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Almost conscious symbolism

It was always a mistake to ascribe the notorious Texas chauvinism, so misunderstood and laughed at in other parts of America, to the brief ten-year flying of the Lone Star flag. Neither the Republic nor the Confederacy nor even the Union totally captured the 19th-century Texas mind. Governments came and went; some hindered, some helped. Bur Texan patriotism was never based on concepts of government or on ideas. It grew out of the terrible struggle for the land. Significantly, Hispanic and European observers have continually called the true Texan — the descendant and inheritor of the frontier experience — the most “European” or territorial, of Americans. The Texan’s attitudes, his inherent chauvinism and the seeds of his belligerence, sprouted from his conscious effort to take and hold his land. It was the reaction of essentially civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies they despised. The closest 20th-century counterpart is the State of Israel, born in blood in another primordial land. [. . .]

The ceremonial flying of six flags — Spanish, French, Mexican, Texan, Confederate, and American — over modern Texas, so puzzling to visitors, is an almost conscious symbolism: flags change, the land remains. If the American Manhattanite has almost forgotten he lives on soil, has shed his history, and is shaped more by social pressures than a sense of territory, the Texan can never, even in his cities, forget or be free of the brooding immensity of his land. His national myths were more influenced by the Alamo and the burden of a century of a wild frontier than concepts conceived at Philadelphia. Tragically, next to memories of the struggle for freedom from Mexico are the smoldering memories of a long and losing struggle against the encroachments of culture from other regions of the United States. If the Texan became the most “European” of Americans, it was because in his history he has been both a conscious conqueror, and a member of a vanquished race.

— T. R. Fehrenbach, Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans.

Comments (15)

Stumbled on this site and must say that I have enjoyed every word. Thank you for it.

I must add that, as a Texan, we are probably the most misunderstood state in the Union. While others call us arrogant, we are not. We are confident that when there is a challenge to be met, like our forefathers before us, we will met that challenge head on. Sometimes we lose. Sometimes we lead the way for others to follow. That vanguished race is one where individuals sought only the freedom to do for themselves, not have others do for them. Texans, as a whole, still embody that mindset. Would that the rest of the nation follow suit.

Would the allusion to a "vanquished race" be a reference in part to the Civil War?

That's was my understanding, Lydia.

I am somewhat ignorant of Texas and its slavery adoption. When pioneers were moving into Texas before 1836, was that mostly from slave states, and did large numbers bring in slaves? Or were slaves part of the existing landscape from Mexican practices? The bare glimmerings of myth that conveys to the rest of us, from Crockett to the Alamo to Sam Houston, nary mentions blacks in any detail, and its absence seems (to former northerners like me) to imply that slavery was almost an irrelevancy pre Texan independence. If that really were the case, then that would imply that Texas became wholly connected to the slave tradition in the short period from independence to 1860.

I don't know, folks. I haven't read this book, so I don't know what Fehrenbach is saying. But my parents are native Texans and their parents lived there most of their lives; I was born in Texas and raised on Texas history -- and the Civil War is just never spoken of. It's the struggle with Mexico that defined Texas and Texans much more, from all I've heard and seen. I don't know a single Texan who still "fights the War between the States" (though I've met many of these people in the Deep South states), but I also don't know a single Texan who can't tell you the story of the Alamo, and with great pride.

That's solely anecdotal evidence, but it is from proud-to-be-Texans, who moved back to the state after living in the North most of their adult lives in order to retire home. And not once, ever, did I hear them or their parents or anyone they knew ever talk about the Civil War as a particularly Texan experience.

Tony, although Mexico had (on paper) abolished slavery, it gave an exception to the territory known as Tejas until 1830. Some slaves were brought from slave states, but the Mexican government, having major difficulties with warring Indian tribes (like the Commanche) encouraged colonization by anglos, including their slaves, thinking that the anglos would efficiently deal with the Indian tribes that were raiding deep into Mexico. Mexico basically turned its back on its own laws to promote colonization. And the ownership of slaves was not uncommon among the Mexican elite who were located in Tejas.

But land was also plentiful, and free blacks migrated to Texas for the opportunity of having their own lands.

After the end of the War (as it is called in Texas) freed blacks poured into Texas. Texas had become cattle country supplying a nation that was starved for beef. The cattle business was booming, and that required cowboys to work the ranches. Those cowboys were the original civil rights supporters as blacks, who had learned to ride and shoot as members of the Union Army, joined their white counterparts on ranches. The job of cowhand became one of merit, not color, and anyone who was a good cowhand was accepted, no matter their race of ethnicity. Black cowhands bunked with white and Hispanic cowhands.

