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"The Eyes of Texas" is the alma mater of the University of Texas at Austin. It is set to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad." Students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University sing the song at Longhorn sports games and other events.
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The song was written in 1903 by John Sinclair. The lyrics are said to be intended to poke fun at University President Colonel Prather. Prather had attended Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, whose president, Robert E. Lee, would frequently tell his students, "the eyes of the South are upon you." Prather was known for including in his speeches a similar admonition, "The Eyes of Texas are Upon You," meaning that the state of Texas was watching and expecting the students to go out and do great things. Prather enjoyed the song and promoted its usage. He died not long thereafter, and the song was played at his funeral.
An alternate source for the song's inspiration is offered in Hood's Texas Brigade: Lee's Grenadier Guard, a 1970 book by Col. Harold B. Simpson that tracked the history of the vaunted Texas Brigade during the Civil War. The brigade served under General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and fought with distinction in nearly all of the Civil War's pivotal battles. But their finest hour occurred on May 6, 1864 at the Battle of the Wilderness.
General Grant's troops had broken the Confederate line and were driving the fleeing graycoats in disarray back into their reserves. The collapse of Lee's army - and the Confederate cause - seemed imminent when the Texas Brigade arrived with a resounding Rebel yell after an exhausting overnight march.
Moved by their fighting spirit, Lee himself rode to the front of the Texas line on his horse, Traveller, and remarked to his aides, "Texans always move them." The remark was passed down the cheering line, and the brigade formed into attack formation. Knowing that the charge would be deadly, the Brigade refused to move until General Lee moved behind them. ("General Lee to the rear.") Their commander, Col. John Gregg, then ordered them forward: "Attention Texas Brigade. The eyes of General Lee are upon you. Forward march!"
The 811-man brigade surged forward and stopped the federal advance before driving the bluecoats back through two of their defensive lines. Their frontal assault against superior numbers was brutal and costly with 565 casualties (dead and wounded). But it saved the day and prolonged the Confederacy for another year.
Simpson's history is exhaustively sourced and deserving of serious consideration as the primary inspiration for the song. After the war, Lee retired to Washington College (now Washington and Lee University), where he taught Prather and could easily have related both the story and the saying. Lee had an abiding respect for the courage, strength and character of his "Texian" fighters, who were arguably the South's finest troops. Prather was one of the pallbearers at Lee's funeral in 1870.
The song is sung at momentous occasions such as graduation and even solemn occasions such as funerals. Led by the Longhorn Marching Band, it was sung at the July 14, 2007 funeral of First Lady Lady Bird (Claudia Taylor) Johnson, an alumnua of the University of Texas. When singing the song, participants generally raise their right arm with their hand making the Hook 'em Horns symbol of The University. A recording of "The Eyes of Texas" was played over the Rose Bowl public-address system when the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills to win Super Bowl XXVII, while Madison Square Garden organist Ray Castoldi played it when the Houston Rockets defeated the New York Knicks in the seventh game of the 1994 NBA Finals to clinch Texas' first NBA championship.
Highway rest stops through the state feature road signs stating that "The Eyes of Texas are upon You!" These signs feature a silhouette of a Texas Ranger, encouraging motorists to call 9-1-1 to report criminal activity.
The Eyes of Texas is also the alma mater of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). At the time, UTEP was called Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy (TCM). It was adopted in 1920 by the student body after UT (Austin) had declared it their school anthem. UTEP is the second oldest academic component of the U.T. System, having been founded in 1914.
The song originally appeared in the "Carmina Princetonia: The Princeton Song Book" as "Levee Song." It combines both the "Eyes of Texas" and "Texas Fight".
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