The Indomitable Horned Toad of Eastland County

Wesley Treat, blogger and author of “Weird Texas,” shares the legend of Old Rip.

By Rhonda FanningFebruary 16, 2015 9:39 am

When fire destroyed the courthouse in Eastland Texas in 1896 – the city built a new one. It’s here that the legend of Old Rip begins.

Town officials wanted to commemorate the construction by placing a traditional time capsule in the new building’s cornerstone. They stashed newspaper clippings, coins, a bible, even a bottle of whiskey in the hollow block of marble.

Acting on a whim Eastland County Clerk Ernest Wood included a horned lizard his son Will had just captured and named Blinky.

Almost three decades later, the 1920’s oil boom brought money and growth to the area. By 1928 the city once again needed of a new courthouse. The old building would be torn down; its time capsule opened.

Thousands gathered that chilly February afternoon to discover Blinky the horny toad’s fate. As workers cleared the debris, County Judge Ed Pritchard reached into the cornerstone. Silence settled over the crowd. “It’s alive!” exclaimed the judge, lifting up the dusty reptile, which had somehow survived a miraculous 31 years entombed in marble. The crowd cheered, and the normally quiet atmosphere of Eastland erupted in celebration.

Blinky, who earned the nickname Old Rip after the sleepy Rip Van Winkle, became a national celebrity. Though skeptics doubted his tall Texas tale, thousands waited in long lines to catch a glimpse of the famed reptile as he toured the country.

The reptile was placed back in the care of his original captor, Will Wood, now 27 and with a family of his own. Old Rip even made it as far as the White House. The New York Times reported that the toad spent an entire 15 minutes in the Oval Office with President Calvin Coolidge.

Sadly, life on the outside proved too much for the seemingly indomitable lizard. Old Rip died of pneumonia less than a year after his release.

His legend, of course, did not die. Visitors to Eastland can still view Old Rip, preserved and on display at the new county courthouse. And fans of Warner Bros. cartoons have him to thank for the dancing, jazz-singing character of “Michigan J. Frog,” inspired by the events in Eastland, Texas, 87 years ago this month.