And Now You Know: Bengal Guards impress New Orleans Sugar Bowl fans

Published 2:14 pm Saturday, December 29, 2018

By Mike Louviere

During the decade of the 1930s, one of the best-known drum and bugle corps in the United States was the Bengal Guards of Orange High School. H.J. Lutcher Stark had started a boy’s band as an incentive for boys to attend his Sunday School class at his church. After a few years, he decided to do something for girls, as well as for the school.

His first move was to lure Mrs. Lawrence Hustmyre, also known as “Miss Smitty”, away from Port Arthur where she had been the director of the Red Hussars, the drum and bugle corps of the school there.

Over the years “Miss Smitty”, band director Frank Hubert, and assistant band director Lewis Gay, with Stark as the sponsor, had transformed a group of small-town girls into a nationally recognized drum and bugle corps, the Bengal Guards.

The Bengal Guards had made numerous away from Orange performances, the largest was at Soldier’s Field in Chicago.

In 1940, they were invited to be the star performers at the Sugar Bowl Game between Texas A&M and Tulane on New Year’s Day in New Orleans.

After seeing the Guards perform in the parade the Sunday before the game on Monday, a New Orleans sportswriter wrote: “If the Aggies stacked up like the Bengal Guards, the Tulaners would not stand a chance.”

Another paper reported that “the Bengal Guards of Orange High School came to New Orleans and literally stopped traffic on crowded Canal Street with their flashy marching, snappy uniforms, and smart music. Huge Sugar Bowl fans lined the wide main streets on both sides and in the esplanade to cheer the girls as they executed tricky formations in their parade that started at 4:00 p.m.”

photo courtesy “If the Devil Had a Wife.”

Becky Havens, the senior drum major drew rounds of applause with her expert baton twirling.

Carol Jo Colburn, signal drum major, showed the crowds something new in signal calling by firing pistol shots to signal changes in formations.

Six junior drum majors led by Patsy Ruth Levingston, National Drum Major Champion, performed unique acrobatic stunts while marching and twirling their batons. Patsy Ruth had been given advance publicity by New Orleans newspapers.

Following the parade, the Guards assembled and played the “Aggie War Hymn” and the “Eyes of Texas” to a crowd of several thousand.

Sugar Bowl fans had been highly anticipating the Guards parade show.

One New Orleans paper reported, “the Orange Bengal Guards constituted the main show throughout the two days events with their parades, radio broadcasts, and various stunts that attracted over 100,000 visitors to New Orleans.”

The sports page of the Houston Post reported “The Bengal Guards from Orange High School went on the field with Becky Havens handling her two batons putting on a great show. The girls saluted the Green Wave (Tulane) and A&M then marched to the center of the field to play “The Eyes of Texas” as the crowd stood to cheer.”

As the Bengal Guards marched off the field, two airplanes played overhead with aerial bombs exploding.

Texas A&M defeated Tulane 14-13. The game was played before 73,000 fans, the largest sports crowd in the history of the Southland.

The Guards returned to Orange on cars attached to the Acadia Flier, the crack train of the Southern Pacific Line early the morning of January 2.

The Orange Leader reported “the Bengal Guards, high school drum and bugle corps, the Pride of Orange, together with the Texas Aggies emerged victorious from the festivities of last Sunday and Monday incidental to the Sugar Bowl football game.

The fact now remains that the Bengal Guards and the Texas Aggies took New Orleans by storm.”

“And now you know.”