September 2, 2014

A Cleburne artist, an Alamo hero and Aggie football

Gov. Rick Perry’s office contacted Cleburne sculptor Jeff Gottfried to commission a sculpture of Alamo hero James Bonham for a trophy that will go to the governor of Texas or South Carolina, depending on who wins the annual football game between A&M and South Carolina.

The college football rivalry between Texas A&M and South Carolina is still in its infancy, but the game already features a trophy rich with history.

A bronzed sculpture of James Butler Bonham, a South Carolina native who fought and died at the Alamo, will be awarded to the governor of the state whose school wins each year. Thanks to the Aggies’ 52-28 victory over the Gamecocks last week in Columbia, S.C., Texas Gov. Rick Perry gets the Bonham Trophy for now.

Cleburne artist Jeff Gottfried, who was commissioned to create the trophy, was decidedly pleased with the outcome of the inaugural game between the two Southeastern Conference schools.

“I’m a Texan, so I’m happy to see it come back,” Gottfried said.

But, in a nod to political correctness — which was at play throughout the sculpting project — “it would be have been an honor for it to be in South Carolina as well,” he said.

Gottfried jumped at the chance to create the trophy, which depicts Bonham with his rifle in hand astride his horse, reared on its back legs, preparing to head to the Alamo to deliver a message to Col. William Travis.

He said that in late December, Perry’s office contacted the Whistle Pik Gallery in Fredericksburg, where he is a resident artist, looking for someone to create the trophy for Perry and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Whistle Pik’s owner, Dr. Tim Taylor, said he talked to Perry and suggested that Gottfried would be perfect for the job.

Taylor said Gottfried could “do the turnaround” on the sculpture in short period of time, while at the same time dealing with a “lot of back and forth” with officials and historians in both Texas and South Carolina.

“I just wanted to make everybody in both states happy,” Gottfried said, noting that the wording on the plaque of the trophy “was the hardest thing to get finished.”

Gottfried said he rushed to get a rough draft completed and met with Taylor and Perry, both A&M graduates, in early January.

When Taylor noted that Gottfried’s birthday was March 6, the day the Alamo fell in 1836, Perry said “that sounds like an automatic to me” and Gottfried was chosen for the task.

“The way I got the project was pretty surreal,” said Gottfried, describing the work as “fast-paced and challenging.”

A governor’s trophy

The trophy is the latest in a long line of college football rivalry hardware, from the Little Brown Jug (Michigan-Minnesota) to the Iron Skillet (SMU-TCU). South Carolina, in fact, already plays for another trophy with its in-state rival Clemson, formerly known as Clemson A&M.

“As we like to say, it’s culture vs. agriculture,” said South Carolina businessman Richard Peterson, who played a key role in the birth of the Bonham Trophy.

Peterson, a longtime supporter of Perry who grew up in San Antonio, said he talked to the governor and South Carolina alumni, wondering how to make the new rivalry between A&M and South Carolina “a big deal.”

But the Bonham Trophy is somewhat unique in that neither school is involved; it’s strictly a governor’s trophy.

While Perry’s office has not said where it will be displayed, Taylor said he talked to the governor on Saturday and he said he’d like it to reside permanently at the Alamo, except for a couple of weeks following the game each year.

Gottfried said he’s heard rumors to that effect as well.

“If it makes its way to the Alamo, that would be very special to me,” he said.

Delivering the message

Bonham had attended South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) until he led a rebellion during his senior year, protesting the bad food served to students. He was expelled for his behavior, according to numerous historical accounts.

He became a lawyer before making his way to Texas in 1835 where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Texas Cavalry, all while starting a law practice in Brazoria, southeast of San Antonio and not far from the Gulf Coast.

He joined the defenders at the Alamo in January 1836 and in February, Travis — a childhood friend from Saluda County, S.C. — asked Bonham to seek help from troops in Goliad.

While there is some historical debate about the exact news that Bonham delivered to Travis, the plaque on Gottfried’s trophy says that Bonham “braved intense fire from enemy troops to return to the Alamo and deliver the message that reinforcements would not make it in time.”

That was on March 3; on March 6, Bonham and approximately 200 other defenders died at the hands of the Mexican army during the battle of the Alamo. He was 29 and his efforts did not go unnoticed.

The city of Bonham, northeast of Fort Worth near the Oklahoma border, is named after him. And in Saluda, a monument on the courthouse lawn pays tribute to both Travis and Bonham. A once-popular bumper sticker in Saluda County read “Texas Starts Here,” according to South Carolina’s Information Highway website.

A man of his word

Bonham was a man who kept his word, even as he was dying, and that message was important to historians, said Gottfried.

“Bonham exemplified keeping your word which is what Texas, South Carolina and America stand for,” Gottfried said.

Gottfried said he spent a great deal of time researching the clothing, saddles and weapons used during 1836 so that he could create an accurate sculpture of the Alamo hero. He said he learned that Bonham purchased a “magnificent” horse near San Antonio before starting on his mission.

Taylor said Gottfried’s sculpture contains “historical detail” and “he does a very good job of working a narrative into the piece.”

A private donor paid the $6,000 for the trophy to be made, Taylor said.

Gottfried lives with his family on a 10-acre spread outside of Cleburne and commutes to teach art at elementary and intermediate schools in Glen Rose.

He has created numerous other pieces of art, including the Freedom Train at the Texas & Pacific Terminal Building on Lancaster Avenue, which honors the contributions of African American railroad workers. He said he is currently working on a sculpture of Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne, for whom the Johnson County city is named.

The Bonham Trophy, however, “is the highest profile piece I’ve ever done.”

Staff writer Lee Williams contributed to this report.

Related content



Editor's Choice Videos