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Remembering fallen Longhorns of World War I

Four football lettermen were among the 75 ex-Longhorns who died while serving in World War I.

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50,000 Flowers Placed At Arlington National Cemetery For Memorial Day Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

As Americans pay tribute on this Memorial Day to those who have served in the United States military and died while in the line of duty, there’s no better time to remember the ultimate sacrifice paid by a number of Texas Longhorn football athletes.

According to the 1919 edition of the University of Texas’s official yearbook, the Cactus, 75 ex-students died while serving in World War I. Four of them were former Longhorn football lettermen. This post will be dedicated to profiling those men, while the fallen Longhorns of World War II will be covered in another one.

In focusing only on Longhorn football players, this post is a reflection of BON’s coverage of the school’s major athletics programs and is not meant to shortchange the sacrifice made by the many non-athletes who attended UT before serving in the military, who are just as deserving of remembrance on this and every other Memorial Day.

James Horace Higginbotham (1893-1918)

Higginbotham was the first of three lettermen (and four members total) from the 1912 Texas Longhorn football team to die while in military service. (The number of men on that team lost in service was very close to being five or more. K.L. Berry, a tackle on that team who went on to have a long military career, survived the Bataan death march after being captured by Japanese forces in the Phillipines during World War II.)

He was born and raised in Dublin, Texas, a small community in Erath County about 80 miles southwest of Fort Worth. His father, Rufus Higginbotham, was part of a family that owned several dry goods and general stores in the region, and that family-owned company, Higginbotham Brothers, still exists to this day.

James Higginbotham spent his high school years at the Terrill School for Boys, a prestigious Dallas prep school that had a high academic reputation and fielded competitive athletic teams for many years. The Terrill School closed in 1946, re-opened under a new name shortly afterward, then merged with another Dallas private school in 1950 to become St. Mark’s School of Texas. The Longhorn football program has had three lettermen from St. Mark’s and no less than five who attended the Terrill School.

Higginbotham enrolled at UT after graduating from the Terrill School. Playing on the 1912 Longhorn varsity squad as a 19-year-old freshman, Higginbotham saw enough playing time at the end position to earn a letter for that season. He later transferred to Yale and played football at that college as well, earning a letter in 1915 before graduating the following year.

He joined the navy in 1917 and was soon transferred to the naval reserve flying corps. On February 23, 1918, he traveled to Hicks Field — a World War I-era training airfield north of Fort Worth — to visit a friend and Yale classmate who was stationed there. According to a story in the February 24, 1918 Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Higginbotham and his friend, “Ensign Lynch” (the story did not mention his first name), took a ride in the latter’s plane, but during the flight the plane’s “steering apparatus” malfunctioned, causing it to crash some three miles away from the airfield. Lynch was wounded but managed to pull Higginbotham from the wreckage and carry him to a hill where he was able to signal for help from the airfield. Lynch ultimately survived the crash, but Higginbotham did not. He was 24 years old.

Though he was not killed in a theater of war, because of his membership in the naval reserve flying corps he was considered to have died in the line of duty. Subsequently, his name was regularly included in published lists of former Texas students who had lost their lives during World War I.

Louis John Jordan (1890-1918)

Jordan earned four football letters suiting up for the Longhorns from 1911 to 1914, a stretch during which the Longhorns had a record of 27 wins and just 4 losses. He was among the most highly-regarded players in the UT football program’s first few decades of existence, and holds the distinction of being the first Longhorn to earn All-America honors.

He was a native of Fredericksburg, Texas, a town about 80 miles west of Austin that was founded by German immigrants in the 1840s. Jordan earned a teaching certificate while still in his teens and worked as a school teacher for a few years, then attended and graduated from the San Antonio Academy before enrolling at Texas in 1911, at the age of 21.

He had little, if any, experience with football before entering UT, but developed into an unstoppable force as an offensive guard and was also a very strong lineman on defense. He was voted team captain for the 1914 Longhorn “eleven”. Along with holding the undisputed title of “best offensive guard in UT history” for many years, he was also a standout in track, earning three letters in that sport (1913-15) and setting a state record in the hammer throw.

