Old Rip: The Toad Who Took a Thirty-one Year Nap

The current Eastland County courthouse.

By John Bird

Eastland, Texas is best known for its most famous citizen of the past—a horned toad named Old Rip.

Eastland County was amid a boom in the last years of the 19th century, and a larger courthouse was built in 1897. During the dedication, dignitaries placed various things in the courthouse cornerstone as a sort of time-capsule. A Bible, historical documents, and a horned toad caught by a young boy earlier that morning. The men then sealed the vault, built the courthouse around it, and forgot their froggy friend.

Eastland County grew through the oil boom years, and in 1928 they tore down the courthouse for a newer, fancier one. The walls came down, the cornerstone opened, and a citizen gently removed poor Old Rip, whom everyone assumed to be petrified. Until he twitched a leg.

The lizard was just waking from a 31-year nap, so he was understandably sluggish. He did not, as the Warner Brothers cartoon portrayed, jump out and sing, “Hello, my baby, hello my honey.” He did, though, become an instant celebrity and after visiting Dallas, took a train ride to Washington D.C. where he was paid a visit by President Calvin Coolidge.

During a return visit to Dallas, the lizard and his travelling companion got in a bit of trouble over failing to show up for an event and earned a brief stay in the Dallas County jail, but soon made bail, or perhaps escaped—lizards can fit easily through bars. Who knows?

Back home, Old Rip lived in a fishbowl and was fed a steady diet of red ants—a horned toad’s preferred snack. Sadly, Old Rip died of pneumonia after about a year.

The people of Eastland mourned. They embalmed Old Rip and placed him in a velvet lined casket, which can be viewed this very day, in the Eastland County courthouse.

His stay has been mostly peaceful aside from losing a leg during a photo op with an aspiring politician in 1962 and a brief kidnapping in the 70’s. The kidnappers were forgiven; the politician was not.

Today, Eastland hosts an Old Rip Fest in the fall, and a Rip’s Ribs cookoff and wine festival in the spring. Metal horned toads are the awards for the fall 5k race, and horned toad t-shirts, statues, and stationary are common throughout town.

The saddest part of the story is that Old Rip is the only real horned toad that most Eastland County children will see outside of a zoo. Until the last 20 or 30 years, they were plentiful in central Texas. I played with them when I was a boy. My children, who all grew up in Eastland, have never seen one. Some conservationists believe the intrusion of fire ants, which drove away the red ants, is to blame. That seems reasonable to me. Various efforts are underway to bring the horned lizard back to prominence, but little progress has been made.


You can watch a short but terrific video produced by Texas Parks and Wildlife about Old Rip here.

About Nowhere Tribune

A husband and daddy, striving to love his neighbors and be kind to his pets. I love good food, good beer, and a few good friends. My other interests are hiking, taking walks, lifting weights, reading books by manly authors like Hemingway and Twain, and splitting fire wood with my bare hands.


19 thoughts on “Old Rip: The Toad Who Took a Thirty-one Year Nap

  1. Wow, so this is a true story? I mean I’ve seen the WB cartoon, but I just thought it was made up. Eastland sure has interesting history.

    Posted by thehuntress915 | March 11, 2020, 8:49 pm
    • We’ve had some interesting characters around here, for sure. I’m just beginning my research on another. And yep, Old Rip is for real.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | March 12, 2020, 7:28 am
  2. Great story, but I gotta wonder if some magician didn’t slip a horned toad out of his sleeve.
    My brother and I used to catch these lizards by the dozen when we were kids. Now I hardly ever see them, on my hikes. I hope they make a comeback in your parts. They’re my favorite lizard.

    Posted by Tippy Gnu | March 11, 2020, 9:54 pm
    • They’re my favorites, too. Such a great disposition. There are doubters. But regarding this story, it’s my duty to believe it 100%. I wouldn’t be a good Eastlander if I didn’t.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | March 12, 2020, 7:27 am
  3. I never knew the cartoon was based on a real toad. This is marvelous!!!
    Long live the horned toad.

    Posted by Rivergirl | March 12, 2020, 5:57 am
  4. What a fantastic story! Such a treat, we’ll have to visit Eastland sometime when we are in Texas during winter.

    Posted by Roadtirement | March 12, 2020, 10:46 am
  5. Why does every story of Texas make me think it happened in Australia? I’m all for finding a toad that will eat fire ants. Hate those things.

    Posted by Kieran | March 12, 2020, 1:09 pm
    • I think we have a lot in common with Australia. I hate fire ants too; they’ve really messed with things around here. The big red ants that the horned toads ate are mostly gone now because of them. They had a powerful sting, but only if you really messed with them. They didn’t do surprise attacks like the fire ants.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | March 12, 2020, 1:32 pm
  6. I was trying to think of something famous about the town where I live. Apparently, there was a cemetery scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre filmed in the cemetery a few blocks from my house. I don’t know if that is remarkable, but that’s what I have for Leander Texas.

    Posted by Jason Frels | March 12, 2020, 6:50 pm
    • That’s not a scene I’d want to watch if I only lived a few blocks from there. Then again, a man was lynched by an angry mob in our back yard in the twenties, so I guess we learn to ignore those things.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | March 13, 2020, 9:04 am
  7. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction. I just love stories like this!

    Posted by Clever Girl | March 13, 2020, 2:45 pm
  8. Always a good laugh and a great story.

    Posted by Snowbird In Training | March 15, 2020, 1:48 pm
  9. This is such an amazing story, thanks for sharing! Also, now I’m jealous of the fella who got to take a 31-year nap. I can’t even get one hour without something interrupting me! Hope you’re having a good week and that you and your family are safe and healthy!

    Posted by Jay | March 19, 2020, 5:24 pm
  10. Whaaaaat?! If the average lifespan for a horned toad is 5 years (which according to Google, it is) and the average lifespan for a man is 76 years, then this is like finding a 456-year-old man in a wall! I don’t remember what my point was after doing all that math, but I’m sure my logic makes sense here.

    That’s also the tiniest casket I’ve ever seen.

    Posted by Shayne | March 26, 2020, 1:22 pm
    • I just read a very good history of our county written by an eye witness of the toad. He said he “took little interest in the event,” but after the horned toad “showed signs of life,” the man sitting next to him said, “I’ll be damned. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.”

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | March 26, 2020, 2:06 pm

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