Today is Texas Independence Day. You might be already in full celebration mode, plunging candles into pints of Blue Bell, swigging Pearl in a can and picking beans out of chili. If so, carry on, you’ve got this.
But if you’re the sort who of person who passes by an elementary school and you are all … “wait, IS that Texas flag upside-down?” Read on, we are here to help.
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Texas is large. That feller in Van Horn might not have a thing in common with this lady in Port Arthur. The hippies in Austin might not ever see eye-to-eye with the ranchers in Dalhart. But there’s a few things all Texans have in common — a shared terra firma — and you should know these things.
A man dressed in 1830s clothing walks in front of the Alamo on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017.
Photo: Ana Ramirez/Austin American-Statesman
1. HOW DID WE GET HERE? (condensed into 3 paragraphs)
The Spanish claimed Texas in the 1500s and took up continuous residence in the 1700s, and yet, over the centuries, could not settle the land effectively beyond its San Antonio de Bexar stronghold.
By 1820, Spain allowed Anglo-American settlers to colonize the land (Howdy, Stephen F. Austin). When Mexico won its independence from Spain a year later, it allowed the colonization to continue. However, political struggles within Mexico meant, for the most part, that the colonists were left unsupervised.
In the late 1820s, Mexico looked north and realized that Texas was filling quickly with armed white men who did not intend to speak Spanish, convert to Catholicism or submit to Mexican customs or taxation. Mexico sent its troops north and made a push to bring Texas back under control. Too late. The Texas Revolution began in Gonzales in 1835 and ended in San Jacinto in 1836. Read more.
That's right, the Republic of Texas is more than just a motorcycle rally.
Photo: Jay Janner / American-Statesman
2. SO … TEXAS REALLY WAS A COUNTRY?
Absolutely, this was not something we made up. From 1836 until statehood was granted in 1845, we were the Republic of Texas. It’s not easy running your own country — the Mexicans were aggressive along the southern border and the Comanche Indians were aggressive nearly everywhere else. But another key motivator for the Texians when it came to joining the United States was money — the Republic of Texas was deep in debt. Read more.
3. WE CAN SECEDE IF WE WANT TO, RIGHT?
No. Not any more readily than, say, Delaware. The idea that Texas, as a former independent country, maintained a “right” to secede from the United States is just far-right myth. Former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spelled it out in 2006: “If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.” Read more.
4. BUT WE CAN BECOME FIVE STATES
There’s no telling why the Lone Star State would want to give up on its most notable feature (see No. 5), but who knows what will happen once Willie Nelson is no longer around to keep the rednecks and the hippies together. In the annexation of Texas by the U.S., it was agreed that Texas could divide and reform itself into as many as five states. FiveThirtyEight takes an in-depth look at how that might look here. There have been a few attempts to create a new state, but they didn’t get far. Read more.
Brewster County is enormous. But the traffic isn't usually too bad. Credit: Chase A. Fountain/Texas Parks and Wildlife.
5. JUST HOW BIG IS TEXAS?
In terms of total area, Texas’ 268,000 square miles is a far piece behind Alaska, at less than half the size. Fortunately, nobody thinks about Alaska. Texas is the undisputed heavyweight of the lower 48, big enough that you could fit the 10 smallest states alongside the runner-up California inside its borders … with room for an extra New Jersey. Read more.
6. HOW MANY COUNTIES DOES TEXAS HAVE?
There are 254 counties in Texas, ranging from tiny Rockwall County at 149 square miles (about the size of Detroit) to the massive Brewster County at 6,192 square miles (about as big as Connecticut … and Rhode Island). Houston’s Harris County has 4.5 million people, while tiny Loving County in West Texas has 113 residents — not enough to fill up an Alamo Drafthouse theater. Read more.
The Texas flag flies upside down in front of Austin City Hall Thursday morning August 4, 2016. Please don't do this. Or we’ll send Tommy Lee Jones after you.
Photo: Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman
7. WHAT ABOUT THE TEXAS FLAG?
To begin with it is a Texas legend that only the Texas flag is allowed to fly at the same height as the U.S. flag (independent nations, forever, bro) … and that is false. Damn. We believed it, too. However, Texas will just have to settle for having the most attractive and awesome flag. As long as you remember to not fly it upside-down (the white stripe should be above the red stripe) and you don’t drink too much Shiner one night and order a Chile flag for your front porch. There have been six flags that have flown above Texas — it’s not just an amusement park. They are: Spanish, French, Mexican, Texan, Confederate and American. Read more.
Remember the state flying mammal! This Mexican free tail bat was on display at the Bat Conservation International booth at the Batfest on Saturday Sep. 2, 2006.
Photo: Jay Janner / American-Statesman
8. LONG LIVE THE STATE ICONS
You knew, of course, that the bluebonnet was the state flower of Texas. And that the state tree was the Pecan. But did you know we have a state small mammal, large mammal and flying mammal? (Armadillo, Longhorn and Mexican free-tailed Bat.) The state insect is not the fire ant, but the Monarch butterfly. The state snack is chips and salsa and the state vegetable is the Texas sweet onion. And the state song is “Whiskey River.” (No, not really, but it should be. It’s “Texas, Our Texas,” of course.) Read more.