Whether you’re Texas born and bred (like this writer) or one of those interlopers who came as quickly as you could and stayed (we love you), most folks (Native or not) have a feel for the history of one of the four states in the United States that was once its own country (a Republic from 1836 until 1845). Sidebar: The other states include Vermont, California (sort of) and Hawaii. No, we don’t include the Independent State of Franklin as they technically remained a part of North Carolina. The history of the State of Texas is unique and conjures up passion in her residents who savor their special place in history. Even as just one page in our evolving national manuscript, Texas deserves our close attention as she surges into the 21st century.
For me tradition and history are as important as where we are going. Our past and future are as one in the big scheme. That’s why it pains me when I see some folks especially in the Dallas area paying lip service to our traditions, some bent on reinventing history or just flat out ignoring or glossing over the past of our city and this great state. Many would replace what they believe to be outmoded and useless buildings with more concrete, metal and glass typical of our now iconic skyline.
Despite all that Dallas remains a beacon of history even as the site of the great Texas State Fair (since 1886) with grounds and buildings dedicated to the preservation of the history of Texas. Dallasites by their most recent words and actions have indicated that they are joining the Citizenry of Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin and many other cities who are enthusiastically dedicated to preserving Texas history. Thank God for the exemplary efforts of the Dallas Museum of Art and her Staff & Docents, Dallas Historical Society, Dallas Heritage Village, Preservation Dallas and the Dallas Bar Association via their Belo Mansion, among others who have literally raised the bar for us.
One Texan that walks the walk for many of us is twice former Texas Governor Bill Clements. He is the example we follow given his noble and enthusiastic preservation of history in his native Dallas and even throughout Texas. I applaud his leadership and vision as Governor especially as it related to education and working closely with our Mexican neighbors on critical immigration issues. Clements has been exemplary in his service to “The Republic.”
We note the continued existence of the Cumberland Hill School building at 1901 N. Akard St. in downtown Dallas as a testament to his sense of history. Built in 1889 on the site of a pre-Civil War school organized by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Dallas, the building was the city's second public school building and now the oldest standing public school building in Dallas. The building was a school complex off and on until 1969. Just when its future seemed doomed Cumberland was purchased and restored by Clements in 1971 as headquarters for his Sedco Company. I have attended meetings of the Society of the Cincinnati’s Lone Star Association hosted by Clements at Cumberland and certainly also appreciated his willingness to literally share his love of Dickey’s Bar-B-Que (since 1941). With Bill Clements history begets history. Too bad we don’t have more Bill Clements to help us restore more of our few remaining historic properties. Thanks, Bill.
We could also follow the example of another native Texan who was dedicated to the preservation of Texas and Southwest history: esteemed historian Walter Prescott Webb (1888-1963) who was born in the deep piney woods of East Texas near Carthage and went on to The University of Texas History Department. As President of the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) Webb established what evolved into The Handbook of Texas, a comprehensive encyclopedia of Texas geography, history, and individuals who contributed mightily to our great state. The Handbook of Texas was ultimately published by the TSHA and is now available on line. It is an incredible work in progress without peer.
Texas is now celebrating the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence (3/2/2011) and the Battle of the Alamo (3/6/2011), both pivotal events in what culminated in annexation by and statehood in the United States of America in 1845. That ultimately precipitated the certain pivotal conflict/debacle known in the United States as the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848) and was a precursor to the American Civil War (“Mexico will poison us.” RWE). Despite the persistence and bravery of a much weaker and disorganized Mexico, the outcome was assured even before the first military engagement.
Given the many aspects of this great state and this important Quartoseptcentennial/ dodransbicentennial (choose one) celebration, Might of Right will endeavor to cover some of these topics and in the process enlighten, educate and even dispel some old myths (the first being that Texas was the only independent country to become a US State).
The other myth I regularly hear when some Redneck Texans are wont to thump their chests is that Texas has the right to secede and/or split itself into from three to five separate United States. The latter is mostly a curiosity and while the right was granted (four additional), it was a ploy by the representatives of the then US slave states to counter the numbers and influence of the “Free” states. It is doubtful that could occur today or tomorrow as per the US Constitution any realignment requires Congressional approval. So, that’s not going to happen and, no doubt, a majority of Texans wouldn’t ratify that option anyway. Secession? Well, no such provision was in the annexation agreement, period. It is a fantasy and hoax… Governor Perry is a very smart man who despite his very strident rhetoric in 2009 knows his history and how to blow a lot of political smoke at times.
So much for the credibility of some of our Citizen Historians including some politicians who seem to be more gullible, ignorant or blatantly arrogant than I or maybe they’re just testing us? I guess the point here is that we have a great story to tell and there is no need to embellish and pervert our history and traditions. Texas Monthly take note and please don’t use Terquasquicentennial anymore. It means 375 years.
So, what’s happening with this great 175th anniversary celebration? I’ve only heard a few sound bites from several TV stations and an article in the Dallas Morning News. Texas Monthly touted The Great Terquasquicentennial Road Trip (oops!) and ended up mildly embarrassed though their hearts and that effort were in the right place. Texas Lt. Governor Dewhurst read a statement in the Texas Legislature on March 2 (good). Many Texas State Parks, museums and libraries are reinventing themselves as living history centers including re-enactments of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence and much more as credibly transpired at the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site in February. We have also seen local festivals like the 2011 Texas Independence Day Music Fest & Chili Cook Off in Conroe – their fourth annual – that proves once again that music, chili, history and politics are all inextricably intertwined in this great state (entertain and educate).
What I had been looking for and really haven’t seen was any loud, sustained fanfare or substantive statewide celebrations. Now maybe we’re just waiting for our 200th anniversary (Bicentennial - Texas Monthly take note) or the very presence of a burgeoning contemporary Hispanic/Latino population and recognition that the openly transparent objective of the Mexican-American War and the fledging United States in a fit of Manifest Destiny was to ultimately grab Texas and what is now New Mexico, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado is an impediment. Please note if we hadn’t done so Great Britain would have surely taken California and more aggressively defended and probably not ceded the Columbia District to the US via the Oregon Treaty in 1846. Significant? Columbia now constitutes the US states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming.
Now relative to Texas if there are any politically correct (PC) considerations here we need to remind ourselves that without popular support from the existing Tejano populations, the revolution probably wouldn’t have been successful. We wonder what would have happened if the Mexican Constitution of 1824 had been restored or for that matter, never rescinded…
The great conundrum here is however gray many of the issues that eventually involved the United States, it will always appear to many that we abandoned many of the lofty principles that prompted our founding and as one historian offered, “A retreat from the idealism of the 18th century.” That is the great paradox though we pretty much treated our First Nations the same way (same song, different Jacksonian verse).
Texas and her drive towards independence is like a great onion with layer after layer that needs to be peeled back to better understand the motivation of the players and the overall time line. Texas was built on the backs of the personalities of a handful of individuals most of whom never had the initial intent to form an independent Texas though that eventually turned into a deliberate, righteous cause. It is our intent to reflect our reality and not raise our august founders above their accomplishments or denigrate them. Both good and bad brought us here today and we shall endeavor mightily to honestly explore our history.
Happy Terquasquicentennial - less two hundred years.