Hazing News

Dallas investigation of University of Texas Cowboys

Kudos to the Dallas paper for cracking this story wide open.

Must read. Dallas paper releases hundreds of Texas Cowboy documents–the group that Gabe Higgins and Nicky Cumberland died during or after initiation. 


Now, a year after the retreat, the university has released hundreds of pages of documents to The Dallas Morning News, including notes from at least 95 interviews with Cowboys. All student names were redacted.

The interviews detail a night of terrorizing animals, shotgunning beers with Tabasco sauce and striking new members with sticks, in what is the clearest picture yet about the rituals, traditions and hard-partying ways of the iconic organization.

Affter dinner, the New Men competed in relay races. Some of the students interviewed characterized the activities as “hazing,” but many told administrators they felt everything was optional.

A couple of Cowboys the university interviewed said the relay races were divided into stages. One Cowboy would drink a gallon of milk, then the next would stuff hot dogs, ketchup and mustard down his shirt and do army crawls across the field. Another group would do human wheelbarrow races with tobacco dips in their mouth, and others waited to be hit by a football to begin their race to chug a bag of wine.

Other students reported participating in Oklahoma drills, an exercise banned by the NFL that pits two people against each other on opposite sides who violently collide with the intent of taking the other down.

After the relays, they played a game of football in the mud. Then, the Old Men transported the New Men to the edge of the property and told them to walk back to the retreat, which took about 40 minutes. They carried the chicken with them in the dark.

When the New Men returned, they took turns introducing themselves and firing the cannon. The loud booms drew a noise complaint, which resulted in a visit from  local law enforcement, causing many of the Cowboys to hide. But no citations were issued, and several students interviewed said the officers fired the cannon before leaving. The Brown County Sheriff’s Office said it did not have any calls to the ranch address that night.

As the night drew on, the activities intensified.

Cowboys split into subgroups — many of them breaking away with their fraternity members. Here, New Men experienced different levels of hazing, depending on the group. Some reported none. Others reported chugging a beer with Tabasco sauce or Spam. At least one Cowboy said he had to put cat food in his lip while shotgunning a beer.

The Cumberland family told the university Nicky was paddled so hard he had “bruising on his buttocks” visible for nearly a month after the retreat.

The hamster

The hamster and animal cruelty allegations were a major focal point of the interviews university officials conducted about the night.

They were also the talk of the retreat.

“‘Do you guys think they’ll do a hamster?’ is what people talk about,’ ” one Cowboy told an interviewer.

The hamster was killed while the Cowboys had broken into subgroups. The second hamster was not harmed.

Only eight students admitted watching the hamster get its head bitten off. Most of them denied it or said they heard about it from rumors. Many said they knew it was going on but walked away. One Cowboy interviewed said he wouldn’t discuss the incident. But those who said they saw it guessed that almost half of the people at the retreat were present and egging it on.

Students interviewed said Cowboys bit the heads off hamsters at previous Ranch retreats from 2015 to 2017.

The hamster story has “always been lore,” one student told the interviewer. “You hear about it maybe happening once you get in. I had heard maybe it happened at retreats in the past. I know it happened at this retreat because everyone crowded around.”

The student expressed disgust.

“We made it a point to keep the chicken safe,” he added. The chicken was left at the ranch.

The a

“Tomorrow is going to be a phenomenal day and we have a lot of great things planned for yall,” one of the Cowboys wrote to his friends in a group messaging app on Sept. 28, 2018. Wear a white T-shirt, whitewashed jeans and boots, he told them. The freshly minted Cowboys wouldn’t get their custom hat and signature chaps until a formal initiation ceremony with family that took place later in the fall.

The student told the group where to meet with supplies before they would head to the highly anticipated “Ranch retreat.” The retreat is an annual tradition for the Cowboys, a group established in 1922.

The retreat had gone uninterrupted since 2000, when it was called “Picnic.” In 1995, 19-year-old student Gabe Higgins drowned in the Colorado River during his retreat. The Cowboys, already on probation at the time for hazing violations, were banned for five years.

Before last year’s retreat, Cumberland and other recruits had just endured a grueling selection process that spanned a month and required students to write five essays, submit letters of recommendation and attend interviews, dinners and happy hours with Texas Cowboys and alumni.

The exclusive group takes only 25 new members a year, often recruiting from fraternities. Freshmen aren’t eligible. Women need not apply. The organization, which touts its philanthropy and public service, targets people who exemplify “pillars of scholarship, leadership and service,” according to the application. 

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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