The Texas Primer

Texas History:

An Altered Image of The Texas State Flag.The only state in the Union to serve under Six Flags: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic Of Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States!

Texas is a unique dominion that draws its present-day identity from each of those countries as well as from the ancient cultures that preceded even the first explorers. Mexican and Native American traditions figure prominently in the state alongside the cultures of the Central and Eastern European settlers who arrived much later.

Europeans were interested in Texas as early as 1519, when Spanish conquistadores searching for fabled cities of gold navigated the Gulf of Mexico and disembarked on the shores of Southeast and South Texas. Although no gleaming cities cast in gold were ever found, the Spanish established numerous missions in South and West Texas, including the state's earliest towns. In 1685 the French, still convinced that there was a treasure to be uncovered, financed a colonizing expedition to the Gulf Coast led by Sieur de La Salle. The weather, Indians, and an unhappy crew kept La Salle from succeeding, and the French in turn abandoned their claim to Texas.

The Spanish continued their missionary efforts through the 18th and the early 19th centuries, and the territory was cultivated as ranchland under the auspices of the Spanish government. Then, in the 1820's, a Missouri native named Moses Austin gained permission to establish the first Angolo colony in Texas. His son, Stephen F. Austin, led 300 families on a successful mission to settle the new land. In 1825 another 900 American families arrived; 800 Mexican and European families followed in 1831.

Colonization was going full steam as political winds shifted farther south, forever changing the face of the region. Mexico, which had finally won its difficult battle for independence from Spain, lured settlers to the Texas territory with offers of large land grants. When disputes over ownership and religion erupted between the Texian population (as the natives of that region were called) and the Mexican government, another fight for independence was on - this one for independence from Mexico.

The Texas Revolution began with a single cannon blast in Gonzales on October 2, 1835. In 1836 Mexico's dictator, General Antonio Lopez Santa Anna, led troops into San Antonio on March 6 and massacred a small band of Texians who had holed up in the Alamo mission. Santa Anna went on to handily defeat the Texians at the Battle of Goliad shortly afterward. Hungry, disheartened, and short of supplies, the dwindling Texian troops trudged on. Finally, in a military blunder that cost him the war, Santa Anna marched his troops straight into a surprise attack led by General Sam Houston at San Jacinto on April 21. 1836. In a battle that lasted 18 minutes, Texas gained its hard-won independence.

The new Republic of Texas named General "The Raven" Sam Houston its president and Mirabeau B. Lamar its vice president. The republic lasted almost a decade; in 1845 it became the 28th state in the Union. The new state was soon deluged with adventurers, fortune seekers, and settlers, who brought with them opportunities for growth. After a short period of peace, Texas found itself embroiled in another war. It seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy in 1861.

The Civil War had the curious effect of rejuvenating Texas' economy. Longhorn cattle The beloved Texas Longhorns.became prized for their hardy nature, and over the two decades immediately following the Civil War, cattle drives were a common site as cattle were rounded up and herded across the plains to railyard shipping points.

Nothing in Texas' past, however, prepared it for the change that transpired when the Splindletop oil well blew in on January 10, 1901. The East Texas Oil Field turned out to be massive, and wells sprang up overnight. Further investigation revealed that much of the state sat on oil reserves, and the race for the black gold was on.

Texas Climate

The state's southern latitude means plenty of warm temperatures, even in deepest winter. Weather forecasts in the Central, South, and Gulf Coast regions can be pleasantly monotonous: sunny to partly sunny. While summers and winters can occasionally be extreme, spring and fall are always delightfully moderate.

Snow occasionally makes appearances in the Panhandle and higher elevations of the West, but elsewhere winter tends to be little more than a nuisance. Dramatic "blue northers" sometimes breeze across the state, dipping temperatures as much as 25 degrees in a single hour. So enjoyable is the overall climate in the state's southern region that it is the winter home of a number of people who seek the shelter of its warmth from the cold climates of Canada and the Northeast.

Mother Nature puts on quite a show in the spring. Roadsides and fields explode in a fantastic burst of technicolor wonder as bluebonnets, Mexican hats, Indian paintbrush, and delicate buttercups, to name a few, nod gently in the breeze as if to say, "Yes, spring has sprung!"