By today’s standards a player with Jordan’s build would be undersized for even a high school offensive lineman, never mind a college football player, but at 6’1” (his reported height in 1912, when he was already 22 years old) and approximately 205 pounds, he was big for his time even for a guard. In fact, he probably would not have looked out of place on a Longhorn offensive line even well into the 1960s. (For instance, Warren Gremmel, a starter at guard for the 1967 Texas Longhorns, was listed at 6’1” and 216 pounds.)

Due to his looks, Jordan was given the nickname “Big Swede”, and the November 29, 1913 story in the Austin Daily Statesman that announced his election as team captain for the 1914 season erroneously said he was “of Swedish descent”, but his ancestry was actually German; his mother and all four of his grandparents were born in present-day Germany.

As a senior captain and right guard, he helped lead the 1914 Longhorns to an 8-0 record, and they outscored their opponents by a combined score of 358-21

When Jordan was named a 2nd Team All-American by Walter Camp at the end of the 1914 season, he became not just the first Longhorn but also the first southern player to receive so high an honor from Camp.

A legendary figure in football as a player, coach, and innovator who lived in Connecticut for most of his life, Camp had annually selected college football “All-America” teams since 1892, but for several years his selections amounted to a “Who’s Who?” of stars from Ivy League schools. The non-existence of game film and commercial air travel made selecting a legitimate “All-America” team impossible in that era, but several media outlets and individuals tried, Camp being arguably the most prominent among that group. Into the early 1900s, Camp’s All-America picks were still heavily concentrated along the east coast, and though players from schools in the midwest (which were often termed “western” colleges at the time) showed up more frequently as that decade went along, athletes from the south or west of the Mississippi River were largely ignored well into the 1910s.

Vanderbilt fullback John Manier became the first Walter Camp All-American from a southern school when he was selected as a 3rd team honoree in 1906. Louis Jordan was the first 2nd team Walter Camp honoree from a southern school in 1914, and it wasn’t until 1918 that a southern player graced a Walter Camp All-America 1st team for the first time, that being Georgia Tech center Bum Day.

(It is worth noting that Fred “Tex” Ramsdell, a talented halfback and world-class sprinter who had lettered in football at Texas in 1907 before transferring to Penn, was a Walter Camp All-America 3rd team selection in 1910.)

After graduating from Texas with an engineering degree in 1915, Jordan worked as a teacher and engineer for the next two years, then enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917 after Congress declared war on Germany, which officially marked the United States’ entry into World War I.

He was commissioned a first lieutenant a few months later, and he arrived in France in October 1917. He was serving with the 42nd Infantry Division in eastern France when he was killed in action on March 5, 1918. He was 28 years old and reported to be the first Texas officer to die in the war, and was also believed to be the first Walter Camp All-American to die while serving in the military.

A year after Jordan’s death, the American Legion Post 244 in his native Fredericksburg was named in his honor, and it remains so to this day. In 1924, the year that War Memorial Stadium (now Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) was opened, the people of Fredericksburg donated a flagpole in Jordan’s memory, and it was dedicated before the Thanksgiving Day game against Texas A&M, which the Longhorns would win 7-0. You can see the flagpole in this 1931 image tweeted by Jim Nicar, who blogs about UT history from the UT History Corner.

By 1957, the Texas Longhorn football program had 64 years of history and had produced four consensus All-Americans and seven players who would later be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. But when the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor was created that year and inducted its inaugural class of four, the only athlete in that group was the late Louis Jordan. That’s how highly esteemed he was in the history of UT athletics over 40 years after he had graduated.

Bothwell Bierce Kane (1893-1918)

Like his 1912 Longhorn teammate Louis Jordan, Bothwell Kane served in the 42nd Infantry Division in France during World War I, was killed during the fighting in that country, and later had an American Legion post bear his name.

