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History of Texas: Individuals, Events & Issues

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Texas has a unique history amongst the US states. In this lesson, we'll talk about the long history of Texas and see how this state came to be what it is today.

Texas

All hail Texas. The second largest state in the USA, and one of the proudest, Texas is also one of only two states to ever have been its own independent country, and they won't let you forget it. That's why Texas is allowed to fly their state flag at the same height as the national flag. The other state was Hawaii, by the way. For quite a while, Texas has been one of the dominant economic, social, and political powers of North America. So, let's take a look through Texas' history and get an idea of why Texans are oh so proud of where they're from.

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Tejas

While we could go back to at least 12,000-10,000 BCE and the earliest confirmed human occupations of Texas, we're going to jump ahead a bit to the arrival of the first Europeans and the earliest founding of modern Texan history. Who were these first Europeans? The Spanish, who were still exploring the Gulf Coast. The first major Spanish explorations of what is now Texas began in 1528 when a ship crashed near modern-day Galveston. For the next few decades, the Spanish steadily poked around the region, formally claiming it for Spain by 1598. Settlement of the region was slow, due to the often harsh climate and Amerindians who weren't interested in sharing their home with Spanish invaders. The Spanish mission of Corpus Christi de la Ysleta was established in the 1680s, making it the oldest in what is now Texas. In 1690, another major mission was founded named San Francisco de los Tejas, further moving the territory towards being formally organized.

For over a century, Tejas was one of New Spain's northern territories. After the people of New Spain rebelled against the Spanish Empire and founded their own country from 1810 to 1821, Tejas became part of the new nation of Mexico. It was occupied largely by cattle ranchers who were drawn to the harsh and still dangerous frontier by the vast amounts of land being sold by the government at a great discount. Isolated from central Mexico by distance and cultural values, the Mexican cattle ranchers started to see themselves as a unique group, and called themselves the Tejanos. Besides the Tejanos, Tejas was also starting to fill up with white Americans who were given land grants by the Mexican government in order to bring in more European cultures, and thereby push out local Amerindians.

Texas was actually only one of the Mexican states to declare independence, all shown here in pink
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The Republic of Texas (1836-1845)

By the 1830s, Mexico was politically fractured and economically struggling, and the people of Tejas had really stopped thinking of themselves as Mexicans or Americans. These Tejanos and Texans, as they called themselves, decided they could do better without Mexico and declared independence in 1836, largely under the leadership of Stephen Austin. Mexico responded by sending its army to quell the rebellion, resulting in the massacre of Texan troops at a mission called the Alamo. Nevertheless, Texas managed to capture the Mexican president/general Antonio López de Santa Anna who was personally leading his troops, and this capture ended the war. By the end of 1836, the independence of the Republic of Texas seemed secured, and the nation was formally recognized by the United States. Unfortunately, building a new country is not exactly easy, and Texas was struggling economically. They became deeply worried that they didn't have the strength to fight off the Mexican army again and decided their days of independence were numbered. Due to the large rise of white Texans in the nation, the proposal was developed to join the United States rather than return to the still struggling Mexico.

For almost a decade, Texas was independent and did things like print its own currency
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Texas Joins the USA

In 1845, the United States Congress authorized the annexation of Texas into the Union as the 28th state. There was one problem. Mexico still had not recognized Texan independence. To them, the American annexation of Texas was nothing short of stealing their northern territory. Even worse, the American government claimed that the borders of Texas were further south than even the Texans claimed, making the annexed territory larger. The result was the Mexican-American War, fought from 1846 to 1848. In the end, Texas, and the rest of Mexico's northernmost territories, was indisputably the property of the United States.

Texas in the USA

So, what did statehood mean for Texas? Well, its geographical position in the south and reliance on agriculture aligned it with other southern slave holding states, and on February 1, 1861, Texas seceded from the Union, and on March 2, 1861, it joined the Confederacy. After the Civil War, Texan slaves were emancipated and the federal government focused on developing Texan industries and its connection to the North. Throughout the rest of the century, Texas grew in terms of wealth and population, sustained largely by cattle. When oil was discovered in Texas in 1894, that became a highly profitable industry as well.

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