Behind the Lines

One hundred and fifty moments that made us the way we are.

This issue is our birthday present to Texas. In honor of Texas’ sesquicentennial year, it is entirely devoted to a single theme: “One hundred and fifty moments that made us the way we are.” In the magazine trade this kind of publication is known as a “special issue.”

We believe that it is truly special. It contains the work of 98 authors. Most are Texans; the rest know us well. Never before has the work of so many of the best Texas writers been assembled between two covers.

What they have given us is a character study of Texas. It is not a chronology; the moments are arranged by topics rather than by dates. Neither is it exactly a history. Some profound historical events are not represented here—the Great Depression, for example, or World War II, or the sit-ins of the early sixties—simply because they were not unique to Texas. This issue is an impression rather than a record, a portrait rather than a photograph. It is an attempt to discover who we are and how we got that way.

Along the way we considered more than four hundred moments. Some fell off the list because they just weren’t of sufficient consequence. Such was the fate of “the beginning of Texas League baseball in 1888” and “the first chili cookoff.” Some posed insurmountable research problems. That is why you will not find “the arrival of the first planeload of pot” on our final list. Some weren’t unique to Texas. So much for “the last bear sighting.” And some moments, while interesting, didn’t have much to do with the way Texas is today. Scratch “Texas approves pari-mutuel betting in 1933.”

The 150 moments that made the final cut are the chromosomes of modern Texas. Some belong in any history of Texas: Travis at the Alamo, the gusher at Spindletop, Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, to name a few. But many others are drawn from everyday life, small incidents that multiply themselves into history: a farmer runs out of water, a stewardess goes to work for a neophyte commuter airline, a Vietnamese refugee becomes valedictorian of his high school class. In our scheme, barbecue at Kreuz Market is as important as oil at Spindletop. Come to think of it, maybe more so.

This issue is also a reflection of the way we as Texans see our state today. It is far different from the way Texans saw themselves fifty years ago as they prepared to celebrate the state’s centennial. Here, for instance, is a newspaper editorial from 1935: “The coming century will see the state slowly change from a cotton growing region to one in which there is wide diversification of”—Guess what comes next. Industry? Natural resources? Guess again—”crops, in large part stimulated by the growing demand of general and local industries for the products of the soil.”

At the time of the centennial, Texas was a poor Southern state made poorer by the Depression. It was a rural state, too, with bad roads and worse schools. The major asset of that Texas was neither soil nor oil, but its mythic past. “The Alamo, Goliad, San Jacinto—wherever lives a man of the white races, these names accelerate the blood flow and bring thrills of pride.” Those words were part of a commentary on the appointment of Jesse Jones to plan the centennial celebration. They appeared in a short-lived journal of the day called The Texas Monthly .

A state that saw its future only as the slow diversification of crops naturally preferred to look backward. No wonder it produced one Theophilus Fitz, whose contribution to the centennial was Tejas, an opera with a libretto by two women from Brownwood. A musical called The Cavalcade of Texas played in Dallas; the Morning News described it as “an expression of Texas, by Texans for Texans.” The News reviewer wrote, “Texas is possibly less than expert in the art of pageantry. The work, then, must not be judged by the standard of Salzburg, Chicago, or Baltimore spectacles, but as a sumptuous achievement of our young but ambitious theater.” Such patriotic extravagance was matched in the political arena by a legislator who pleaded for the state to build a monument in Gonzales, where the first shot of the Texas Revolution was fired. “We want no pageants to blow away with the wind,” he said, “but something enduring that the world may know our wonderful history and be reminded of our heroes.”

Today Texas is a different place. It isn’t poor—its per capita income exceeded the national average in 1981 for the first time—and it isn’t Southern, either. It’s certainly not rural. Unlike the generation of 1936, we can be proud of the present as well as the mythic past, and we aren’t afraid to be judged by the standards of Salzburg, Chicago, Baltimore, or anywhere else.

But have the wrenching changes that have occurred in the last half-century separated us from our past? A lot of Texans would say yes. Texans have not taken kindly to change since statehood ended the Republic. The lament was even put to music in a cowboy doggerel that was popular at the turn of the century:

I’m going to leave old Texas now.
For they’ve got no use for the Longhorn cow;
They’ve plowed and fenced my cattle range,
And the people there are all so strange.

Here we are, 86 years later, and the cowboy is still a Texas mythic hero, and the first thing any Texan does when he gets a little money is to go buy himself a ranch and run a few cattle on it. Texas may change, but Texans never will.

We owe many debts for this issue: To the writers of Texas, who embraced the idea of this sesquicentennial project and made it what it is; to our advertisers, who shared our enthusiasm about the issue; to our readers, who read of our plans and contributed photographs, manuscripts, and suggestions for moments.

Tags: POLITICS

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...

Most Read

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • 1 week