History of Texas

As the largest state in the continental U.S., it’s not surprising Texas is home to perhaps the greatest environmental diversity in the whole country. Its different regions, each with its respective and unique geological features, helped to develop differing climates that made way for specific flora and fauna; and later, each of their human populations. Texas is also one of the richest states in archaeological sites. This has made it possible for researchers to prove the presence of more than a dozen different species of dinosaurs and, after their decline, mammals like the giant armadillo, mammoths, and primitive giant bears and bison. 

Texas History-The Beginning of Time

Native Americans

It was around this period, during the prime of the megafaunal species, when the first humans appeared in Texas, about 10,000 years B.C. It is widely believed they were the offspring of the migrants that crossed the Bering Strait from Asia during the last Ice Age. Experts have classified the stages of their technological advancement into four basic levels: Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Woodland, and Late Prehistoric (also called 'Neo-American'.) Besides these classifications, archaeologists have grouped the early Texan native cultures based on four general geographic areas: the Pueblo, the Plains, the Southeast, and the Western Gulf. These areas are subsequently divided into many more sub-regions, according to archaeological findings. Paleo-Indian cultures have also been sub-divided according to the shape of their tools, specifically their projectile points. These cultures bear the names of the archaeological sites in which their artifacts have been found; most notably sites like Clovis, Folsom, Plainview, and Midland.

Not every native Texan culture reached the most advanced technological stage; this was in large part due to the different needs and adaptation of every culture to their specific region. For example, some groups, like the Karankawas, who were largely a very primitive and poorly organized Gulf Coast culture, never went past the Archaic stage. The most advanced and successful culture of the native Texans was that of the Caddos in the eastern and northeastern part of the state. This group had a mostly agricultural society and very intricate and skilled artisanship. In addition, their culture was organized in a confederacy of tribes, the most important of which were the Hasinai, the Natchitoches, and the Kadohadacho. The name 'Texas' (or 'Tejas', as described by the Spanish), is the Hasinai word for 'friends'.

Other important Texan cultures included the Coahuiltecans, in the southern Gulf Coast, closely related to Mesoamerican cultures; the Lipan-Apaches and Mescalero-Apaches, which emigrated from what is now Canada and settled on the western and southwestern parts of the state; the Tonkawas in the central Texan area; and the Comanches, who originally settled in the Great Plains but, after acquiring horses became skilled and very mobile warriors. The Comanches were one of the most feared native tribes and were at constant war with the Lipan-Apaches (the name 'Comanche' is the Ute-Apache word for 'enemy'). Other Native American tribes such as the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Kickapoo, Kiowa, Shawnee, and Wichita entered the state in later periods, as late as the 19th century, following massive displacement from other tribes and European colonists in their respective regions.

Texas History-European Arrival

Spanish Exploration

The Spanish were the first Europeans to explore Texas. In 1520, explorer Alonso Alvarez de Pineda mapped the Texas Gulf Coast. Eight years later, after shipwrecking near present-day Galveston, conquistador Alvaro Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca became the first person to explore Texas territory. Cabeza de Vaca and three other surviving crew members were later enslaved and spent six years with different tribes. Among these survivors was Estevanico, a Moor from North Africa, who became the first African slave in America.

In 1542, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led an expedition into the Texas Panhandle while searching for the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola. Later, in 1598, explorer Juan de Oñate reached El Paso and claimed the region in Spain’s name.

In 1685, explorer René-Robert Cavelier led a French expedition that mistakenly landed at Matagorda Bay while in search of the mouth of the Mississippi. Here they established Fort Saint Louis; but their venture was short-lived after diseases, the elements, and attacks by the Karankawas ravished the ill-fated colony. Cavelier was ambushed and killed by his own men in 1687. When Spanish explorers found the remains of Fort Saint Louis in 1689, they began constructing missions in East Texas, as they feared French claims over their territories. The first of these missions was San Francisco de Los Tejas in 1690, followed in 1716 by a fort, or 'presidio', dubbed Nuestra Señora de Los Dolores de Los Tejas. These were quickly followed by more missions, each with their respective presidios. One of the most notable was San Antonio de Valero in 1718, which eventually became modern-day San Antonio.

During most of the 1700s and early 1800s, Spain maintained ever-complicated and shifting situations both at home and in the New World. Conflicts in Europe and failed policies in their American territories eventually led to the end of the majority of their dreams of colonial dominance.  In Texas, attempts to Christianize the native population had mixed results, but were mostly unsuccessful and sparked steady conflict with several tribes. By 1821, after a long bloodbath, Mexico gained its independence from Spain, and Texas became part of the nascent nation. Before that, though, in 1813, a specific minor event that would go on to be a major milestone in Texas history occurred. In December of that year, Moses Austin received a grant from the Spanish to establish a colony on Texan soil. He died the following year, though, but his grant was passed on to his son, Stephen Fuller Austin, who would later be known as as the "Father of Texas".