Autumn is no less spectacular. Along with the pleasant nip in the air, fall brings dramatic change in the decidous forests of Texas, particularly in the Lost Maples State Natural Area.

Texas Geography

Four of North America's physiographic sectors - the Rocky Mountains region, the Great Western High Plains, the Great Western Lower Plains, and the Gulf Coast Forested Plains - all converge here, and the result is a geographic diversity unparalleled in the Lower 48.

While the scrub-studded hardscrabble of the west presents a formidable landscape, the white sandy beaches and temperate waters of the southeast soothe the soul. Sunsets are breathtaking as the lingering rays hit the lunarlike Caprock in the Panhandle, and the same sun is seldom seen through the lush towering pines of East Texas. The rolling hills of the Central Texas Hill Country are above the hundreds of underground springs that course underground, filling the region's myriad lakes with cool, clean water. Elsewhere, mountains, deserts, plains, forests, rolling hills, wetlands, coastal dunes, lakes, and rivers commingle to form the singular experience that is Texas.

Texas Highway System

Nine interstate highways serve Texas: I-10, I-20, I-27, I-30, I-35, I-37, I-40, I-44, and I-45. Speed limits, caution areas, stops, and directions are well marked along the 76,986 miles of Texas Highways with more than a million signs to keep drivers on track. Passing is illegal where there is a continuous yellow stripe on the driver's side of the center line. The maxium speed limit is 65 mph, but will soon rise when the state legislature posts the new limit. Lower speed limits are posted on all other highways and streets.

Texas Economy

Oil is still the symbol of Texas, along with Longhorn cattle and, more recently, high tech. Poised on the precipice of the 21st century, Texas embraces cattle and ranching as critical components of the states's economy; the state has also had phenomenal success in luring high-tech and space engineering corporations from the East and West coasts.

Space engineering is a natural offshoot of NASA''s decision in the early 1960s to build the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston. The high-tech and computer industries that cropped up around NASA received support from the state's flagship universities, and today these industries are big players in the state's economy. Texas is headquarters for numerous Fortune 500 companies, and it has emerged as a leader in computer manufacturing.

Another major economic factor is tourism and its related industries. More and more people worldwide are discovering Texas as a vacation destination that can reinvent itself over and over again. With wide-open spaces as well as gleaming skyscrapers, mysterious caverns and dramatic gorges or shopping malls that go on forever, Texas can be any kind of vacation destination it needs to be.

One of the newest economic areas is the film industry. More and more film companies from the West and East coast are flocking to Texas for its diversified locales that can duplicate any of the country's regions. The Texas Film Commission has become a major player on the Third Coast. From "Giant" to "A Perfect World", Texas is becoming the place to film the next great movie.

Texas' must see's

Whether you enojoy perusing musty old relics, trying on the latest in haute couture, or conquering pristine wilderness, Texas has a place for you. History buffs will enjoy a promenade through the lovely old missions of San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley, the abandoned forts of West Texas, and the historic battlegrounds of San Jacinto and Goliad. Buyers will find no reason to be wary at Houston's Galleria, San Antonio's River Walk, or Dallas' grande dame of department stores, the original Neiman Marcus. Puzzle-solvers will find exceptional challenges in the cryptic pictographs at Hueco Tanks, near El Paso, and Paint Rock, near San Angelo.

An abundance of freshwater lakes and rivers and 624 miles of Gulf coastline provide endless opportunities for a splashing good time in the sun. Fishing is a year-round diversion throughout the state, and numerous Gulf Coast communities offer chances for exciting sport-fishing excursions. Mother Nature's natural beauty beams through in unusual formations such as Enchanted Rock near Fredericksburg and the majestic Davis Mountains of West Texas. Though Big Bend National Park is a little remote, it is also well worth tthe effort to see it. If camping at one of the numerous state parks is on your agenda, you can reserve a campsite at any of them by calling (512)389-8900.

Endangered species are prevalent in Texas, the most famous probably being the whooping cranes, which for years have been flocking to Aransas Wildlife Refuge to winter in the mild Texas climate. All kinds of unusual flora and fauna can also be found by patient visitors to the Big Thicket National Preserve north of Beaumont.


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