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I Miss the Texas Horned Toad

Updated on July 19, 2014

Basics about the Horny Toad

  • The Texas Horned Toad (Phrynosoma cornutum), known more commonly as the Horny Toad is a federal category c2 threatened species lizard.
  • The horny toad is flat-bodied and looks more ferocious than he is.
  • His head is covered in multiple horns with two of them more prominent than the others.
  • He's brownish in color and has two rows of fringed scales along each side of this body.
  • The horny toad can be found in arid and semi-arid regions with sparse plant covering.
  • They dig for purposes of hibernation, nesting and insulation, so they prefer sandy or loamy soils.
  • They can be found in the south-central united states to northern mexico including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico.

Texas Horny Toad (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Texas Horny Toad (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Remembering the Horny Toad

As a kid growing up in the late 60s and early 70s in central Texas, I quite regularly saw horny toads. They were fascinating creatures. Even though they looked mean, they were quite gentle and would allow you to hold them. I remember that my dad usually caught them for me and then handed them to me rather than me trying to catch them myself.

Although the reason for their disappearance is not entirely known for sure, I feel that it is connected to the increase of the fire ants. We now have fewer harvester ants, or ants we called red ants when I was growing up. This was the chief food source for the horny toad.

I regret that this is a species much loved as a child that I have never been able to introduce to my kids. They truly have missed out.

The Story of Old Rip

In 1897 in Eastland, Texas, EE Woods, an Eastland resident, had a horny toad in his pocket for his sons when he came upon the town fathers placing various articles into the cornerstone that would serve as a time capsule for the new Eastland County Courthouse. They had placed a few coins, a Bible, a newspaper, and a bottle of whiskey into the capsule. When they asked if anyone else had anything to offer, EE. Woods offered the horny toad in his pocket.

Thirty-one years later, on February 18,1928, the courthouse was being demolished to erect a new one and Mr. Woods reminded everyone that he had put a live horny toad in the cornerstone. There were over 4000 people in attendance to see if the horny toad was still alive.

At first, the horny toad seemed lifeless, but it appeared that he swelled up as he took a breath of fresh air and begin to twitch and spring back alive. Naming him after Rip Van Winkle, Rip was now a local hero who immediately began to tour. He met President Calvin Coolidge in Washington DC. He went to St. Louis and made public service announcements and endorsed tennis shoes. Robert Ripley of "Ripley's Believe it or Not" featured Rip on newsreels everywhere.

Rip spent the last months of his life living in a fishbowl in the front window of Mr. Woods' house. During winter he caught pneumonia and died on January 19, 1929, just under a year from his resurrection from the cornerstone. A casket company provided a glass case, a monument company provided a marble base and a taxidermist preserved Rip all for free.

Old Rip was kept on display at the Eastland County Courthouse. When John Connally was running for governor of Texas in 1962 he made a campaign stop in Eastland. Wishing to catch a photo-op with Old Rip, he held the fragile toad up by his hind leg, snapping it off. This is the same John Connally who went on to be wounded in the same incident that killed President John F. Kennedy just a year later.

In 1971, Old Rip was toadknapped and was missing for about a year before a tip led to his recovery at the Eastland County fairgrounds.

From June to August, 2002, Old Rip was a guest at the Best of Texas Festival at Six Flags Over Texas.

To this day, you can visit Rip in his casket at the north side of the Eastland County Courthouse

Old Rip in his casket in Eastland, Texas
Old Rip in his casket in Eastland, Texas

1955 Warner Brothers Cartoon "One Froggy Evening"

If the legend of Old Rip sounds familiar, then you may recall seeing the 1955 Warner Brothers cartoon entitled "One Froggy Evening". Famed cartoonist Chuck Jones was inspired by the strange Texas tale and created the cartoon. In the cartoon they pry open a bank cornerstone and discover a living frog who just so happens to sing ragtime jazz, but never when anyone else is watching. This animated short is considered a classic and listed as #5 in the 100 all-time favorite cartoons.

The frog in the cartoon was named Michigan J. Frog and became the official host of the WB Network.

"One Froggy Evening" 1955 Cartoon

Have you ever physically seen a horned toad yourself?

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    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR

      KRC 

      6 years ago from Central Texas

      Awesome, Stefanie!

    • profile image

      Stefanie 

      6 years ago

      I'm making a film about the history and decline of the Texas Horned Lizard entitled "Where Did the Horny Toad Go?". You can learn more about the project at www.jarofgrasshoppers.com or at our Facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Where-Did-the-Horny-...

    • ReptileRevolution profile image

      ReptileRevolution 

      7 years ago from California

      That was seriously a really entertaining horned toad article. Loved the nostalgic pics. Well done!

      http://www.reptilerevolution.com

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR

      KRC 

      7 years ago from Central Texas

      Where did you see one?? I'd love to see one again. It would be such a thrill.

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 

      7 years ago from Central United States of America

      Now I'm left in the quandary of deciding whether or not to believe about Old Rip! Shucks.

      But,'tis an enjoyable story and hub. Thanks! And...yes, I've seen a horny toad in the last year. Just took its picture, as it was asleep on a rock in early AM.

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR

      KRC 

      7 years ago from Central Texas

      I remember that about them as well, Silva Hayes. They would just close their eyes and enjoy the stroking. It's a shame that my daughter will not have that memory.

    • Silva Hayes profile image

      Silva Hayes 

      7 years ago from Spicewood, Texas

      My brothers and I used to play with them all the time when we were kids. Horny toads love to be gently stroked on the head; they become still and close their eyes. I haven't seen one in many years and I miss them. I read somewhere that they are sensitive to the environment and that their disappearance is a bad sign. Once when we were climbing around on the caprock near Lubbock, I saw a most enchanting horny toad; it was a cream color just like the rock, but it was not an albino; it had dark eyes. My mother lived in that area, and her garden was teeming with horny toads. They are all gone now.

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR

      KRC 

      9 years ago from Central Texas

      Glad you enjoyed it, Mardi! I need to go visit Old Rip myself. My dad told me the story when I was a little kid, but I've never ventured to Eastland to visit. I really need to get out more!

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 

      9 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Cool hub KCC. Now I have something to stop in Eastland to see when I am grabbing a coffee at the only Starbucks in about 200 miles.

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR

      KRC 

      9 years ago from Central Texas

      A descendent of Mr. Woods perhaps? Glad you enjoyed it Candie!

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 

      9 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      I used to love this cartoon!!! Hello my baby! Hello my darling! So, one question, who would put a live frog in a box to be buried? Thank you for his fun hub!

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR

      KRC 

      9 years ago from Central Texas

      So glad you enjoyed it, Alekhouse! I'll have to go read yours!

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      9 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      I liked this..... Interesting. I like legends, just published one. Good videos. Thanks

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR

      KRC 

      9 years ago from Central Texas

      I knew you'd remember them Ron! Thanks for not letting me down! I miss them so much. They were fun. I remember seeing the most in the vegetable garden. I never got to keep one. Daddy always made me let him go.

    • rongould profile image

      rongould 

      9 years ago

      When I was a kid, we used to catch and tame them. My parents never would let us put them in containers or cages of any kind. It was probably for the best, but I miss having them around. The world will be a poorer place without them.

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR

      KRC 

      9 years ago from Central Texas

      LOL....well...I would agree with you there Teresa.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 

      9 years ago from The Other Bangor

      And it doesn't look like Tom Cruise at all.

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