On January 22, 1927, tragedy struck Baylor University when a collision near Round Rock, Texas, ended the lives on ten students en route to an athletic event.
Aboard the bus that day were twenty-two young men from Baylor University bound for a basketball game against the University of Texas. In addition to players, the vehicle carried managers, yell leaders, and fans. Heavy rain made the lengthy ride to Austin treacherous. Driver Joe Potter had a difficult time navigating the unfamiliar road due to poor visibility and slick road surfaces.
After three and a half hours of driving, the bus reached the railroad crossing in Round Rock. Fast approaching from the west was the Sunshine Special, a northbound passenger train. The Sunshine Special was behind schedule, so its engineer urged it ahead at a speed of sixty miles per hour. As the train neared the crossing the engineer fired its whistle, but no one on the bus heard the screech. By the time Potter saw the train, it was too late to stop on the slick street. He pressed the accelerator and tried to push the bus past the tracks ahead of the train. When the bus failed to get up to speed in time, Potter swerved in a desperate attempt to avoid collision. Several students jumped or were thrown out of the bus as it lurched over the tracks. Tragically, only half of the bus managed to clear the tracks before the train caught the vehicle’s rear end.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, local residents and medical personnel worked hard to treat the injured and identify the dead. Sadly, ten young men did not survive the collision: Jack Castellaw, Sam Dillow, Merle Dudley, Ivey Foster, Robert Hannah, Robert Hailey, Clyde (Abe) Kelley, Willis Murray, James L. Walker, and William Winchester.
Baylor University and the greater community of Waco deeply felt the loss of the ten. Baylor hosted a memorial service that drew over three thousand people. A mayoral proclamation saw local businesses closed, and the city’s telephone system shut down for the hour of the service.
Though individual memorials exist for each member of the deceased, the group lives on in popular memory as the Immortal Ten, a title coined by Waco Times-Herald reporter Jack Hawkins. In the January 23, 1927 issue of the paper, Hawkins wrote, “Though Death’s icy fingers have written ‘Finis’ across the life of each of the immortal ten who are today mourned, their memory will never perish.”
The legacy of the Immortal Ten is far-reaching. The terrible accident prompted politicians to re-examine railway safety in the state. Eight years after the accident, Texas’ first railroad overpass was built over the tracks in Round Rock. The memory of the Immortal Ten also serves as the foundation for one of Baylor’s most important homecoming traditions. Each year, the story of the Immortal Ten is told anew to freshmen and a candlelight remembrance ceremony is held. Freshmen are encouraged to band together and embrace the spirit of togetherness that helped heal the campus in the wake of tragedy.
After ten years of planning and fundraising, a permanent memorial to the Immortal Ten was installed in Traditions Square on Baylor campus. It features a ten-by-eight-foot bas-relief panel representing six of the fallen ten athletes. Four free-standing life-sized bronze statues of the remaining athletes compliment the panel. Bruce Greene, renowned western sculptor, crafted the monument.