When football fans hear “Battle of the Brazos,” they think of an old rivalry between Baylor and Texas A&M (formerly The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas), two schools situated on the Brazos River. Before the days of the Big 12 and the Southeastern Conferences, there was the Southwest Conference (SWC), where Baylor and Texas A&M vied for the title of SWC champions for decades until the conference was disbanded in 1996. But there were a few years when the schools did not compete, and it was because of a tragedy that has been swathed in myth and bias. A young A&M cadet lost his life as a result of a heated brawl between the two sides during halftime of the game on October 30, 1926.
Baylor and A&M had developed quite the rivalry in the years since their first face-off in 1899. It was the big public college versus the small private college, with the added competition for Baylor women’s hearts, as A&M was still an all-male institution. The cadets often courted the Baylor gals, invoking the ire of the Baylor men ready to come to their defense. The football field became the perfect setting to release this frustration and to try to come out on top for all the girls, alumni, and other fans to see. To add to the stakes, during the 1920s the Baylor-A&M game was often the biggest of the season, being played in the famous ten-thousand-seat Cotton Palace stadium (pinned on map below) and often also serving as Baylor’s homecoming game. A&M would bring its entire cadet corps and parade through the streets of Waco as well. The festivities surrounding the game were highly anticipated, and it was always a full house.
With such revelry comes emotion and team spirit, and these can sometimes get out of hand. In fact, trouble had been brewing at this football showdown in the years leading up to the fateful game in 1926. In 1922, a riot broke out after the game and was broken up by firehoses. In 1924, another riot erupted after the Aggies lost, and both male and female students were allegedly assaulted until the Waco police dispelled the violence. When the 1926 game rolled around, Baylor had law enforcement ready for any postgame shenanigans, but to everyone’s surprise, the violence came long before the game ended.
It all started with what was thought to be some low-stakes mockery. Normally, the A&M cadets would perform at halftime and show off their military calisthenics. This year, the entire corps did not come to the game, so with only four hundred cadets in attendance, they decided not to perform. But Baylor took it upon themselves to make sure the crowd still got a cadet calisthenics show. Dressed as fake cadets, some Baylor men took to the field and made fun of the military routine of their rivals. This caused blood to boil among the Aggie attendees. Then, to make matters worse, a Ford vehicle full of Baylor women came out onto the field touting signs with previous Baylor football scores on them. This particularly irked the Aggies because of a previous game between Baylor and A&M when a Ford car had nearly collided with some Aggie students during the halftime show. Just the sight of a car was too much for a few to handle.
Two cadets, later identified as W. L. Lee and G. L. Hart, hopped onto the field and sprinted toward the moving vehicle. Lee dove into the car window and grabbed the steering wheel, jostling the car and causing one of the women to fall off the back. The Baylor men then took to the field to protect their women, and mayhem ensued. The young men swung not only fists, but also clubs and parts of the wooden chairs from the stands. It was in this chaos that cadet Charles Milo Sessums was struck by a chair on the left side of his head near midfield, falling flat to the ground. Cadet William Moers Jr. carried him to the first aid station while the band quelled the riot by playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Lead Aggie yell leader J.D. Langford apologized to the crowd and made his men swear to stay in their seats thirty minutes after the game ended to avoid further fracas. Things seemed to have settled, and the game continued to its completion, with Baylor winning 20-9.
But soon no one remembered the score. After being checked out at the first aid station, Charles Sessums was taken to Providence Sanitarium. The doctors detected a skull fracture, but medicine had little to offer Charles. His doctors assumed that with rest he would make a full recovery, but sadly he passed away at nine o’clock the next morning due to a blood clot that formed because of the fracture. His parents traveled from Dallas to collect their son’s body, and a funeral was held in their home on November 2, 1926.
Despite an investigation by Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, the man who struck the fatal blow was never found. Though detective Ila Floyd Benedict narrowed it down to a handful of suspects, he never called for an arrest. In fact, some of the interviews Benedict conducted led him to suspect a cover-up by the town mayor, Dr. H. F. Connally. Relations between the two schools soured in the wake of these events, especially after the Baylor and A&M presidents released a joint statement sharing the blame for the incident. Both student bodies vehemently protested, blamed the other, and called for a cessation of athletic competition between the two schools. Baylor and A&M would not compete in any capacity for five years after this tragic incident.
Baylor and A&M played for the last time in 2011, and by that time most people did not even know about the riot that killed Charles Sessums. But it remains an important event in the history of the university and the town of Waco. Author T. G. Webb captured the full story and outlined the suspects in his book: Battle of the Brazos: A Texas Football Rivalry, a Riot, and a Murder.