On his death bed before Christmas, my brother Russell at age 83 once again told me the story of how in 1954 he and his Ole Miss Sigma Nu brothers kidnapped Bully, Mississippi State’s beloved mascot.
“I can’t give you an exact date,” he said over the phone, speaking to me from the Greenville Health Center in South Carolina. “We kept the dog for about three weeks.”
Seventeen years my senior, Russ was a one-of-a-kind yarn spinner. We were quite different, yet brothers, and also brothers of Don and Carroll.
One friend who knew Russ describes him this way: “A link to another time and mindset.” Said another: “Outrageous–his whole life.”
At age 10, Russ had gone by himself to the barber shop and asked the barber to shave his head clean with a straight razor. When he later burst into the living room that day while her bridge club was playing, our mother was horrified. The response from the bridge club ladies and my mother set him on the path to wearing forever his blonde hair in a close-cropped, boxy flat-top style, about which my mother never complained. He was such a handsome boy, she would say; strong cheekbones accentuated his face. Our daddy, his namesake, called him Booga Man.
He had grown up in Columbus, eldest of the four children of Russell Eugene Hudson and Eva Byrd Fraser Hudson. His ancestors first arrived in Columbus and northeast Mississippi, beginning in the 1830s to the 1850s.
He was a Commercial Dispatch “Little Merchant,” the first of four Hudson boys to deliver newspapers downtown and Southside. He was a rent man for Mr. Julian Gardner, a white boy collecting rent from working-class African Americans. He measured cotton in the Prairie. He worked at the tag plant, making license plates. He was a WCBI Radio announcer, once interviewing Pulitzer Prize playwright and Columbus native Tennessee Williams at the Gilmer Hotel studios. He played center for the Generals, ran track and played baseball. He edited the Lee Hi Mirror. He helped my daddy at the Main Street Service Station. “Don’t Cuss. Call Russ.”
Joining Sigma Nu
All that was before Russ, while going to Ole Miss, would hear singer Johnny Cash perform with a young Elvis Presley as the warm up act. Russ was in Navy ROTC, went to Officer Candidate School in Rhode Island and sailed the world during the Cold War of the 1950s. And later he would work for U.S. Steel Corp. in Birmingham, Atlanta, and then at “the head shed” in Pittsburgh.
After Pennsylvania, he returned to his Dixie homeland because he said the Yankees were teaching his daughter Terri bad manners; children wouldn’t say “yes, sir” or “no ma’am.” For decades, he was southeastern United States sales manager for Toyota’s industrial division and later in a similar job for Nissan.
But he perhaps most cherished his time at Ole Miss in Sigma Nu, a fraternity that claims as its members Mississippi businessmen, lawyers, doctors and athletes such as Archie and Eli Manning, and Sen. Trent Lott and Sen. Roger Wicker. I knew Russ’ Sigma Nu brothers by nicknames: Moose, Squirrel, Bones.
His dearest friend, Moose, is Dr. Larry Morris, a Macon physician who cared for the likes of Blume Triplett, proprietor of the Whispering Pines, and Crawford bluesman Big Joe Williams. Williams inducted Morris into Blues History with a line in the song “Sugar Diabetes Blues”: “Went down to the Dr. Larry … He said: ‘Go back, Joe, don’t eating nothing sweet, ’cause you got the sugar diabetes.'”
Retelling of the heist
Fall of 1954, before the traditional “Egg Bowl” football game between Ole Miss and Mississippi State seemed an ideal time for pranks between the collegiate nemeses. Russ retold me the story from his hospital bed:
In north Mississippi, six Sigma Nus jammed into a Buick. They headed south to Starkville in search of Bully VII, Mr. Muggs, the white bulldog who patrolled the sidelines to the cheers of cowbell-ringing fans.
Driver Johnny Murphy’s family owned the Oxford Buick dealership.
About Ralph Scout Holmes, my brother said: “We call him Scout because he was our scout that night. We still call him Scout.”
George Hill: “His daddy graduated from Ole Miss law school at age 19.”
Bruce Meyer: “He was my roommate from Pittsburgh.”
Hardy Squirrel Stennis: “His daddy Jesse was the district attorney. Senator John C. Stennis — that was his first cousin.”
“Six were in the car. That’s why we had to put the dog in the trunk after we got him from behind the YMCA fence. He had a little house, right at the YMCA. The dog did not resist; praise God.
“Got him out of the trunk in West Point. Fed him a hamburger because we didn’t know if he had eaten that day. As my first wife said, ‘Bully ate the hamburger with great relish.’ And then we put him back in the trunk.”
They ferried Bully to Oxford, hiding him in the fraternity house and feeding him scraps before moving him to the country where Jimmy Earl lived, the African-American man known as the Sigma Nu “house boy.” Russ said, “I don’t know [Jimmy Earl’s] last name. Most of us didn’t know colored folks’ last names. All I know is he was a wonderful man.” And perhaps a reluctant confederate in the kidnapping.
Around the same time, Mississippi State’s Bulldogs retaliated. “The two boys that stole our papier-mache Colonel Rebel were Joe Douglas and Houston Hardy. They’re still living in Columbus. Both members of the Knights of Alcohol (Kappa Alpha Order) over at A&M.
“We were going to return Bully during the Egg Bowl. The strategy was to keep State off balance. That was the purpose.
“We were going to dye the dog Ole Miss colors red and blue and turn him over to Brad Dye, (a cheerleader and later Mississippi’s lieutenant governor.) So Brad could let him loose at halftime.
“People started talking to girlfriends. And girlfriends put the story ‘on the radio,’ you know, telling everybody. We were going to get kicked out of school if we didn’t turn that dog loose. All our plans went to blazes.”
Enter Merle Fraser Jr., our eldest cousin and Ole Miss student body president. “People at Mississippi State were raising so much sand,” Merle told me recently. “That’s when we developed a strategy to return the dog. I didn’t personally deliver the bulldog. I just negotiated his return.”
Merle contacted someone he knew, fellow Columbian Dewitt Hicks, vice president of Mississippi State’s student body. They negotiated a prisoner exchange to occur midway between the two schools. “That was simple stuff,” Merle said, “compared to what we’ve got going on today.”
Two days after Thanksgiving, Ole Miss won the game 14-0 in Oxford, with Colonel Rebel and Bully both back at home and on their own sidelines.
“This brings back memories, son,” Russ said on the phone to me from his hospital bed. Then he said, “I love your family. I’m done. Hope to see you in heaven with Jesus.” Three days later, he would die, early on Christmas morning, a fine day to see Jesus.
Memorial services for Russell Eugene Hudson Jr. were held Jan. 13 in Greenville, South Carolina. Another service will be held in Peachtree City, Georgia on Feb. 10. Berkley Hudson is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. HudsonB@missouri.edu.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.