The Legend of Old Rip: The Horned Toad That Lived 31 Years


The Legend of Old Rip is a tale about a small horned toad that captured the hearts of many. In 1897, a tiny horned toad was placed inside the cornerstone of the Eastland County Courthouse in Texas. 

In 1928, when the courthouse was being demolished, the toad was found alive and well. This amazing discovery amazed people and turned Old Rip into a local legend.

Discovery of Old Rip

In 1928 the workers were tearing down the old courthouse to make way for a new one. As they broke open the cornerstone, they found something unbelievable: a tiny horned toad that had been sealed inside for 31 years! Everyone was amazed that the toad was still alive after all that time. This discovery quickly became a sensation.

Theories on How Old Rip Survived for 31 Years

Some believe it went into a deep sleep called hibernation. Its body slowed down in this state, needing little food or water. Others think he might have eaten insects that somehow got into the capsule. Another theory is that Old Rip had a unique ability to survive in extreme conditions. Scientists have debated these theories for years. The true reason remains a mystery, keeping Old Rip’s story alive and fascinating.

The Courthouse Cornerstone

The Courthouse Cornerstone is a key part of the old courthouse. It is a large stone at the base of the building. This stone holds up the rest of the structure. Builders placed it there when the courthouse was first built. It has words and dates carved into it, showing when the courthouse was made.

People often visit the courthouse to see the cornerstone. It is a piece of history that has lasted many years. Some believe it brings good luck. They say that touching the stone can make wishes come true.

The courthouse itself is a busy place. Many people come here for different reasons. Some come for legal matters, while others come to learn about its history.

The Encased Years

As the community celebrated the new courthouse cornerstone, they had no idea about the horned toad inside. The toad stayed hidden in the Eastland County Courthouse cornerstone from 1897 until 1928. During this time, the legend of Old Rip started to form.

For over thirty years, the horned toad faced:

  • Isolation: Trapped in darkness without sunlight or interaction.
  • Stillness: No food or water, making people wonder about its survival.
  • Myths: A Bible in the time capsule fueled local stories about its miraculous endurance.
  • Scientific Puzzles: Experts debated how it lived without oxygen and essentials.

Eastland residents didn’t know about the wonders happening in their courthouse. The legend of Old Rip grew as tales spread about the toad’s incredible endurance.

Public Reaction

News of its discovery amazed the public, drawing over 1,000 spectators to the courthouse. The excitement quickly spread, making it a national celebrity. People from all over became fascinated by this event, putting Eastland in the national spotlight.

As the horned lizard craze swept the nation, several notable events occurred:

  • Souvenir Sales: At the 1928 Democratic National Convention, vendors sold horned frog souvenirs, cashing in on Old Rip’s fame.
  • Media Frenzy: Newspapers and radio stations across the country reported on Old Rip, making the horned lizard a household name.
  • Public Exhibitions: Thousands of admirers came to see Old Rip in person, eager to witness the legendary lizard.
  • Annual Celebrations: Even after its passing in 1929, his legacy continued. Eastland celebrates Rip Fest each year, honoring the curious tale of their famous resident.

Scientific Explanations

Scientists were eager to investigate the horned lizard that survived for 31 years. They debated whether the toad could live without water, sunlight, or oxygen.

Some locals thought the Bible in the time capsule helped it survive, but this idea lacked scientific proof. Scientists studied horned toads’ hibernation abilities. These toads can handle extreme conditions but surviving for three decades seemed unlikely. Researchers explored if the lizard conserved energy or entered a state of suspended animation.

This mystery boosted its national fame and made scientists rethink animal survival and adaptations. Despite many theories, the true reason for Old Rip’s long life remains unknown.

Old Rip’s Fame

The lizard captivated the nation’s imagination, becoming a symbol of enduring mystery. It’s amazing survival story spread rapidly, making headlines and fascinating audiences nationwide.

The Legend wasn’t just a local curiosity; it turned into a nationwide sensation, with media coverage amplifying the intrigue. Old Rip’s fame reached extraordinary heights. Here are a few highlights:

  1. Film Appearances: The horned toad became a star that featured in 1920s motion pictures that showcased his incredible story.
  2. Traveling Exhibitions: It was exhibited in various cities across the United States, drawing large crowds eager to see the miraculous horned toad.
  3. Scientific Debates: The discovery ignited extensive discussions about the feasibility of surviving 31 years without water, sunlight, or oxygen, adding to his legend.
  4. Cultural Impact: The presence of a Bible in the time capsule contributed to the lore, symbolizing hope and resilience during a time of rapid societal change.

The Toad’s Final Days

In 1929, Old Rip succumbed to pneumonia, concluding his extraordinary 31-year journey. His passing was a somber moment for the community, which had grown fond of the horned toad that had defied expectations. Rip’s death sparked controversy and debate over his treatment while on display, with many questioning the ethics of his prolonged exhibition.

Despite Rip’s death, efforts were made immediately to preserve his remains. The community was determined to keep Old Rip’s story alive. They placed his body, along with his horn-rimmed glasses, in a glass-topped casket to ensure that his tale could be shared with future generations.

Old Rip’s remains found a permanent home at the Eastland County Courthouse, where visitors and locals alike could see the toad that miraculously lived for thirty-one years. Each year, County Judge Rex Fields recounts Old Rip’s story to students, keeping the legend active in the minds of the younger generation.

Though Old Rip is no longer alive, his story continues to captivate and inspire those who learn about his remarkable life.

Legacy in Texas History

Texas Horned Lizard - in habitat wild animal

Rip’s story didn’t end with his death; it solidified his status as a legendary figure in Texas history. Known as a Texas horned lizard, Old Rip’s fame stemmed from his alleged 31-year hibernation, a tale that captivated the nation and became a cornerstone of Texas folklore. His remarkable story continues to resonate through various cultural and historical commemorations in Eastland, Texas.

Every year, the town hosts Ripfest, an event that attracts both visitors and locals to celebrate Old Rip’s legacy.

During Ripfest, attendees can enjoy:

  1. Parades: Featuring colorful floats and marching bands that pay homage to the legendary lizard.
  2. Exhibits: Showcasing Old Rip’s story, including artifacts and historical documents, at the Eastland County Courthouse.
  3. Family Activities: Offering games, food stalls, and live music to create a festive atmosphere for all ages.
  4. Educational Talks: Where local historians and scientists discuss the fascinating aspects of Old Rip’s 31-year hibernation and its impact on scientific debates.

Through these festivities, Old Rip’s story remains alive, ensuring that the Texas horned lizard’s extraordinary tale continues to inspire and intrigue future generations.


In conclusion, the legend of the horned toad that lived for 31 years, is a fascinating story that captures our imagination. It shows us the wonder of nature and the mysteries that still exist in our world. Even though some people doubt the tale, it has become a beloved part of local history, bringing joy and curiosity to many.

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