Spain was the first European nation
to claim what is now Texas, beginning in 1519 when Cortez was establishing
Spanish presence in Mexico, and Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda mapped the Texas
coastline. A few shipwrecked Spaniards, like Alvar Nunez, Cabeza de Vaca,
and explorers such as Coronado, occasionally probed the vast wilderness,
but more than 100 years passed before Spain planted its first settlement
in Texas: Ysleta Mission in present El Paso, established in 1681. Gradually
expanding from Mexico, other Spanish missions, forts and civil settlements
followed for nearly a century-and-a-half until Mexico threw off European
rule and became independent in 1821. The red and yellow striped Spanish
flag after 1785 depicts a lion of Leon and a castle of Castile on a shield
surmounted by a crown.
Planning to expand its base from French
Louisiana, France took a bold step in 1685, planting its flag in eastern
Texas near the Gulf Coast. Although claimed by Spain, most of Texas had
no Spanish presence at all; the nearest Spanish settlements were hundreds
of miles distant. French nobleman Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle,
founded a colony called Fort St. Louis. But the effort was doomed by a
series of calamities: shipwreck, disease, famine, hostile Indians, and
internal strife resulting in La Salle's murder by one of his own company.
by 1690, France's bold claim to Texas had evaporated. The French flag features
a host of golden Fleurs-de-lis emblazoned on a field of white, which was
actually the French royal ensign for ships and forts.
For more than a decade after Mexico
became independent, hardy pioneers from the Hispanic south and the Anglo
north flowed into Texas. It was a frontier region for both; Anglo Texans
became Mexican citizens. But divergent social and political attitudes began
to alienate the two cultures. The final straw: Mexican General Santa Anna
scrapped the Mexican federal constitution and declared himself dictator.
Texans revolted and won their independence April 21, 1836, on the battleground
of San Jacinto near Houston. Mexico's intricate flag pictures an eagle,
a snake (an image from pre-Columbian mythology) and cactus on bars of brilliant
green, white and red.
During nearly ten years of independence,
the Texas republic endured epidemics, financial crises and still-volatile
clashes with Mexico. But it was during this period that unique accents
of the Texas heritage germinated. Texas became the birthplace of the American
cowboy; Texas Rangers were the first to use Sam Colt's remarkable six-shooters;
Sam Houston became an American ideal of rugged individualism. Texas joined
the United States on December 29, 1845. The red, white and blue Texas state
flag with its lone star (the same flag adopted by the republic in 1839)
today flies virtually everywhere: on government buildings, schools, banks,
shopping malls, and even on oil derricks.
On joining the union, Texas became
the 28th star on the U.S. flag. Shrugging aside defeat and bitter reconstruction
after the Civil War, the offspring of Texas pioneers marshaled their strengths
to secure a future based on determined self-reliance. First was the fabled
Texas Longhorn, providing beef for a burgeoning nation. Newly turned topsoil
on vast farm acreage yielded bountiful crops. The 20th Century dawned with
the discovery of fabulous sources--gushers roaring in at a place called
Spindletop near Beaumont. By mid-century, modern Texas industries were
sprouting in a fertile climate of advanced technology. Today under the
magnificent "Star Spangled Banner," Texas horizons continue to expand,
thrusting up to the limitless reaches of outer space.
Sixteen years after Texas joined the
union, the American Civil War erupted. Gov. Sam Houston, urging Texans
to stay aloof or re-establish a neutral republic, was driven from office.
Texas cast its lot with the doomed southerners, reaping devastation and
economic collapse as did all Confederate states. But two events fixed Texas
and Texans as somehow different in the nation's eyes. First, Texas troops
on Texas soil won the final battle of the Civil War, not knowing the south
had capitulated a month earlier. Second, returning Texans found a population
explosion of wild Longhorns, sparking the great cattle-trail drives that
became American legends. The first Confederate flag flown in Texas was
the South's national emblem, "The Stars and Bars" of the Confederate States
of America, although the later-crossed Confederate battle flag is better