Texas, My Texas

Brian D. Sweany on the 175 moments in Texas history—figuring out which items made the final cut, working with the art department to get the layouts just right, and editing a 35,000-word story.

It’s said that everything is bigger in Texas, and we’re pretty sure they’re not just talking the trucks and hair. As America’s only nation turned state, Texas has quite the storied history. From the inception of the Super Bowl to the creation of the now–Top Chef–approved Whole Foods Market, there have been plenty of Lone Star happenings to write home about. For this month’s cover story, fifteen writers worked to describe the 175 places and events that make Texas what it is today. Such an ambitious project is not without its challenges, as deputy editor Brian D. Sweany shares below. Here’s the story behind the story.

Texas is a pretty huge state with a long history. How did you first start looking for events? We’re guessing you didn’t just flip through a Texas history book.
That’s exactly right, though we certainly consulted more books than I can mention, from the Handbook of Texas and T.R. Fehrenbach’s Lone Star to Randolph “Mike” Campbell’s Gone to Texas and Sam Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon. But the most important part of the research came from asking all of our editors and writers and folks like H.W. Brands and Stephen Harrigan what should and shouldn’t be on the list. There are few things that our colleagues at the magazine enjoy more than batting around a list like this one. It’s an opportunity for endless debate. As for the actual reporting for the individual items, the writers spent a lot of time with old newspapers and other primary sources. I wrote more than twenty items myself, and I drove to a lot of the locations and spoke to countless folks in the community and at various historical societies. It’s amazing how helpful people are—and how much they know about their town’s history.

Was there a process to figuring out which ones made the final cut?
Yes, the process was, “Don’t pull out all of your hair at once.” We had to take several things into consideration. One, the item had to have a specific location associated with it, even if that location has changed over the years. We couldn’t simply do “Nolan Ryan beats Robin Ventura silly.” The old Arlington Stadium doesn’t exist anymore, so we had to find the spot in the parking lot for the new stadium where the pitcher’s mound would have been. Beyond that, we had to have a mix of elements: high history (the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which remains one of the defining moments in Dallas history), low history (Charles Elmer Doolin perfecting the frito in San Antonio), important cultural moments (Américo Paredes taking a job as a cub reporter at the Brownsville paper), and so forth. But we also had to make sure that the road trip aspect of the story would work, so we needed a good distribution across the state. That wasn’t perfect—I would have liked to have had more items in far West Texas, for example—but I think the balance is pretty good. The idea was to drive this six thousand–mile trip without having to double back. So you start outside Glen Rose and drive generally clockwise until you end up in Austin.

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