Kane was born in Missouri but grew up in Fort Worth, Texas. He spent his high school years at the Culver Military Academy in Indiana and played football there before graduating in 1912. He enrolled at UT that same year and, as a 19-year-old freshman, he was a regular starter at right tackle for the 1912 Longhorn team that finished with a record of 7-1. He impressed with his play on the field, but it would be the only season in which he earned a letter at Texas.

Contemporary news reports indicate that he was ineligible in 1913, but returned to the team in 1914. At 21 years old he was 6 feet tall and reported to be 195 pounds, and he was described by the press as the team’s “star tackle”. He started in UT’s first game of the 1914 season, a dominating 30-0 win over Trinity, but he was sidelined for the next month and a half due to a bout with pneumonia, and ultimately was not awarded a letter for that season. He left the university at some point in 1915.

For two years he worked for Head, Teas & Company in Fort Worth and acted in a number of local plays. In April of 1917 he was accepted into the Officers Reserve Corps training camp that opened the following month in Leon Springs, Texas. He was commissioned a first lieutenant that August and shipped out to France a month later.

The July 27, 1918 edition of the Fort Worth Record reported that Kane had recently cabled his mother saying he was “well and happy”, and it went on to say that his unit was involved in “the hardest fighting on the Marne”. He was killed the following day.

An August 11 message to Kane’s mother reported only that he was wounded, and a week later his name was included in a widely-published list of soldiers who had been “wounded severely”. Mrs. Kane did not receive confirmation of her son’s death until September 9 — a full six weeks after he was killed — when she received a letter from an army chaplain who had seen his body when it was carried from the battlefield and later presided over his burial service.

It would not be the last time the family of a deceased ex-Longhorn soldier learned about their loved one’s death several weeks after the fact. The American Legion Post 21 in Fort Worth was named the Bothwell Kane Post in his honor, and it was the largest Legion post in north Texas for many years, but it was dissolved or renamed at some point. The current American Legion Post 21, the Holley-Riddle Post, was chartered in 2007 and is based in The Colony, Texas.

James Archibald “Pete” Edmond (1893-1918)

Edmond was among the most accomplished all-around Longhorn athletes of his time, and one of the earliest in a long line of star athletes from Waco to make an impact in Austin. He was born in 1893 and orphaned at an early age, and he lived with an aunt and uncle for the rest of his childhood. At Waco High School he established a reputation as a skilled football player.

While at the University of Texas he earned 11 total letters in athletics: three in football (1913-15), and four each in basketball and baseball (1913-16). According to one contemporary report he also competed in wrestling. He was a team captain in baseball and basketball, and though he never captained UT’s varsity football team, in his first year with the football program he was captain of the group of reserves and scout teamers known as the “scrubs”.

He was an outstanding end in football, a tenacious defender at guard in basketball who twice earned All-Southwest Conference honors, and a 3rd baseman in baseball and a member of two conference championship teams.

He received a B.A. in history from Texas in 1916, got married to another UT student in August 1917, and received an M.A. in 1918. He attended the officer’s training school in Leon Springs and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He was killed in action while in northern France on October 11, 1918.

Word of his death was very slow to reach his family and friends. Months passed and no official word came from the Army save that he was “among the wounded, degree undetermined”. Friends of Edmond in Waco heard rumors that he had been killed, and those reports were shared in the January 2, 1919 edition of the Austin Statesman. In a follow-up article on February 3, the Statesman reported that Pete Edmond’s wife had received a cablegram from her brother, who was also an Army officer serving in France, telling her that her husband had been killed in action the previous October. It was not until very late in February 1919, four and a half months after Pete Edmond had been killed, that Captain Robert Norton of the 38th Infantry wrote to Edmond’s sister to officially inform her of her brother’s death.

The American Legion Post 121 in his hometown of Waco was named the James A. Edmond post in his honor, and in 1959 he was inducted into the UT Athletics Hall of Honor.

Edmond’s widow, the former Mary Blattner, remarried four years after his death and was survived by three sons and four grandchildren when she died in 1964 at the age of 68.

See also: Bill Little’s 2014 Memorial Day commentary on Louis Jordan, Pete Edmond, and Bothwell Kane.