The history of the Hutto hippo is a legend more than 100 years in the making. Some consider it mere folklore that over time has lent itself to national recognition. Others see the legend as a central fabric of the city’s history. Tanya Clawson, the board chairperson of the Hutto Area Chamber of Commerce, falls in the latter category.
“This is true,” she said, laughing. “I am a Hutto hippo believer.”
The legend of the Hutto hippo traces its roots back to 1915, when a circus train stopped in Hutto to gather supplies and care for the animals. According to folklore, a hippo escaped from its keeper, running toward Cottonwood Creek.
The train depot agent reportedly sent the following message to nearby communities: “Stop trains. Hippo loose in Hutto.”
The rest, for believers, is history.
Embracing the city’s mascot, the Hutto Area Chamber of Commerce has sold hippo statues to businesses and city residents for a decade, said Mike Fowler, former mayor and former member of Hutto City Council.
More than 3,000 have been sold in the past 10 years, said Kristen Smiley, the executive administrative assistant at the chamber. Since May 2018, 353 have been purchased, from visitor souvenirs to holiday and graduation presents.
Hutto is the only city in the United States with the hippo as its mascot, and Smiley said that the community has leaned into the tradition.
Figurines dot lawns throughout the city, from muted tones to fluorescent shades of pinks and greens.
Hippo enthusiasts from across the United States and around the world stop in the city for tours led by Fowler, Smiley said. She added during June, the chamber had visitors from Belgium and Sweden stop in town to see the statues up close. That, she said, is not a rarity.
She said the chamber has given away T-shirts and other small gifts as a means of acknowledging the tourists who have helped make Hutto a visitor destination over the years.