Today’s issue of the Houstonian discusses the history of Sammy Bearkat:
In the late 19th Century, college campuses began to introduce mascots to sports teams. Often these mascots were real animals, although most colleges abandoned this practice due to the high cost of caring for the animals. Real animals were soon replaced by people in animal costumes, a tradition that still continues to this day in most different levels of sports.
In 1923, Sam Houston State Teacher's College chose "The Bearkat" as the nickname for all the school's teams. The actual bearkat is the South American kinkajou, though it was probably not the basis for the animal that the school had in mind, which was actually a fictional creature that derived from a local saying "tough as a Bearkat." Despite this, SHSU did briefly have a live kinkajou as a mascot in the early 1950s, but quickly returned it to the wild when it did not adjust to captivity.