baylor did fake military drills mocking the A&M rituals,” Webb said.

The mocking turned into attacking, which turned into a cadet bleeding. Charles Milo Sessums fell to the grass after a strike, and after he was initially brought to the first aid station, he was transported to Providence Sanitarium where he later died.

After the stadium regained its composure, Lead Aggie Yell Leader J.D. Langford apologized to the fans in attendance and promised to keep his side under control, but that recognition of guilt didn’t follow through in the coming days.

“By the time the seniors of the corps of cadets release their statement in early November, there’s no admission that they had anything to do with starting the fight. It was all Baylor’s fault,” Webb said. “Baylor’s side was that they were completely innocent. They claimed they were just defending the women of Baylor. Both sides quickly dug in their heels and said they didn’t have any responsibility for it.”

On Nov. 4, the two university presidents, T.O. Walton of Texas A&M and S.P. Brooks of Baylor, released a joint statement summarizing the events of the day.

“We are profoundly saddened, as are the student bodies, and the faculties of both institutions, by the death of Cadet Lieutenant Sessums, and sympathize deeply and sincerely with his bereaved family,” the statement said.

Later that day, the Lariat ran a second edition which included an editorial entitled “THROUGH!” alongside a news piece describing a petition to end athletic relations with A&M that had already received 500 signatures.

Eventually, that petition and the hatred from two camps won out. The two presidents met again in December and “indefinitely” canceled all athletic competition between the schools.

It could have festered. That hate could have sat in the bones of each side for years to come until it could erupt the next time the universities faced off, but it didn’t get the chance.

On Jan. 22, 1927, 10 men were killed in a bus crash on the way to a basketball game in Austin. Webb said the Immortal Ten accident drew everyone’s minds away from the last tragedy.

“At that point, no one wanted to care about what happened to an Aggie cadet,” Webb said. “They now had their own dead to mourn. The tragedy here was on such a greater scale. It was easy for Baylor to forget about it and move on.”

It took five years for the rivalry to come back into the picture. Baylor didn’t play the Aggies again until Oct. 24, 1936, in College Station. It was the first time since 1913 that the game wasn’t played in Waco, and the first time in the history of the series that it was played at Kyle Field. Since five years had passed, there were practically no students left on campus that would have participated in the fight, and Webb said that had a lot to do with the amicable feelings going forward.

“Both sides agreed to move on from it. When they reunited after five years not playing, there really was no reference to the fight. The Aggies even hosted the Baylor students for a picnic,” Webb said. “Everything was kind of just like ‘let’s smile and just be friends,’ but there were always these echoes of a riot and whispers of a murder that just lived on through the ’50s and ’60s, and then even when people quit talking about it, it still kind of hung like a cloud in the background over the rivalry.”

By the time the two teams started their annual game back up, the all-time record between the teams was A&M 20-Baylor 6 with three ties mixed in. However, over the next 39 years, Baylor played nearly .500 ball as the record stacked to 16-19-4.

Then came legendary Baylor Head Coach Grant Teaff.

The all-time winningest coach in program history started off his tenure in the midst of the rivalry with a bang.

“My favorite game against the Aggies took place during my first year at Baylor. Yet to understand the depth of the rivalry, I took it on as the next game,” Teaff said. “A group of students at Baylor approached me about handing out a tract at the game. They asked that we put my testimony on the handout. A sellout crowd received the tract. My message of victory in life and the possibility of victory that day was fortuitous. We won.”

For whatever reason, the approach worked as he started off 1-0 against the bitter rivals. A&M rattled off five straight wins, including in 1974 when Baylor won its first conference title in 50 years.

John Morris, assistant athletic director for broadcasting and voice of the Bears, started his freshman year in the wake of the losing streak. He said the rivalry then was as strong as ever, if not shared with Texas a little bit.

“That was a debate that waged for a long time. Was it A&M or was it Texas?” Morris said. “It seemed like it was pretty even among people, but I don’t think there was much of a question that it was one of those two.”

That rivalry led to a new winning streak for Baylor starting in 1978, a famous game for one reason: two-time all-southwest running back Walter Abercrombie.

“Walter was a freshman. He sat next to me on the bus over to College Station. We drove down the day of the game because we dare not stay in College Station because of the intense rivalry. Walter had no idea that he would play, much less start that day. I informed him on the way, and the news stunned him,” Teaff said. “All he did in his first college game against No. 12 Texas A&M was rush for 207 yards, establishing an NCAA record for rushing yards by a freshman.”

While the future No. 12 overall pick was on campus, the Bears didn’t lose to their foes from down the river. The four years following Abercrombie’s departure were the last period of extended success for Baylor as it lost in ’85, tied in ’86 and won the next two years.

The Green and Gold wouldn’t win another football game against Texas A&M until 2004.

The dark times finally cracked as the rivalry was coming to an end. In the 101st meeting, the Bears took the Aggies to overtime.

“We beat them in very dramatic fashion in overtime by going for two instead of kicking to go to double overtime. We went for two and beat them 35-34,” Webb said. “We tore down the goal posts … For about five minutes, the A&M fans don’t blink. They don’t move. They don’t twitch a muscle. They had taken for granted that they would never lose to Baylor again.”

Morris remembers the upset fondly.

“If I remember right, the students tore down the goal posts and marched them to campus,” Morris said. “They took it all the way from Floyd Casey, all the way to campus, and they kind of ended up leaning on the front of the Bill Daniel Student Center, and it was there all weekend. Then it was cut up into rings, and I’ve got a piece of that goal post from that win sitting in my office.”

But after such a long losing streak, the memory of a rivalry fell even further than it had.

“When one team is dominating — like A&M was in football during that stretch — it just kind of loses its juice. On both sides, it wasn’t that big of a deal,” Morris said. “To A&M it was ‘oh, we beat Baylor again. OK.’ From Baylor’s perspective, how can you make a big deal out of a rivalry you haven’t won in 18 years?”

The loss of the rivalry pushed a memory that was already struggling to hold on completely off the edge, but at least some people are still willing to go searching.

“I was going into a game in 2008, and the chamber student who was selling the gameday programs — it was an Aggie game — the student made a comment,” Webb said. “I said ‘no, I don’t need a program,’ and he said ‘well I hope we kill an Aggie today like we did that one time.’ I kind of did a double take. ‘What are you talking about?’ And he said ‘have you ever heard of that time where an Aggie was killed at a Baylor game?’ I had no clue what he was talking about.”