Looking through old copies of the Yackety Yack, I’m often struck by the large number of private clubs and societies on campus. Some, like the Order of the Gimghoul and the Golden Fleece, have lasted to the present, but many others, including the Order of the Sheiks, the 13 Club, and Order of Invisible Stygians, have not appeared on campus in years (or else they’re doing a very good job of keeping their activities secret).
But by far the most intriguing one that I’ve come across — and easily the most creatively-named — is the Society for the Preservation of Buck Taylor’s Mutton and Shoats. The group was founded in late 1965 or early 1966. Described as a dining and humor society, it was essentially an excuse for a group of young men (it doesn’t appear that they ever had women members) to get together, eat heartily, drink, and tell jokes.
According to a Daily Tar Heel article from February 28, 1966, which described the society’s second dinner, the founding of the group was necessitated by the inability to find a proper multi-course French meal in Chapel Hill. So they would hire a chef, book a private room at the Villa Tempesta (an actual building on Franklin Street now housing Whitehall at the Villa Antiques), and have a five- to eight-course meal with multiple wines and brandy. There was an educational component to the event described by the DTH: UNC faculty member Hugh Lefler was invited to address the attendees on life at the university in the 18th century. Dinners were sometimes followed by the members piling into a mule-drawn cart and travelling around the town singing.
Membership looks to have been limited to around 20 men. Many prominent North Carolina names appear in the membership lists; the elaborate dinners suggest that this would not have been a cheap organization to join. After its first few dinners, the society received only occasional coverage in the Daily Tar Heel, and did not have a page in the Yackety Yack every year. The latest I could find was 1979.
The name came from John “Buck” Taylor, who served as the first steward at UNC in the 1790s and who left the university in anger after students reacted unfavorably to his mutton and shoats (a shoat is a young hog). The dining society, sensing that the dismissal may have been unjust, set out to, somehow, restore Buck Taylor’s honor through their joke-filled dinners. The founders of the club were especially fond of quoting a letter from Buck Taylor to one of the Trustees, in which Taylor offered to resume his post as steward: “I shall have but littel to do next yeare and I want to be doing Something as I have don nothing Sence I have beain heare.” The true story of Buck Taylor, as far as it can be ascertained through the archival records, will have to be the subject of a later post.