How Texas Became Western

Farewell to Dixie, hello to the Texas Republic


A great piece in Texas Monthly looks at how the Lone Star State moved out of the South and into the West. Here's an excerpt:

If they find out I'm really Lone Star Southern, I'm sunk.

"I don't think anyone much questioned Texas's essential Southernness until the twentieth century," says Dr. Gregg Cantrell, Texas history chair at TCU, past president of the Texas State Historical Association, and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters. "And they started doing so as a way of distancing themselves from the late unpleasantness of the 1860's and 1870's. Defeat, military occupation, Jim Crow and lynching, and all of those unpleasant things that are very much a part of Texas history as a Southern state, were things that a lot of Texans would probably just as soon not talk about a lot."

Nationally, Dixie was stigmatized as a backward, ignorant, and violent hotbed of the Ku Klux Klan and religious hypocrisy. Why remain linked to all that baggage? Why not, forward-looking Texans began to think, align with the West instead? Back then, and to a certain degree today, the West was seen as optimistic, the place of second chances, the land of the golden tomorrow, a stark contrast when compared to Dixie's melancholy and tragic yesterdays. So Texas's politicians, educators, and ad-men went to work, Cantrell says, and have since all but totally recast the very ideal of what it means to be a Texan.

"And so what do you do? You play up the frontier, you play up the Texas Revolution and the Alamo, you play up the (in reality not-very-glorious) ten years of the Texas Republic, and then you talk about the Indian Wars and the cattle drives, all culminating in Spindletop and the discovery of oil," he says. "All of these things made Texas seem like anything but a Southern state."

Cantrell traces the first outlines of this marketing campaign to the turn of the century, but believes it started to kick into high gear during the governorship of Oscar Colquitt (1911-1915). "He just went crazy authorizing the building of monuments to pioneer leaders and heroes of the Texas Revolution. And you see it reflected in textbooks and all sorts of other places." To paraphrase the last line in John Sayles's Lone Star, Texas leaders made the conscious decision to "forget Gettysburg."

There's much more to the argument, and it's full of broader lessons about the ways the past is constantly reimagined to fill the needs of the present. Read the whole thing here.

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  1. Lobo… Lobo… bring back Sheriff Lobo!

    1. I think I hate Ted Koppel. No wait, I find him witty and informative.

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      1. I don’t remember that episode.

        1. For the record, this was originally a reply to one of those “my sister’s friend’s cousin makes money on the internet” comments!

  2. So Texas is the opposite of Kentucky?

    From my time in Texas, the women go to great lengths to establish they are Southern. (which was also the case in KY)

    1. Re: Tak Kak,

      From my time in Texas, the women go to great lengths to establish they are Southern.

      You mean they establish their status by becoming morbidly obese?

      1. Sure. Also, they say “y’all” more than necessary.

        1. “All o’ ya’ll” is still the greatest regional phrase in the US, bar none….

          1. What is it up against? Youse and Yinz? Then definitely.

            Still, saying “y’all” to only one person is too much.

            1. I’ve read, more than once, that y’all is singular as well as plural. As a resident of the south for 55 years, I can honestly say that I have NEVER heard anyone say y’all to a single person.

              1. Y’all have now.

                1. People say it to a single person all the time (in Texas).

                  The crux, though, is that it is usually referring to others not currently present, but still a part of the listener’s group/family/what-have-you.

                  1. Well, perhaps I wasn’t literal enough in my statement (if I’m understanding you correctly). I can understand that someone inviting a couple to dinner might say, “y’all should come over some night” to one half of the couple. But are you saying that, in Texas, one could invite a single friend to dinner by saying, “y’all come over tomorrow” ??

                    1. But are you saying that, in Texas, one could invite a single friend to dinner by saying, “y’all come over tomorrow” ??

                      Well, I’m pretty sure bad grammar apart from is pretty common all over the place, and I have no doubt “y’all” gets used for just one person. However, I find it far more common to hear it used (and to use it too), to refer to a future grouping.

                      I mean, we can open a can of worms and focus on “Fixin’ to”. I can’t stand it myself, after hearing an obviously northern person* call out an obvious Texan’s “fixin’ to” by asking how you fix to do something.

