When Tripod Ruled the Campus
A reprint of the 1980 article on Mizzou’s three-legged pup.
In some ways, Tripod is more elusive now than he was when he roamed the Columbia campus for a dozen or so years in the ’40s and ’50s. But, then, elusiveness is an important ingredient of legends, and most of the alumni who were on campus in those postwar years remember the three-legged, black-and-brown dog in the shadowy way that characterizes larger-than-life figures.
Dogs were common on campuses everywhere in the years after World War II. (Showme, the student humor magazine, noted: “With the added convenience of six centrally located stone posts … and classrooms with sleep-producing lectures, what dog wouldn’t jump at the chance to migrate to Mizzou?”) In any event, there were Pal, Curly, Ralph, George, Alf, Stinky and undoubtedly many others. The rest came and went, but Tripod remained to become an unofficial campus mascot.
After the Missouri Alumnus magazine asked for Tripod stories in its June-July 1979 issue, several alumni responded, and one couple even stopped by Columbia on their way from Chicago to Texas. Few could recall specific instances, however.
Some evidence suggests that Tripod lost his right (or was it his left?) rear leg in 1946 as the result of a run-in with a Yellow Cab (or was it a Vets?). Legend had it that from that time on, he would bark only at Yellow Cabs (or Vets) and at no other automobile.
The Columbia Missourian reported two Tripod stories on its news pages, both in 1948: “ … While walking home from school, the 8-year-old boy was confronted by a large, white collie dog, a stranger to the campus. … Then before any student onlooker could make a move, a flash of brown and black rushed past all and placed himself between the boy and larger dog. By a series of menacing growls and threatening steps, Tripod convinced the collie he meant business and steadily drove him back.”
And later “ … Some two weeks ago, Tripod was picked up because he did not carry his dog license and was sentenced to the city dog pound. However, Tripod is out on probation since yesterday because Mrs. Irvin Grant, a dog lover, bailed him out for two dollars. A sympathetic university student is buying the license today.”
A student who had to remain in Columbia during a semester break told Showme he spent the time “swapping dirty stories with Tripod between the second and third Columns.” In another issue, Showme interrupted its regular “Boy of the Month” and “Girl of the Month” features to name Tripod “Bitch of the Month,” either attempting to make a point or showing a remarkable need to improve the budding journalists’ powers of observation. The Savitar staff advertised the yearbook by including Tripod in a list of traditions, right alongside the Columns and beer busts.
In 1947, Robert J. Fawks, now a Topeka, Kansas, attorney, was an assistant professor in business and public affairs. He recalls, “One day in April — a warm spring day with windows open and spring fever in the air — Tripod came into class, strolled down the aisle, sat down, listened, then yawned and groaned very loudly. That broke up the class, and we all left the room, thanking Tripod.” When Fawks reported the incident to Dean William Bradshaw, the young teacher received a lecture on how to run a class. “It was the highlight of my two years as a business and public affairs professor,” says Fawks.
Tripod had no permanent home, but apparently he never went hungry. Fawks remembers the “philosophical” discussions they shared in Fawks’ office but suspects their success had something to do with the cookies he kept on hand. Guy and Marilyn Steagall of Winnetka, Illinois, said he ate often at Read Hall (“Tripod was the only one who thought the food was any good.”). Handouts also were available at Ralph’s Evereat on Ninth.
Tripod’s territorial range spanned the campus, but again, the memories differ — or he changed his habits from time to time. “Usually, the Red Campus.” “He owned Hitt Street.” Showme reported he shifted headquarters from the Bible College to Johnston Hall, a women’s residence hall. “It’s reasonable to assume that a three-legged male should be able to keep up with a two-legged woman,” said writer Joe Gold. “It’s certainly been proven that a two-legged male can’t do the same.” Haig Toroian, of Marina del Rey, California, remembers Tripod walking to the football games with everyone else. The students cheered when he ran onto the field.
But for the most part, Toroian’s memories, like other alumni’s, now are impressions: “He was loved by all who came in contact with this gutsy, three-legged dog.” Robert G. Neel, of Orlando, Florida: “He filled our hearts with love and enthusiasm. … He was a winner.” Marilyn Steagall: “Tripod was everybody’s dog. He was very democratic.” Billie Jorgensen, of Chico, California: “Our beloved Tripod would trip around Red Campus as if he owned it.”
It was with genuine concern, therefore, that the Maneater asked in the spring of 1958: “Where’s Tripod? Where’s the three-legged independent who’s roamed this campus fro nigh on to eons? … This time he may be gone for good. He may not have survived the heavy snowfalls. … Won’t you take a look and ask around — for Tripod. Thanks.”