You gotta love Texas and you gotta love Texans. At least I do. A lot of things set them apart by their iconic symbols. Be it their southern drawl, those gorgeous Texas belles, their legendary support for high school football, the Texas cowboy, and especially their famously independent nature. It all comes from a long, storied history. From the Anahuac Disturbances to the battle for the Alamo through Civil War and Reconstruction and beyond. Those Texas Rangers deserve recognition too. I don’t mean the baseball team, I mean the ones who took out Bonnie and Clyde. Their stories are the stuff movies, heroes, legends and football stars are made of.
Then there’s those long, endless, deserted, dusty roads connecting notable cattle ranches, some encompassing hundreds-of-thousands of acres, with oceans of grass feeding huge herds. Have you noticed? The oil strikes, even their cowboy hats… everything is big in Texas! It’s the largest state in the lower 48. If Texas were a country it’d be the 40th largest. Bigger than France and nearly twice as big as Germany or Japan. God blessed Texas.
Speaking of… there may be a match but no one has more down-home pride for God, family and country than do Texans. Known as the buckle of the Bible Belt, east Texas is especially socially conservative. In Houston a former sports arena, where the Rockets once played, is home to a megachurch that had started in an abandoned feed store in 1959. It now boasts an attendance north of 30-thousand a week.
Since the first European exploration of the region in 1519 six different flags have flown over Texas. From revolution to victory and then defeat, with the American folk hero Davey Crockett, you gotta give Texans a lot of credit. There were the glory days when those first oil gushers blew in near Beaumont. The flow of “Texas tea” began from the top of a salt dome hill called Spindletop. From the depths of the earth below unimaginable riches would flow to individuals, communities, and what would become the giants of the oil industry following in it’s wake. But despite that, throughout great wars and great depressions, and the dust bowl days of the 30’s, Texas has been dealt some heavy blows to its economy, and to its good name. Its Gulf coast has invited some of the worse hurricanes the country has seen and those were dark days in November of 1963. Texans are a tough breed alright and if you spend anytime among them you soon learn you don’t mess with Texas.
Texans have made their mark in pop-culture and music too. From Bob Wills’ Western Swing to ZZ Top and everything between to the Austin City limits. Asleep at the Wheel, Stevie Ray Vaughn, George Strait, Lyle Lovett, and a huge host of others, not the least of which Willie, have deep roots in Texas. Nor can we forget Gilley’s and John Travolta’s portrayal of the Urban Cowboy in Houston. During the same time there was J.R. Ewing at Southfork Ranch, and the T-V show Dallas! Have I mentioned those Texas belles and the breakfast burrito?
In December 1985, a bumper sticker began appearing on vehicles — especially pickup trucks — all across the Lone Star State. There was no explanation, no sponsor noted, just those four words ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ and the red, white, and blue Texas flag. Fast-forward 26 years later and the longest-running public service campaign in the state is also the most successful anti-litter campaign in history. The effort with the help of dozens of the biggest Texas stars (and there are plenty) helped the state reduce litter on its highways by a whopping nearly 75%.
It’s true, Don’t Mess with Texas started as a battle cry for an ad campaign. To a Yankee the line didn’t mean much early on, but to a Texan the message was clear; if you’re proud of your home, you keep it clean. Period. That’s Texas. That’s Texans.
For a short time I resided in the Lone Star state, in San Antone’ while in basic training in the Air Force. In the distance, miles beyond our barracks windows, I could see the landmark Tower of the Americas. Since then I’ve had the privilege to travel along its vast stretches from time to time and to visit both Dallas and Houston. Not to take anything away from my Pennsylvania birthplace, but Texas is by-far my favorite state — with a soft spot especially for the sleepy little crossroads town of Henrietta… where the stars once fell. Gotta love those Texans but it does get mighty hot down there.