                      So yeah, there are dumbasses all over, but my usual experiences are said to one as a representative for many.

                    2. *obviously Northern due to accent, and the fact that this was a hockey fan inside the Stars’ pro shop during their 3rd month in existence.

                    3. But are you saying that, in Texas, one could invite a single friend to dinner by saying, “y’all come over tomorrow” ??

                      Oh, absolutely.

              2. I had never heard it in my 20+ years between Virginia, Kentucky, and Florida (Northern).

                But after a year in Houston I discovered that Mencken wasn’t completely full of it.

                I was pleasantly surprised to hear it here (used correctly) in Seattle, probably a transplant but I’m glad all of Southern English isn’t dying out. They do hate it when I say “reckon” though.

                1. The above is about never hearing the singular y’all/

      2. “establish their status by becoming morbidly obese”

        Your name is OldMexican and you want to talk shit about fat women? because ive never seen a mexican woman over 30 that isnt shaped like the Purple Grimace.

        1. You must have limited experience with Mexica. Women, as there are a fair amount of good looking older women where I’m from. And a fair amount of behemoths too

  3. El Paso is in the West.

    Houston is definitely in the South.

    1. You can draw the line between the South and the West/Southwest somewhere in the Hill Country around Austin and San Antonio.

      1. The two or three times I’ve driven across Texas, I foound the Pecos a remarkably natural geographical divider.

      2. I tend to think of anything east of Dallas as more southern. I’m from Odessa, and we’re definitely southwestern in culture. El Paso is technically west Texas but when I hear West Texas I think of everything west of Abilene/San Angelo, south of Seminole/Lamesa, and north of Alpine/Big Bend. Everything west of, say, Pecos is less West Texas and more just El Paso. El Paso itself is its own seperate culture from the rest of the state

        1. I’ve always heard the farther East you go from I-35, the weirder people get. I’ve also never heard anybody use y’all for singular and I’ve lived here forever. I’ve heard Texans refer to non-Texans with y’all, or people in small towns to outsiders, but that’s not true singular.

        2. Very true. I am from El Paso and it is its own dimension. This isn’t even on a good – bad spectrum. In ways it’s more Mexico than Texas.

    2. Forth Worth: Where the West begins.

      Dallas: Where the East peters out.

  4. I thought Texas was part of the Southwest.

    1. As I mention above, West Texas really is. Closer to Lousiana you get and more Southern it probably gets. Ita auch a big state I really have little exposure to anything east of Dallas and Austin

  5. “Oh, we got both kinds: country and Western!”

    1. The lead singer of The Good Ole Boys was a space hippie, you know.

      1. ProL, you’re going have trouble eating corn on the cob with no fucking teeth.

        1. It wasn’t a lie, it was just bullshit.

          Actually, no it wasn’t, he really was a space hippie. The space hippie. I wonder if there are outtakes of him playing that space-hippie hit, “Heading into Eden.”

  6. Well, if you associate cowboys with the west, I guess you’d have to say Texas is the west if Kansas, location of the most notorious cow towns, is.

  7. And they started doing so as a way of distancing themselves from the late unpleasantness of the 1860’s and 1870’s.

    I knew I shouldn’t’ve slept through history class… can anyone help?

    GKC, maybe?

    1. Civil War + Reconstruction

      1. I’m pretty sure he’s being a smartass, Jesse. I mean, this is Hit & Run.

        1. “I mean, this is Hit & Run.”


          1. Your mom?

            1. No, too tired. You have been far too…vigorous, lately.

          2. This IS CETI ALPHA 5!

        2. Now I feel bad for wasting Jesse’s time.

          This is why you should stay out of the comments, Walker.

          1. Maybe he was just trolling for comments using the dreaded term “Civil War”…


            1. I’m fixin’ to narrow my gaze at y’all.

      2. Civil WarWar of Northern Aggression + Reconstruction

  8. Its mostly just a matter of geography.

    East Texas is very South, and remains so to this day, as far as climate, economy, etc. goes. And the thing is, until pretty late in the 19th century, East Texas is all the Texas there really was.

