The introduction of the hand sign is credited to retired state District Judge Harley Clark of Austin, Texas, who passed away Thursday, Oct. 9, at the age of 78. Before heading to The University of Texas, Clark was member of the Naval School at Culver Summer Schools & Camps. He was the Regimental Commander in 1952.
The head cheerleader at Texas in 1955, Clark introduced the “Hook ’Em Horns” gesture at a pep rally the day before the football game against Texas Christian University. He showed the hand sign to the student body at the suggestion of classmate Henry “HK” Pitts, who had noticed that, as a shadow figure, it resembled a longhorn, the university’s mascot. As he demonstrated the hand sign to the crowd, Clark declared, “This is the official hand sign of the University of Texas, to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather.”
Clark often added that after the rally, Arno Nowotny, the dean of student life, was very upset and asked Clark whether he was aware of what that sign might mean in another part of the world, such as Sicily.
Clark said his response was, “Dean, you need to look on the bright side of things. Instead of our mascot being a longhorn, it could’ve been a unicorn.”
When Clark went to the game against TCU the next day, he saw many of the students flashing the hand gesture. By the end of the game, other people in the stands, nonstudents, also were doing it. A tradition was born.
Clark, who served as student body president in 1957-58, earned his bachelor’s degree from the university in 1957, a master’s in 1960, and a law degree in 1962. He was a successful trial lawyer before being appointed a state district court judge in 1977, a post he held until retiring from the bench in 1989.
Clark maintained close ties to the university through the years. Since 1998, he was a special guest nearly every year at Gone to Texas celebrations in front of the UT Tower. The ceremony is held the night before the first day of fall semester to welcome new students and share the history of Longhorn traditions. Students always listened intently and responded with enthusiastic applause as they joined him in proudly waving the “Hook ’Em Horns” hand sign toward the heavens.
Information provided by The University of Texas at Austin communications department.