Texas History- “Come and Get It”

Texas declares Independence

After the wars for its independence, the Mexican Empire was left in a shattered economic state. Funding was desperately needed so the government devised a plan to allow foreign settlers on Mexican land; by doing so, they also hoped to diminish in some way the ever-present threat of incursions from the Comancheria on unprotected or sparsely populated territories. As a result, when Stephen F. Austin’s father died, Mexican government officials didn’t hesitate to transfer his land grant to his son and to approve his plan to form a colony with three hundred families gathered mainly from southern regions of the U.S. This  colony, which would later be known as “the Old Three Hundred”, settled in the Brazos River Area.

During the following years, Mexico endured its share of political and social turmoil: government switches and coups, constitutional changes by way of force, open rebellions, and general discontent. After Mexico abolished slavery in 1829, discontent among American settlers continued to grow, leading to massive protests and secessionist attempts. Then, in 1830, Mexico responded by outlawing all types of immigration from the U.S. to Texas, and by toughening customs policies. This enraged Mexican and foreign Texans alike; the next couple of years were marked by the Mexican government's rejection of an offer made by President Andrew Jackson to purchase Texas, as well as failed attempts to restore peaceful relations between the Texas population and the Mexican government. These events later resulted in armed conflict in 1835, in what would be known as the Texas Revolution.

The first all-out battle of this conflict took place on October 2nd of that year, near the town of Gonzales, when Mexican authorities asked its residents to return a small cannon they had given them for protecting the town against Comanche incursions. The settlers’ response was to fly a flag with a single five-pointed star over the picture of a cannon and the words “come and take it”. As a result, a group of around 100 Mexican soldiers was sent to (unsuccessfully) retrieve the piece of artillery. The fight that ensued was of little military importance, as it ended in two Mexican soldiers killed, versus no losses for the Texans. However, the conflict is of great historical significance, as it epitomized Texas' courageous attitude and boosted its defenders' morale. Another notable event during that year was the creation of the Texas Rangers.

On March 2,1836, Texas’ provisional authorities ratified the state’s Declaration of Independence; four days later, a nearly two-week siege at the Alamo mission, commanded personally by Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, culminated in a battle in which all of the small group of Texan defenders were killed. Then, on April 21, an army led by Sam Houston defeated their larger Mexican counterpart at San Jacinto in a battle lasting less than 20 minutes. The conflict resulted in more than 600 Mexican casualties, while more than 700 were taken prisoner, including Lopez de Santa Anna, versus only nine Texans killed. The prized prisoner was forced to sign the Treaty of Velasco, effectively ending the war. On September 5th of that same year, Texans celebrated their first presidential elections, overwhelmingly choosing Sam Houston as President, with Lorenzo de Zavala as Vice President. Following several attempts of reconquest by Mexico, and highly favored for years by both Texans and Americans alike, the Annexation of Texas to the U.S. finally became a reality on December 29, 1845.

Texas History-Dawn of a New Era

Mexican-American War to 21st Century

Mexico considered the Texas Annexation as a thorn in its side, and after escalating brief encounters between the American and Mexican Armies, both sides declared war on each other. Lasting from 1846 to 1848, the Mexican-American War was undisputedly won by the United States and culminated in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, whereby Mexico ceded a huge portion of its northern territories. These territories were  comprised of what is now Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. 

Peaceful times were short-lived, as another American war was already brewing. As a mainly agricultural state, Texas was highly dependent on slave labor, so secession from the U.S. was unavoidable and favored by two thirds of the population, even after Sam Houston resigned as governor in protest. During the war, Texas' role was largely to supply troops and resources to the Confederacy.  Mainly due to its location, combat on Texas ground was less than on other fronts. Nevertheless, the Civil War’s last battle was fought on Texas soil, at Palmito Ranch, near Brownsville, on May 13, 1865.

The last half of the 19th century was marked by efforts directed at reconciliation and reconstruction, only marred by the Indian Wars and sporadic racial violence initiated by people still opposed to the abolition of slavery. The many new technologies and improvements brought by the Industrial Revolution provided fertile ground for advancements towards modernity throughout the U.S., and the Lone Star State was no exception to this. Railroads began to flourish across the country, improving ease of trade and commerce in general, and cattle ranches and farms proliferated  across state. Investment in higher learning formed a big part of the local government agenda and, in 1876, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas was inaugurated (later to become Texas A&M University), followed in 1883 by the University of Texas at Austin. Another milestone in the history of the state was the discovery of oil by the turn of the century, which led to the so-called Oil Boom and established Texas as a major oil power in the country.

Texas'  sudden and astronomical progress and economic growth were almost unstoppable during the 20th century and were tainted only by natural disasters such as the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the Dust Bowl, exacerbated by the Great Depression, that affected several states during the 1930's. This led to widespread misery and depletion of the workforce in general, as many workers emigrated to less affected areas, such as California. World War II, though, elevated many towns in the U.S. to industrial metropolises, and this effect was very apparent in Texas. The state's vast landscape was ideal for numerous military infrastructures such as armament factories, army bases and training centers, airfields, shipyards, etc. Thousands of laborers flooded these places from rural areas, making their way to densely populated cities like Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth. After the war, aerospace and electronics have been, alongside the oil industry, another staple of Texas’ technological monopoly. This, coupled with the state’s huge and undeniable historical and cultural heritage, have made it a magnet for visitors from all over the country and the rest of the world.

Article Edited/Contributed by: John C. Derrick
Published/Updated:

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