The WTAMU Herdsmen were formed by a group of men that believed WTSU needed something to boost the spirit at athletic events. They recognized that a live buffalo mascot was the missing ingredient that was needed to get the students and team fired up. During the Fall of 1977, George Shackleford, Chris Black, and Weldon Trice, Dean of Men, began their search. This search took them throughout the Panhandle of Texas and it proved rewarding when they contacted Mr. R.J. Lee, owner of the Big Texas Steak Ranch. Mr. Lee agreed to donate a yearling buffalo to West Texas State University and also feed and take care of the buffalo.
It was evident that more men would be needed to handle the 750 pound buffalo during the home football games. The calling began. The men that were contacted: Kevin Arnold, Rick (Corny) Cornelison, Ernie Lucero, Brian Wheeler, Kevin O'Hair, Steve Knox, and William Keaton. These men became the founding fathers of the Herdsmen. They proved to be very energetic and enthusiastic about the project. While sitting around a table in the cafeteria, they decided that they would need some officers. They chose: Chris Black as president, George Shackleford as vice-president, Kevin Arnold as secretary/treasurer, and Rick Cornelison as historian. During the discussion of officers, it was suggested by Rick Cornelison that the organization be expanded to form a spirit organization. This group would participate in the stands by voicing their support for the Buffaloes. "Corny" also suggested that the name of the organization be the HERDSMEN and it was unanimous that this was the name to be taken. This "get-together" in the cafeteria turned out to be the first meeting of the Herdsmen and the minutes were written on a paper napkin, which has since been lost.
Training of the buffalo soon began. Mr. Breezy Cox, an employee of the Big Texan, was the ranch's buffalo keeper and he taught the new Herdsmen handlers how to handle a buffalo. The new mascot's name was Lollipop, but the handlers did not feel like this name would inspire the type of spirit that was needed. A contest was soon held on campus to decide a name for the new mascot. Kathy Garrison and Paul Bublis tied with the winning name of “Thunder.”
Kevin Arnold became the foreman of the buffalo handlers and through his diligent work Thunder was soon ready for her first public appearance. On October 15, 1977, Thunder marched through Canyon in the WTSU Homecoming Parade. Her first appearance at a game was later that night and her debut caused the revival of the “Buff” spirit.
Adding to the spirit was a group of fifty Herdsmen in the stands, blowing their horns and participating in the cheers for the team. This brought about a revival of the student spirit in the stands. There was no other group that displayed the spirit that the Herdsmen did.
This was only the beginning of an outstanding organization. During the Spring of 1979, the Herdsmen traded Lollipop for another buffalo. The trade was made with Herdsmen alumni Kevin Arnold, and the new buffalo soon became known as Bufford, Thunder II.
During the period of Thunder II, the Herdsmen became more than a spirit organization. They became an organization that promoted West Texas State University. The Herdsmen and Thunder II represented WTSU at events throughout the Panhandle, such as XIT, Canyon's Buffalo Roundup, and other parades and reunions, some of which were at Hereford, Dumas, and Pampa. During the period of 1979 to 1981, the Herdsmen and Thunder II were seen by 200,000 to 300,000 people during their travels.
The Herdsmen have become involved in the WTSU blood drive, All-University Sing, Pigskin Review, Student Foundation Phonathon, promotion of the Spring Games, Yell Call, Pep rallies, Elections, and much more. Since 1977, the Herdsmen have become one of the most powerful and most respected organizations on campus.
As part of the Herdsmen's involvement in the University, the Buffalo Chip Award is awarded each semester. The inscription on the award reads: For Outstanding Leadership, Loyalty, and Devotion to WTSU. Some past recipients of this award are: Max Sherman, Bill Young, Maurice Cheeks, and Samantha Meek. Another award given on a semester basis is the Outstanding Member A ward. Some past recipients of this award are: Kevin Arnold, Chris Black, and Doug James.
On January 22, 1982 another chapter of the Herdsmen era began. At 2:00 p.m., the Herdsmen and WTSU became the proud owners of Thunder III. Once again the Herdsmen made a trade with Kevin Arnold for a nine month old buffalo which was appropriately named after one of our finest presidents and biggest promoters of WTSU, Max Sherman. Mark Pruitt, the foreman of the buffalo handlers, with the aid of the buffalo handlers, prepared Thunder III for the 1982 football season.
