A Brief of Texas History

September 23rd, 2011 7:21 am

Given that the conquerors’ diseases wiped out much of the indigenous population, it seems a bit ironic that the Spaniards named their new territory Tejas (tay-has), a corruption of the Caddo word for ‘friend.’ Caddo, Apache and Karankawa were among the tribes that Spanish explorers encountered when they arrived to map the coast in 1519.

Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. At first Texans supported Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna, until he eliminated the state federation system. That didn’t sit well with many independent-minded ‘Texians’ (US- and Mexico-born Texans) who had been given cheap land grants and Mexican citizenship. Slavery was outlawed and immigration curtailed, and clashes escalated into the Texas War for Independence. A month after Santa Anna’s forces massacred surviving combatants at the battle of the Alamo and the battle of Goliad, Sam Houston’s rebels routed the Mexican troops at San Jacinto with the cry – let’s all say it – ‘Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!’ Thus the Republic of Texas was born. It ended nine years later when by treaty Texas opted to become the 28th state of the Union.

Cattle ranching formed the core of Texas’ post–Civil War economy, but the black gold that spewed up from Spindletop, near Beaumont, in 1910 changed everything. From then on, for better or worse, the state’s economy has run on oil. During the energy crisis of the 1970s, when gasoline prices quadrupled, Texans – who were the biggest domestic oil supplier and had many of the nation’s largest refineries – laughed all the way to the bank. Boom time was big, but the bust in the 1980s was just as spectacular. A worldwide glut devastated the oil industry and towns were deserted overnight.

The 1990s buzzword was diversification. South-central Texas became a high-tech corridor, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) encouraged trade south of the border with neighboring Mexico. Former Texas governor George W Bush was elected to two terms as president of the United States, which must have made his father, George Bush Sr (the 41st US president), mighty proud. Those still involved in the oil industries have long joked, ‘Lord, give me just one more boom and I promise I won’t piss it away.’ With crude oil prices continuing to rise late into the 2000s, it looks like their dreams just may have come true.

Oil, Industrialization, and World Wars

September 23rd, 2011 7:19 am

The transformation of Texas into a partly urban and industrial society was greatly hastened by the uncovering of the state’s tremendous oil deposits. The discovery in 1901 of the spectacular Spindletop oil field near Beaumont dwarfed previous finds in Texas, but Spindletop itself was later surpassed as oil was discovered in nearly every part of Texas. Texas industry developed rapidly during the early years of the 20th cent., but conditions worsened for the tenant farmers, who by 1910 made up the majority of cultivators. Discontented tenants were largely responsible for the election of James Ferguson as governor.

World War I had a somewhat liberating effect on African-American Texans, but the reappearance of the Ku Klux Klan after the war helped to enforce “white supremacy.” The economic boom of the 1920s was accompanied by further industrialization. The Great Depression of the 1930s, while severe, was less serious than in most states; the chemical and oil industries in particular continued to grow (the East Texas Oil Field was discovered in 1930).

The significance of the petrochemical and natural gas industries increased during World War II, when the aircraft industry also rose to prominence and the establishment of military bases throughout Texas greatly contributed to the state’s economy. Postwar years brought continued prosperity and industrial expansion, although in the 1950s the state experienced the worst drought in its history and had its share of destructive hurricanes and flooding.

Many projects for increased flood control, improved irrigation, and enhanced power supply have been undertaken in Texas; notable among these are Denison Dam, forming Lake Texoma (shared between Texas and Oklahoma); Lewisville Dam and its reservoir, supplying Fort Worth and Dallas; Lake Texarkana on the Sulphur River; and Falcon Dam and its reservoir on the Rio Grande. The Amistad Dam on the Rio Grande, serving both the United States and Mexico, was completed in 1969.