Texas’ History: The Lone Star State

In 1519, the recorded history of Texas began with the arrival of Spanish conquistadors. This was a mere 27 years after Columbus discovered the Americas. However, Texas was largely ignored until 1685 when French colonization threatened Spain’s control of the area. Texas was already populated with native tribes whose own history dated back thousands of years. The hostility of these tribes at being confronted by European interests to take over land, combined with the harsh climate, prevented continuous European settlement until 1718. Over the course of its colorful history, Texas has flown six different flags, become the second largest state housing the second largest population, and is a vital part of the American economy.

Captain Alonso de Pineda sailed the Gulf Coast in 1519 and reached the area later to be called Texas, a word stemming from “tejas” meaning “friendship”’ or “allies” in Caddo, a language spoken by a confederation of Native American tribes who inhabited present-day Eastern Texas.

In 1685, the French colony at Fort Saint Louis was built. It only lasted three years before the settlers were killed in a raid. The Spanish, upon finding the fort, destroyed what was left and built a mission there, but it did not last either. In 1718, Spanish missionaries became the first permanent European settlers in Texas, at San Antonio. Soon, five missions dotted the landscape alongside the river, one of which would become a military barracks known as the Alamo. Raids by natives and the difficulty of being isolated from other Spanish colonies kept Texas sparsely populated throughout the Revolutionary War and the Mexican War of Independence.

In September 1821, the Mexican War of Independence ended, leaving Mexico free from Spanish rule and Texas as one of its provinces. The Mexican government allowed settlers from the U.S. to claim land in Mexican Texas under land grants. The first of these went to Moses Austin, and upon his untimely death it was passed to his son Stephen F. Austin, who is now considered the Father of Texas. The land grants were allotted in hopes of reducing the near-constant Comanche raids. Stephen Austin brought 300 families—known as the Old Three Hundred—with him from Louisiana. Over the next fifteen years this led to a population explosion, until whites outnumbered Mexicans five to one (25,000 to 5,000). White settlers disobeyed Mexico’s anti-slavery laws or any that they opposed. Many settlers assumed that they were represented by a Bill of Rights, which they were not. They were now Mexican citizens. When the U.S. offered to buy Texas, Mexico declined and worried that the U.S. would next try to take it by force, so immigration was discontinued.

Despite settlers’ objections, the government combined Texas with the state of Coahuila. With its capital in Saltillo, more than 600 miles from northeastern Texas, Texans were left with little representation. When new President Santa Anna abolished the constitution in 1824 and dissolved local legislatures, that was the final straw for the settlers, and the Texas Revolution began in 1835. Due to Santa Anna’s tyrannical nature and cruelty at the Alamo, “Remember the Alamo” became the rallying cry that sparked fear and anger in Texans who might otherwise have stayed out of the war. Sam Houston and his men attacked and defeated Santa Anna’s troops, forcing Santa Anna to sign the Treaties of Velasco, ending the war.

The Republic of Texas declared itself an independent nation in 1836. However, the newly formed Texan Republic was unable to defend itself from further incursions by Mexican troops (who captured San Antonio twice), hostile natives, and a growing financial crisis. Texas eventually negotiated with the U.S. to join the Union as the 28th state on December 29, 1845. In response, Mexico broke off diplomatic relations with the U.S.

American expansionist policies led to the Mexican-American War. The United States insisted that Texas’ border continued to the Rio Grande River. Mexico, however, claimed it only extended to the Nueces River. Between its superior military power, two years of fighting, and the $18,250,000 the United States paid Mexico, the U.S. obtained the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which set the border at the Rio Grande River. The treaty also allowed for the purchase of Mexican-held land west to the Pacific Coast.

With the election of Abraham Lincoln, Texas joined the newly created Confederate States of America on March 4, 1861. After refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy, Sam Houston was deposed as governor. Texas supplied many men and provisions obtained through Mexico during the course of the war. In this way, the Confederacy could avoid the Union’s blockade. The final battle of the Civil War was fought near Brownsville, Texas. Six flags had now snapped in the Texas breeze: those of Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and finally, the United States of America.

Following the Civil War, Texans drove millions of longhorn cattle north into Kansas to railheads, bringing vitality to their economy. Cattle worth $4 a head in Texas sold for $40 in the beef-starved north. The image of the iconic cowboy from that era persists to this day.

The physical geography of Texas has brought both disaster and riches to the region. The Galveston hurricane of 1900 was the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history, with an estimated death toll of 8,000 people. With winds reaching 145 mph, it was also one of the costliest hurricanes. January 1901 brought better news: the first major oil well, Spindletop, had been found near Beaumont. The resulting “Oil Boom” transformed the state’s economy and helped Texas through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.

In 2010, Texas had a gross state product (GSP) of $1.207 trillion, the second highest in the U.S. This makes Texas economically comparable to India or Canada, which are the world’s 12th- and 11th-largest economies, respectively. Texas’ large population, rich natural resources, flourishing cities, and top centers of higher education have contributed to a large, diversified economy. As of April 2013, the state’s unemployment rate was 6.4%. Texas has been ranked as the most business-friendly state in the nation and has several Fortune 500 companies headquartered there. Texas is home to many wealthy people; 346,000 millionaires live in Texas, the second-largest population of millionaires in the nation. From battles to storms to economics, clearly everything in Texas is bigger.

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