In June of 1983, a new era was issued into Herdsmen history. In another exchange with Kevin Arnold, the Herdsmen became the proud owners of Thunder IV. He came to be known as "B.J." B.J. stands for Bufford, Jr. B.J. was the son of Lollipop and Bufford, two of our previous buffaloes.
In January 1987, Thunder V was acquired from the Vermejo Park Ranch in the northeast of New Mexico. She was donated by ranch manager Jim Charlesworth. Greg Brock, the foreman of the handlers, Lance Baker, Heath Bozeman, and Robert Gist picked her up in Raton, NM. Doctor Sawyer donated room and board for the calf for a week. He also vaccinated her for brucellosis without charge. The Herdsmen are very proud of the fact that Thunder V is the first buffalo the organization itself has owned. She was named Ladee (pronounced Lady) in hopes that she would act like one.
On January 23, 1996 the Herdsmen entered into a contract with Donald Harrelson who owns a ranch outside of Muleshoe, Texas. In this arrangement Thunder VI was acquired in exchange for Ladee. After nine years Ladee was retired to pasture and a sixth era began when Monty Scheuler, Nathan Dawes, and Andrew White picked up the six month old calf and brought her to her new home at WT. During the Lady Buff basketball team's Fill- the-Box night of 1996 the new mascot's nickname of Sadee was announced to the student body.
In July 1998, a meeting was held to discuss the behavior of Sadee. Members present were Andrew White, Shawn Dawes, Jim Bob Sides, James Huddleston, Timothy Huddleston, Zach Bass, Nathan Dawes, and Jason Adams. Donald Harrelson had a six month old calf, and it was his wish to trade it for Sadee, in the hopes that he could breed her. Because of Sadee' s disruptive behavior, the Herdsmen decided to take the calf and started to train it, but did not return Sadee. It was agreed that the Herdsmen would also keep Sadee, at least until the end of the fall '98 football season, and would decide at that time whether to return her to the pasture or keep her as the mascot Thunder VI. After the semester began, Sadee's behavior calmed. The calf was returned to Donald, and Sadee was to remain as WTAMU' s mascot.
During the fall '04 football season, Sadee was ready to leave. Her behavior became unruly again and the search began for a new mascot. In January 2005, the Texas State Parks and Wildlife division at Caprock Canyons State Park gave a yearling calf from the Charles Goodnight herd to the Herdsmen. This yearling became Thunder VII and, since the very first live mascot came from that ranch in 1922 and was named Charlie, we decided to nickname Thunder VII Charlie Junior or CJ. CJ's stay was short because he ingested a small piece of wire and died in May ‘05. Soon the hunt was on again for a mascot.
In June 2005, Herdsmen Advisor Shawn Burns and Assistant Foreman Brad Yeary traveled to Zephyr, Texas to pick up two calves from the ranch of Dr. Jack Longbotham and his wife Elisabeth. It was decided that the half-siblings should be named after the Longbothams, and so Jack and his sister Liz became Thunder IX and VIII respectively. Jack made his debut at the 2005 Homecoming Parade to thunderous applause from fans and the community. Liz later made her debut in the spring at the Bob Wills Day Parade in Turkey, Texas. Liz was retired in 2007 so the Herdsmen could focus on Thunder IX.
In the summer of 2008, it was decided the Herdsmen would begin searching for Thunder X as Thunder IX was becoming larger and more difficult to handle. Through a coincidence, the Herdsmen learned of an orphaned buffalo calf in Walcottville, Indiana being raised by Peter Cook of Cook’s Bison Ranch. Advisor Shawn Burns and Foreman Chuck Waltrip called Cook to inquire about the calf. Peter told the Herdsmen that the calf had been orphaned 36 hours after birth and they had been bottle-feeding it ever since. Peter told them it was three and half months old and was halter broke and would lead. Cook was hesitant to sell the calf outright but was interested in trading for Thunder IX. In August of 2008, Advisor Shawn Burns, President Randall Box, Foreman Chuck Waltrip, and Assistant Foreman Preston Montgomery all traveled to Walcottville, Indiana to pick up Thunder X, named Bentley by the Cooks. After visiting the Cook Bison Ranch and meeting Thunder X, all loaded up and began the 20-hour journey home to Canyon. Thunder X officially took over his mascot duties at the last home game of the 2008 season.
Never has an organization at WTAMU gained so much respect and accomplished so much in such a short time. And never has an organization at WTAMU displayed more spirit and pride than the Herdsmen. From this group will come many leaders for the future and they will change the world for the better. We challenge you not to let this spirit die and to keep WTAMU number one in your minds and in your hearts.