Skip to content

A Texas Primer

Written by Lori Moffatt. Photographs by J. Griffis Smith.

On March 2, 1836, when Texas was still part of Mexico, 59 delegates gathered at Washington, Texas, to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence.

Texas Independence Day

Washington-on-the- Brazos State Historic Site commemorates the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

The fierce battles that ensued—including the fall of the Alamo on March 6; the massacre of Texian soldiers by order of Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna on March 27; and finally, the decisive Battle of San Jacinto, led by Major General Sam Houston on April 21—established Texas as an independent nation. Texas remained sovereign for nearly 10 years, until December 29, 1845, when the Lone Star State became part of the United States.

On March 2, numerous events statewide commemorate Texas Independence Day. (See the Texas Highways Events Calendar to find a celebration near you.) Take a moment to toast Texas with these words, written by the late historian Joe B. Frantz:

“To Texas…. Joyous and sparkling, Evergreen when it rains, enduring in drought; Timeless, endless in boundaries, exciting; Home to the adventurous of yesterday and today; With shrines from the past and space and spirit for the future. To Texas. Everlasting in the hearts of your people!”

No, my friend, it's not a typo

Most of y'all know that the word “Texas” apparently comes from the Caddoan word for friendship, tejas—hence Texas’ much-deserved reputation as “The Friendship State.”

But “Texian”? Hold your horses, and don’t rust up your spurs, partner. That’s no typo. According to the Texas State History Association’s splendidly searchable Handbook of Texas Online, “the term Texian is generally used to apply to a citizen of the Anglo-American section of the province of Coahuila and Texas or of the Republic of Texas.” The term was replaced (in general usage anyway) after Texas was annexed to the United States in 1845, but since Republic of Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar had used it to foster patriotism during Texas’ independence (1836-1845), some Texans called themselves Texians well into the 1880s. Might still.

A banner history

The Texas state flag, with it's five-pointed star on a sea of blue, and two bold stripes of white and red (with the white always on top, please!), is, in fact, the 1839 national flag of the Republic of Texas. (As with the U.S. flag, red represents bravery; white, purity; and blue, loyalty. Preservationist Adina de Zavala, best known for her courageous actions in preventing the Alamo from being razed in the early 20th Century, suggested that the star’s five points represent fortitude, loyalty, righteousness, prudence, and broadmindedness.)

And while we’re used to thinking that six flags have flown over the state, the reality is that there have been more than that, given that some countries didn’t have standard banners at the time or modified them to avoid confusion on the battlefield. But that’s nitpicking: Since 1519, when Spain—the first European nation to claim what is now Texas—raised its flag on Lone Star soil, Texas has been governed by six nations: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America.

During Spain’s reigns, 1519-1685 and again 1690-1821, at least two versions of the Spanish flag flew above Texas soil. Both designs incorporated emblems of León and Castile, or the lion and castle. A simple version probably flew at Spain’s first settlement in Texas, Ysleta Mission, founded in 1681 at present-day El Paso. Take note: That’s more than a century-and-a-half after Hernán Cortez arrived in the New World; Texas was a desolate place back then. After 1785, Spain’s flag depicted a lion and a castle on a shield surmounted by a crown.

France staked its claim here in 1685 with the arrival of French nobleman René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, who founded his doomed settlement, Fort St. Louis, a few miles inland from Lavaca Bay. Shipwreck, disease, and eventually, La Salle’s assassination squelched France’s future in Texas. When Spanish soldiers arrived in 1689, they found the fort in shambles. Regarding the flag: In the 1680s, according to the Texas State Library, France did not have one official flag, so it’s unclear which design La Salle might have carried. For the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition, the white flag scattered with golden fleurs-de-lis was adopted as the flag of Texas under French rule.

Under Mexico from 1821-1836, Texas flew the familiar green-white-and-red-striped flag emblazoned with an eagle and snake, both images from pre-Columbian mythology. As a republic, Texas adopted the famous Lone Star flag, and on joining the Union in 1845, it became the 28th star in the United States of America’s Stars and Stripes. Then, 16 years after Texas joined the Union, in 1861, the American Civil War erupted, and Texas joined the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy, in fact, had three national flags, including the controversial Union Jack design, but the first Confederate Flag to fly in Texas was the simple Stars and Bars—a blue field with a circle of seven stars, alongside horizontal stripes of red and white. In 1865, of course, Texas rejoined the Union, and Old Glory has topped flagpoles—flapping proudly alongside the Lone Star flag—ever since.

For more on Texas flags and Texas history, see the Texas Almanac’s online sesquicentennial edition at www.texasalmanac.com, or the Web site of the Texas State Library, www.tsl.state.tx.us. Also, you can order Texas flags (as well as flags from around the world) in a wide range of prices from San Antonio’s Dixie Flag Company; www.dixieflag.com.

Notes on a Song

In 1929, Fort Worth songwriters William J. Marsh and Gladys Yoakum Wright won a state-song contest sponsored by the Texas Legislature with their jaunty “Texas, Our Texas.” A tad of trivia: After Alaska became a state in 1959, Mr. Marsh changed “Largest” to “Boldest” in the third line. (If you’d like to hear the music, log on to Lone Star Junction at www.lsjunction.com, and click on “Songs of Texas.”)

Texas, Our Texas

Texas, Our Texas! All hail the mighty State!

Texas, Our Texas! So wonderful so great!

Boldest and grandest, Withstanding

ev’ry test;

O Empire wide and glorious, You stand supremely blest.

[CHORUS]

God bless you Texas! And keep you brave and strong,

That you may grow in power and worth, thro’out the ages long.

(Sing twice.)

Texas, O Texas! Your freeborn single star,

Sends out its radiance to nations near and far.

Emblem of freedom! It set our hearts aglow,

With thoughts of San Jacinto and glorious Alamo. [to chorus]

Texas, dear Texas! From tyrant grip now free,

Shines forth in splendor, Your star of destiny!

Mother of heroes! We come your children true,

Proclaiming our allegiance, our faith, our love for you. [to chorus]

Back to top