    The settlement of West Texas happened pretty late. And West Texas is just as Southwest as East Texas is South.

    The Southwestiness of West Texas carries a whole different mythology than the Southiness of East Texas – cowboys, Indians, wide open spaces, oil (even though there was a lot of oil in East Texas, its mostly a West Texas thing. That mythology was very attractive everywhere, even in places that weren’t trying to shed their Confederate roots. So its not surpise that Texans tended to gravitate toward the Southwest mythology over the South mythology, since it was generally more popular anyway, everywhere.

    1. Plus, why link yourself to the rest of the South? Texas can thump its tub and say we, alone, are #1!

    2. From what I understand, West Texas is almost its own separate state.

      Useless trivia: There’s a football offense called the Slot-T which has been around about 60 years and still run by a few schools in West Texas. But is almost completely unheard of anywhere else on earth despite putting up huge points and yards, and winning several state titles.

  9. There’s another angle.

    Texans love winners, and hate losers.

    The South lost the Civil War. Texans (remember, this is mythology) won the Indian wars in West Texas.

    It may be no more complicated than Texans distancing themselves from losers, and lining up with winners.

      1. The Alamo was just the setup for San Jacinto.

        Kinda like every revenge flick ever. You gotta have the bad guys win one early, to set up the eventual winner’s righteousness, etc.

        1. We have Santa Anna’s wooden leg in the Illinois Military History Museum…on Camp Lincoln Come and get it Tejanos!

          1. [upside down!] y arriba!, [upside down!] y arriba!

      2. That was a tie!

    1. But Gen Patton told me that was Americans!

    2. But Gen. Patton told me that was Americans!

    3. “It may be no more complicated than Texans distancing themselves from losers, and lining up with winners.”

      That would explain why there aren’t as many Dallas Cowboy fans as there used to be.

  10. Two Words:

    Steers. Queers.

    1. I’m unclear on that. Is that Texas, Oklahoma, or both Texas and Oklahoma?

      1. Just two things come from [insert state with lots of cattle]…

      2. What’s your excuse?

  11. I find Texans as annoying as New York City natives. They both are a lot prouder of their geographic location than evidence supports.

    1. Yes, but Texans generally have the decency to stay in Texas.

    2. They both also really care what you think. Really. They have a suggestion box and everything.

      1. Yep. Why, hell, we even let some people visit. I would say we even let some move here, but I don’t want to encourage the bastards.

    3. I find Texans as annoying as New York City natives. They both are a lot prouder of their geographic location than evidence supports.

      I agree.

      Everybody has a bit of state pride, but in Texas, it’s so far over the top that it’s amusing. And I just don’t get it. Normally, such pride comes from something. Colorado is awesome because we have the Rocky Mountains. California is awesome because we have beautiful weather. NY is awesome because we have the biggest city in the country…

      Texas is awesome because we have???????

      I don’t get it. It may be the most aesthetically UNpleasing piece of dirt in the entire US. There are no real attractions. The distances are excruciating with nothing in between but cows…

      So on a pride to justification ratio, Texas scores a very big number IMHO. But they seem to like it.

      1. Colorado is awesome because we have the Rocky Mountains

        Really? That’s what you went with?

        NY is awesome because we have the biggest city in the country

        Well, it is an accomplishment, but I wouldn’t call it awesome. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

        1. Really? That’s what you went with?

          Well, that and weed.

      2. Yeah, you’re right. We got nothing.


      3. I’m from west Texas and I will admit that I’m not sure what all the fuss is about the rest of the state. I like desert and mountains which we have in abundance. I have been east of the Pecos a few times and it strikes me that it isn’t so much a desert as a place with more dirt than God could make enough plants to grow in it.

      4. If your in west texas thats true, though I like it (native). Hill Country is very diffrrent though

  12. Ironically, the Texas Brigade in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was, arguably, the best Confederate unit to take the field.

  13. Real Barbecue is pork

    Texans insist on calling beef barbecue.

    So they are obviously off kilter.

    1. The “Bar BQ” was and is the name of a ranch in Texas. This is neither an afterthought nor a coincidence.

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