Happy Texas Independence Day!
On March 2, 1836, a small group of men meeting at Washington-on-the-Brazos declared the independent Republic of Texas, breaking away from Mexico. While there’s nothing trivial about the Lone Star State, our history is packed with amazing pieces of trivia.
Here’s a few of them, presented in extremely abbreviated form. Please bear in mind that any one of these items could be greatly expanded and discussed.
- Following the Declaration of Texas Independence, Texian forces lost every engagement of the Texas Revolution, from the Alamo to the fall of Goliad, right up until the decisive Battle of San Jacinto on April, when General Sam Houston routed a much larger force under Generalissimo Santa Ana de Lopez — winning in just under 20 minutes of fierce battle.
- Today is also the birthday of Sam Houston, whose life alone supplies a near endless stream of bizarre trivia, from his days as an adopted son of a Cherokee chief to becoming Gov. of Tennnessee before resigning in unexplained disgrace of a failed first marriage to his days leading the ragtag army that would win independence. Let’s skip a whole book’s worth of colorful incidents (maybe someday, folks) to his days as the first President of Texas. Though he advocated for annexation to the United States, he was also known for espousing Texas independence. No one could discern which he truly preferred. It was said he would talk of annexation by day, when sober — but, in the evening, when he’d been drinking, he would tout a vision of Texas stretching to the Pacific and rivaling the United States in size and power.
- Despite the victory at San Jacinto, the Republic of Texas was anything but secure. Santa Anna invaded again more than once, threatening to recapture the lands claimed by the Republic of Texas. At one point during this time, Mormon leader Joseph Smith offered an alliance to Sam Houston, promising him an army of over 5,000 Mormon men in exchange for land along the Rio Grande for his people, creating a buffer state to be called the Mormon Kingdom of God. Ever cagey with all comers, Houston never said no — nor did he ever say yes. Meanwhile, Smith was assassinated, Texas was annexed, and the plan faded into obscurity.
- After nine years of Houston coquettishly playing both Britain and France as possible allies for an independent Texas, the United States agreed to annex Texas in 1845. Thus it became the only independent nation to join the United States (yes, yes, I know — Vermont claimed independence once, but they never received international recognition like Texas).
At the time of annexation, Texas claimed lands extending northward along the Rio Grande and into the Rocky Mountains as far north as southern Wyoming. Part of the annexation deal traded this land to the U.S. for payment of the Texas war debt, establishing the borders we now recognize as the state of Texas.
Annexation would lead to the Mexican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ceding Mexican land westward to the Pacific
- In 1838, Samuel Morse granted the patent rights for his recent invention, the “electromagnetic telegraph,” to Texas. No one noticed — literally. Neither Houston nor his successor, Mirabeau B. Lamar every responded to Morse’ letter of offer, and he rescinded the offer twenty years later. Had anyone bothered to accept this gift, it’s quite possible Texans would never have had to pay taxes, comfortably funding a government off royalties fro the telegraph, and subsequent telephone, technology.
- Texas is BIG. How big? One simple measure: El Paso if closer to Los Angeles, California than it is to Port Arthur, Texas on the Lousiana border.
- Texas is diverse? — far more diverse than most people suspect. According to the Institute of Texan Cultures lists over 32 different cultures and ethnicities that have been involved in the history of Texas. The oldest permanent Polish community in the United States, Panna Maria, dates back to 1854 and still celebrates its heritage and a unique dialect, Texas Silesian.
- You want culture? Texas has culture bursting out all over, from renowned classical pianist Van Cliburn to the first “Best Picture” Academy Award winner, Wings (1927), to rock & rollers Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison to the late Latina superstar Selena and another one-name-needed-only superstar, Beyonce, to living legend Willie Nelson and sorely-missed bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughgan to Austin City Limits, the longest-running musical series on TV (and its namesake festival) to mega-festival South by Southwest (SXSW) — featuring both President and First Lday Obama this year, thank you very much!
- And Texas just keeps leading us into the future. From the first word spoken from the moon (“Houston, the Eagle has landed…”) to medical advances made at Houston’s Texas Medical Center by such medical pioneers as Dr. Michael deBakey (first angioplasty) and Dr. Cooley (first artificial heart implanted in a human), Texas continues pioneering the frontiers of the human experience.
Okay, that was hardly a taste, but it would take too, too long to go over so many of the other amazing things about Texas, both wonderful (Padre Island, longest barrier island in the world at 113 miles) and horrible (UT Tower sniper, 1966, the first, for years the worst, campus mass shooting in the country).
So that’s enough for now — I’ll just leave you with a little taste of how we Texans like to ramble on about our beloved home state from Texas troubadour, Gary P. Nunn.
Oh, and one last thing: Never ask someone if they’re from Texas.
If they were, they would’ve already told you — and if not, it’s impolite to embarrass them!