By Barbara Glass ~
I wasn’t born in Texas, but I moved here as fast as I could.
Now having lived here for more than 20 years, it has been fascinating to learn fun facts about my adopted state. Some are surprising but consistent with Texas’s history of fierce independence and self-reliance. I grew up in Connecticut — indeed a stark contrast to Texas in size and cultural heritage.
“Texas” is the Mexican-American pronunciation of the Native American Caddo word “Tejas,” meaning “friends.” The Caddo tribe was among the first to adapt to farming within the Texas territory.
Six flags have flown over Texas since its inception: those of Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas (1836-1845), the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. It’s important to note there is an assortment of Native American tribes in Texas, including the Comanche, who did not hoist flags. These are also significant to Texas culture. Small wonder that Texas history includes so much breadth and richness. All this is symbolic in the Lone Star flag, which was the state symbol of Texas as a republic.
Texas is the second-largest state (after Alaska) and is twice the size of Germany. Unlike all U.S. states preceding 1845, Texas was admitted by treaty rather than territorial annexation. This means Texas is somewhat autonomous. All its public lands belong to the state, not the U.S. federal government. By terms of the treaty, Texas cannot easily secede from the Union, but it can divide into five separate states without approval from the U.S. government.
After the Civil War, Stephen F. Austin settled 300 families across 200,000 acres in central Texas. His father, Moses Austin, masterminded this plan but died before it could be actualized. Stephen oversaw the settling process, establishing the legal framework and land development for what is now the state’s capitol.
There are 254 counties in Texas. Why so many? As the story goes, county size was determined by how far a man could ride a horse in one day. The largest county in acreage is Brewster county (a horseback ride that pushes the limits of the 24-hour day); the smallest is Rockwall County (cross it on horseback and be home for supper).
Texas is home to several successful companies, such as Texas Instruments, 7-Eleven, Dell Computers, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Frito-Lay, Blue Bell Ice Cream, and — my personal favorite — Whataburger.
It’s also home to the first drive-in movie theater, Dr. Pepper, Chili’s, the first-planned shopping center (Highland Park Village), the oldest continuing state law enforcement agency (Texas Rangers), and such culinary delights as Ruby Red grapefruits, corn dogs, nachos with cheese sauce, and cookies ‘n cream ice cream. Dallas saw the introduction of elevator music in the Statler Hilton to entertain guests between floors.
Texas is responsible for Texas Hold ‘Em but not The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Wisconsin) or Texas Roadhouse (Kentucky). We do, however, claim criminals like Bonnie and Clyde alongside Audie Murphy.
Perhaps the best-known Texas pastime, rodeos arose out of informal cowboy “skills” training competitions when cattle drives were common. The first official rodeo with cash prizes was in Pecos, Texas, in 1883. Sports icons from Texas include John Heismann (for whom the Heismann trophy was named), Lance Armstrong, George Forman, Mia Hamm, and Jack Johnson.
The first country-western musical recordings were produced in New York City by Texas fiddler Eck Robertson in 1922. But over the years, Texas has developed an expansive creative persona, fostering the annual South by Southwest film and media festival as well as such Texas artists as Willie Nelson, George Strait, Lyle Lovett, Janice Joplin, and even Beyonce. What other state could generate such acting talents as Tommy Lee Jones, Jamie Foxx, Farah Fawcett, Sandra Bullock, Patrick Swayze, and Barney the purple dinosaur?
Famous politicians include Lyndon Baines Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Sam Rayburn, Barbara Jordan, and Ann Richards. Many writers and storytellers have come from Texas; a personal favorite of mine is Molly Ivins. Recently, we said goodbye to one of the best: Larry McMurtry, the author of Lonesome Dove.
Connecticut is a beautiful state with a history as long as that of Texas. But it is not so nearly imbued with the space, climate rage, and ethnic diversity. Texas’s self-contained persona is reflected in its politics, art, and devotion to business development, alongside freedom above all else.