With research by David Moorman, Chester Rosson, and Valerie Wright
In addition to its size (impressive), its mineral wealth (unmatched), and its barbecue (unrivaled anywhere in the universe), Texas is distinguished from the rest of the United States by the grandeur and scope of its history. No other state can claim a past like ours, in part because ours is the only state that was a nation. And so we have the history of a nation, not a state—armies clashing at night, migration and settlement, world-changing discoveries in the lab and field, vast riches, monumental political power, a culture all our own. This is a place where big things happen. Our historical markers tell an epic story, from the travels of Stephen F. Austin to the journey of Barbara Jordan, from the Texas Revolution to the Civil War, from the conjunto of Lydia Mendoza to the outlaw country of Willie Nelson.
But how many of the moments in this great history are unmarked? How much history lies hidden all around us? This year, to mark the terquasquicentennial* of Texas’s independence—which is to say, the anniversary of the idea of Texas—we compiled a list of 175 events, and the precise locations in which they happened, that made us who we are. Many of these sites are undesignated; you may have walked or driven past some of them without ever knowing their significance. As the historian James Haley has written, “Though Texas history surrounds us, it remains, as Sam Houston loved to say, concealed behind the veil of futurity.”
In fact, the notion to put together a list like this was inspired by the site of Houston’s greatest heroics, the San Jacinto battlefield, where independence was born. Of course, today there’s no mistaking the spot where his ragtag, insubordinate, disorganized band of volunteers finally vanquished Santa Anna and the Mexican army—the 567-foot column topped with a 220-ton, 34-foot star (the tallest monument tower in the world) makes it pretty clear. But for more than half a century after the battle, the fields and marshes where the fighting took place were just that, fields and marshes. Unlike the Alamo—which, ever since March 6, 1836, has served as its own monument in stone—San Jacinto is simply a wide-open space marked by a giant, beautifully designed pin in the ground.
With this is mind, we set out to locate other places where Texas history happened and place a pin in those spots as well. Some are well-known and a “pin” is already there. It’s nearly impossible to compile a list like this without a little bit of overlap with the fine work of the Texas Historical Commission, which manages the more than 15,000 historical markers in the state. But in most of the locations on our list, the history is invisible to all but a few.
This list is an itinerary. On the following pages, you’ll find our 175 spots arranged by geography rather than chronology. We like to think of them as stops along the greatest Texas road trip ever devised, a 6,000-mile journey that will take you through both time and space. You start 113 million years ago, in Glen Rose, where dinosaurs once roamed, and you finish two months ago at Governor Rick Perry’s third inauguration. You pass through the parking garage at Love Field where Tex Schramm and Lamar Hunt dreamed up the Super Bowl; the site of the restaurant where Mariano Martinez invented the frozen margarita machine; the studio in Houston where Freddy Fender recorded “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”; and the spot in Pecos where the country’s first rodeo was held. (A foldout map between pages 120 and 121 will help you navigate them all.)
The list is by no means comprehensive. How could it be with only 175 entries to work with? But it is our attempt to tell the story of Texas. As senior executive editor Paul Burka wrote in our January 1986 sesquicentennial issue, a similarly ambitious project that rounded up 150 critical moments in the state’s history, “This issue is an impression rather than a record, a portrait rather than a photograph.” But unlike in 1986, when a reader who felt we had overlooked important moments could only write a letter to the editor or complain loudly to anyone who would listen, today you can add your voice to the story. What did we miss? What historical sites should all Texans know about that aren’t on our list? For the remainder of this historic year, a terquasquicentennial blog at texasmonthly.tumblr.com will enable you to post photos, videos, and comments.
And now, the road awaits.
From dinosaurs roaming the Paluxy in Glen Rose to Lance Armstrong joining his first cycling team in Richardson. 1 to 25
From Candy Montgomery and Allan Gore beginning their affair in Richardson to Robert Rauschenberg, Janis Joplin, and Jimmy Johnson graduating from high school in Port Arthur 26 to 50
From the Donald Chambers founding the Bandidos in Houston to Gordon Granger reading General Orders No. 3 in Galveston 51 to 75
From the Great Storm in Galveston to the frito in San Antonio 76 to 100
From barbed wire in San Antonio to the first rodeo in Pecos 101 to 125
From Buzz Bissinger arriving in Odessa—with a notepad—to Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen writing songs in College Station 126 to 150
From Texas A&M in College Station to Governor Rick Perry in Austin 151 to 175
To visit every place on our list—or tell us what we missed—go to our Terquasquicentennial Blog.