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“The Eyes of Texas are Upon You”

June 1, 2011

Despite staff members’ personal allegiances, the DRT Library remains neutral in the rivalry between the University of Texas and Texas A&M. (Both institutions have wonderful library and archival collections.) However, this blog entry highlights some original materials at the Library that relate to a significant piece of UT’s history.

Last month marked the anniversary of the premiere of “The Eyes of Texas,” the official song of the University of Texas. Written by student John Lang Sinclair and set to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” the song was first sung by the Glee Club quartet at a minstrel show held on May 12, 1903, to benefit the University’s track team. (Sinclair accompanied the group on banjo.)

John Lang Sinclair on the steps of UT's old Main Building, 1903.

John Lang Sinclair on the steps of UT's old Main Building, 1903.

Sinclair was inspired by UT President William L. Prather, who ended his speeches to the student body with the statement, “The eyes of Texas are upon you,” sometimes adding, “You cannot get away.” The phrase became a running campus joke. Prather borrowed the phrase from his own college president, Gen. Robert E. Lee, who often told students at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University), “Remember, gentlemen, the eyes of the South are upon you.” Prather was a pallbearer at Lee’s funeral in 1870.

Sinclair around the time he was a student at the University of Texas.

Sinclair around the time he was a student at the University of Texas.

John Lang Sinclair was born near Center Point, Texas, on November 26, 1879. Shortly thereafter, his family moved to a dairy farm in eastern Bexar County. While a student at the University of Texas, Sinclair was a member of the band and the Glee Club; served as editor of the campus literary magazine and the literary section of the yearbook; and played football. After graduating from UT in 1904, Sinclair tried farming near Artesia Wells in La Salle County. He returned to his family’s dairy farm following his father’s death in 1908. Around 1923, Sinclair moved to New York City, where he became a partner in a tax and investment advisory service and, in 1945, married Stella C. Anderson (1888-1959) of San Antonio. Sinclair died in New York on January 4, 1947, and is buried with his wife in the Masonic Cemetery in San Antonio.

John Lang Sinclair working on his car. According to friend Wallace Pirie, John enjoyed auto racing and took his friends riding. "Jack used to get (the Thomas Flyer car, owned by the Sinclairs around 1910) up to 60 miles an hour," Pirie told the Express-News in 1977.

John Lang Sinclair working on his car. According to friend Wallace Pirie, John enjoyed auto racing and took his friends riding. "Jack used to get (the Thomas Flyer car, owned by the Sinclairs around 1910) up to 60 miles an hour," Pirie told the Express-News in 1977.

Original materials relating to John Lang Sinclair and “The Eyes of Texas” can be found within two collections at the DRT Library. First, the Alex and Agnes Sinclair family album contains 186 photographs, including the image above. Shown in the photos are John Lang Sinclair, other relatives, the family dairy farm in Bexar County, and the property near Artesia Wells. Alexander (1851-1908) and Agnes (born 1851) Sinclair, natives of Scotland who immigrated to the U.S. in 1878, were John Lang Sinclair’s parents.

In this incomplete letter to an unknown recipient, Sinclair described UT's 29-6 win over A&M. The football game took place in Austin on November 29, 1903.

In this incomplete letter to an unknown recipient, Sinclair described UT's 29-6 win over A&M. The football game took place in Austin on November 29, 1903.

At the end of the same letter, Sinclair described a Varsity Minstrel Show that took place.

At the end of the same letter, Sinclair described a Varsity Minstrel Show that took place.

Second, the Library’s collection of Pirie and Sinclair Families Papers contains letters, speeches, printed material, and photographs that document the close relationship between the Bexar County family and their neighbors, the Sinclairs. Letters include several from Agnes Sinclair and her sons John Lang and William concerning family and social matters. Later letters from several individuals include reminiscences of John Lang Sinclair written by his brother-in-law, James Anderson. A brief speech by friend W. D. Pirie at the 1981 dedication of a school named in Sinclair’s honor is included, along with notes on Sinclair’s life. Printed material includes items created by John L. Sinclair (below) and clippings on Sinclair, the Sinclair school, and the Pirie family. Photographs of John Lang and William Sinclair, ceremonies at John L. Sinclair’s grave, and the family farm site are included with the papers. Additional information about Sinclair and “The Eyes of Texas” can be found in the Library’s vertical files.

Remembered by friend W. D. Pirie as a "prolific writer," Sinclair wrote the above poem lampooning Oscar B. Colquitt (1861-1940), who made an unsuccessful run for governor in 1906 and was elected to the office in 1910 as an anti-prohibitionist.

Remembered by friend W. D. Pirie as a "prolific writer," Sinclair wrote the above poem lampooning Oscar B. Colquitt (1861-1940), who made an unsuccessful run for governor in 1906 and was elected to the office in 1910 as an anti-prohibitionist.

The cover of "The Milkman's Primer," a small, undated pamphlet authored by John Lang Sinclair.

The cover of "The Milkman's Primer," a small, undated pamphlet authored by John Lang Sinclair.

The second and third lessons in "The Milkman's Primer."

The second and third lessons in "The Milkman's Primer."

References and Further Reading

Additional information about the history and lyrics of the “The Eyes of Texas,” a clip of the song, can be found at the website of the University of Texas Longhorn Band. Articles about the song and the copyright dispute that later surrounded it have also been published in the May 1992 and March 2003 issues of The Alcalde, the bi­monthly magazine of the UT alumni association.

Click here for a full citation of the documents and images included in this entry.

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