The Americanization of Texas

Has the independent Texan disappeared into the melting pot?

Once there was an independent Texan. But no more—finding a truly independent Texan today is about as rare as hearing a real Texas accent in the Galleria or Northpark. The myth lives on, as myths do; the reality survives only among a few old coots, flaming radicals, or rugged individualists. There is an H. L. Hunt, a Ramsey Clark, a Howard Hughes, a Don Meredith, and a Sissy Farenthold, independent Texans all, and whether we damn them or praise them or would like to bury them, they evoke that haunting uneasiness and sense of loss that we have come to associate with endangered species.

There never were as many independent Texans as our folklore insists. But there were enough to make that folklore and to color our whole Texan consciousness: tall men who could die valiantly at the Alamo or San Jacinto but who took orders with poor grace; Rangers who rode alone like pala­dins; cattlemen who held their ranges against wire and writs as stubbornly as any baron facing the king’s cannon; farmers who took their families to scratched-out corn fields in the Post-Oak belt when it was Comanche country and lived by choice miles from every neighbor; statesmen like Sam Hous­ton who damned and dared the popular fury—heroes in he­roic times, who made and stood for an attitude, a frame of mind rich in Texan symbolism and mythology. The inde­pendent Texan was both a real person and a folk hero, part historical figure and part social invention, satisfying deep-seated longings in-the Anglo-Texan soul. The man is almost gone; the memory and the few scattered survivors remain.

Like so many things Texan, this folk hero was and is reac­tionary and futuristic at the same time. The oldtime cattle­man or the early wildcatter clings to this image. But the inde­pendent Texan had and has another image, or series of images, too: that uninhibited or unencumbered spirit who jeers at the hypocrisies and pretensions of over-organized society, Yankee or Texan, who speaks his or her mind in pungent, sometimes barnyard-flavored phrases, who ignores, outwits, or overcomes the absurdities and humiliations foist­ed on most of us by this modern mess of pottage, twentieth-century civilization. This hero can be a cowboy or cow king, a multi-millionaire or a jackleg without the proverbial pot. He can be right-wing or radical, a tycoon or football player, politico or country doctor. It doesn’t matter the view or style, just that the independent Texan has both and can thumb his nose at some part of the world and make it stick.

All of these manifestations are admired, though each more in some circles than in others. In Texas, even the words “in­dependent s.o.b.” are usually spoken in a tone of rueful admiration.

It is obviously harder to define what the independent Texan is than what he is not. The type would appear to some to be anti-social, but the independent Texan has always really been more asocial; that is, he is not against society in general and does not oppose it so long as society goes along with him, or leaves him alone. The independent Texan is distinctly not a revolutionary in the common modern meaning of the word; when he rebels it is not to reform or change society so much as to secure his own freedoms from or within it. The independent Texan has few desires to push his own prejudices or leanings on others, except in self-defense. Yet the independent Texan has never been a peaceful type, although with the possible exception of big-city bars the six-shooter era in Texas is over. An aura of tension, even vio­lence, surrounds this folk hero, which comes from the effort of getting and keeping his vital independence. He seems al­ways to be “agin” something or somebody—because inde­pendence is not a natural human condition. It is achieved with strain, and held only by isolation or effort. The inde­pendent Texan is not a dropout—he works at it. And the independent Texan is the antithesis of the “organization man” although he may and sometimes does own his own organization.

The type, of course, is not found only in Texas. Some have been exported to other states, and some have evolved elsewhere naturally. However, it is peculiarly prevalent historically in Texas, and is much rarer east of the Sabine and north of the Red River. Say “independent Ohioan” and noth­ing whatever comes to mind; say “independent Easterners” and there are visions of droves of angry voters all splitting ballots in exactly the same way. Independent Texans do not form droves, and they are basically incapable of leading one. This is why independent Texans, though they often get the urge, are usually fiascos in politics, whether they run in Texas or New York. Independence and the American political sys­tem, as the late Sam Rayburn said in slightly different words, are two different things. Nevertheless, the virtue—or curse, as some would put it—of independence is not exclusively Texan but American, frontier American, to the core. It still permeates Texan thinking so strongly because Texas is far closer in time and spirit and society to the frontier than is most of America.

Across most of these United States, independence is some­thing celebrated each July 4th but which remains wishful thinking the rest of the year. For most Americans independence is still an unrealized ideal. Although the reality has van­ished, the word itself still has a fine sound to the American ear; it can hardly be given a bad connotation. It is, for mil­lions, about the last living heritage of the old frontier.

Most Americans do not act or think independently, wheth­er voting, buying, dressing, investing, or holding forth in in­tellectual circles. However, to be called or thought independ­ent at the polls, on Wall Street, in educational or intellectual circles, or in the entertainment world is a supreme compli­ment. Whether the truly independent thinker is tolerated in any circle, he or she is often praised. Financial independ­ence, rather

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