When Texas joined the CSA, it did so partly because of slavery, but it was more a "you can't tell us what to do" attitude than a "you can't tell us who to own" attitude. Independent natures ran deep in Texans who had fought the Mexican Army, and won, for that independence and Texans were not willing to submit to another dictator, be he Santa Anna or Abraham Lincoln.

Knowing the hardships faced by Texas, before and after the War, I cannot agree that the "vanquished race" comment would refer to Texans as Confederates. The "vanguished" race is the race of people who faced adversity head on, creating a state out of a wilderness, and managed to prosper under insurmountable odds, on a national level. How many people do you know that could cross the Rockies in a covered wagon or homestead in the high plains and survive? That is the race that has been vanquished. And while that pioneer spirit has been murdered in most of the United States, Texas, and Texas alone, seems to be not only surviving, but showing the rest of the nation how to come out of a Great Recession because that "can do" attitude lives on.

It is said that Texas is a state of mind. The five million people who have moved to Texas in the last ten years obviously see something that doesn't exist in other states; opportunity. Which is what Texas was built on and was always about.

Beth Impson, you are correct in that it is the war for independence from Mexico, and not the war for independence from the Northern government, that defines Texas. And it is also true that while Texas was considered to be the frontier theater during the the War, Texas was the one state that seemed to flourish after the Civil War, once President Johnson removed General Phil Sheridan as the overseer of Reconstruction in Texas due to Sheridan's (to quote Johnson) tyranny against the Southerners.

Texas was also the last to rejoin the Union, and when it did, the land, not the goverment, became again a prime concern of the State of Texas. Outside of the land that is now owned by the federal government for military bases (such as Fort Hood, et al) there is little federal land in Texas. Even the Davy Crockett National Forest is still owned by the state, although managed by the National Parks and Wildlife department. Upon rejoining the Union, once again Texas called the shots telling the federal goverment, who desparately wanted Texas back in, "fine, we'll rejoin you, but we hold ownership to our own lands." The federal goverment accepted the deal.

Could it be that when the author speaks of members of a vanquished race he is speaking of the aftermath of the Civil War regardless of the reasons for which Texas entered the Civil War? I don't think Reconstruction made distinctions along those lines.

However, I don't know many Texans, but I have to admit, the few I do know never struck me as seeing themselves as members of a vanquished race. ;-)

Like I said, I don't exactly know to what Fehrenbach refers, though he calls it a "long struggles" against cultural encroachment -- not the sudden imposition of Reconstruction. But neither the Civil War nor Reconstruction seems to be any significant theme in Texas history, which they surely would be if that is the encroachment to which he refers.

It's not that we think of ourselves as members of a vanquished race in the sense of "oh, woe is me; I am oppressed and victimized" -- it's the frustration of continually fighting to try to maintain an independent spirit despite modernization. I would move back and become an active part of that in a heartbeat if I could.

Yes, we can be insufferable at times. :)

One cannot tell the story of Texas without mentioning the Anglo-Protestant anti-Catholic roots of the revolt against Mexico.

I have never quite grasped the underlying causes by which the Texans decided they "had to" revolt from Mexico, but I would doubt that Catholicism of Mexico vs Protestantism of settlers was the leading cause in its own right. Was it more than just an added irritant?

Fehrenbach presents the Anglo-Hispanic cultural clash as the decisive factor: the old antagonism between Spain and England, now given new circumstances in the New World. The division of the Protestant Reformation is of course a huge part of that antagonism.

But there was still an extant pro-Mexican party in Texas until Santa Ana decided that cruelty must be a jewel in his conqueror's crown. Stephen F. Austin probably still would have embraced reconciliation under the old Mexican Constitution before the Alamo. (Fehrehbach makes the point that the Anglo-Texans, in years before the war, were always standing their ground on the Constitutional of 1824, which the Mexican State by then saw as a relic, for Mexico had long fallen to vying tyrants and strong men. There you have the essence of the Anglo-Hispanic conflict: these crazy Texans cared about parchment barriers and constitutions!)

But once the Napoleon of the West gave no mercy orders, of course, Texas was in revolt and no peace party remained.

Paul J. Cella, if Fehrenback uses what would now be called "racial" division as a reason for the dispute between the Texicans and the Tejanos, he is wrong. It was more a case of the peon class accepting the brutality of the Mexican government, while other Tejanos sided with the Anglos. Leaders, like Juan Seguin, wanted Mexico City to recognize the rights of the people of the Tejas territory and give them the representation in Mexico City they were promised. When Mexico City refused, two Tejanos signed the Texas Declaration of Independence while others manned the Alamo and joined General Houston's troops.

He doesn't, Zane. He points to culture, politics and religion all has equally or more important than racial division.

Flags change, the land remains.
Exactly, also the government remains absurd as well.
Very interesting post from you.

Heather from friteuse professionnelle 

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