Wednesday, September 30, 2015

THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS...A WHOLE OTHER COUNTRY

By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

“As far as the eye can see…”
That's what my grandfather said when I asked him, “How big is Texas?” Now, some might say he was bragging – something Texans have been known to do when talking about everything from the size of the fish they caught to the size of their state. But, just to set the record straight, let me tell you that he was telling the truth.

Very often people ask me the same question, confused why it takes so long to drive somewhere. Impressive as the State of Texas may appear on a map, one doesn’t always get the true perspective, comparatively speaking. Superimposing the size of Texas over a map of Europe (pictured), helps to better understand how much land we are talking about.

I have also had discussions with people in the United States and other countries, who never knew Texas was once its own independent country. So, today – since the wonderful State Fair of Texas is underway -- I am going to give a little Texas History 101 lesson which may help many to understand why Texans are so proud of their state and its heritage.

Geographically-speaking, Texas is the largest among the lower 48 states in the United States of America. It is second in size among all 50 states to Alaska (which became the 49th state in 1959).

Covering 268,820 square miles, the State of Texas has 11 ecological regions, 14 different soil regions, and 10 different climate regions. Consequently, dramatic changes in weather are commonplace. Understandably, the Texas Panhandle (located far north bordering New Mexico and Oklahoma and considered part of the High Plains of the Western United States) and the Texas Gulf experience weather as different as night and day. In terms of the spectrum of elevation, the Texas Gulf is sea level and 90 miles east of El Paso in western Texas is Guadalupe Peak at an elevation of 8,751 feet. Texas even has two time zones, Central and Mountain. From Coastal Plains to the High Plains, lush Hill Country and Grasslands, Piney Woods and Forests, Mountains and the ocean waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the landscape of Texas has something for everyone.

An interesting point to consider, however, is that the Republic of Texas was even bigger than the present-day State of Texas. So, for anyone reading (or writing) a historical novel in the time period 1836-1846, these facts might come in handy.

As mentioned above, the Republic of Texas was an independent country in North America. From 02 Mar 1836 until 19 Feb 1846, its dominion [see map pictured] covered 389,166 square miles. Its borders included all 268,820 square miles of present-day Texas, plus parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico.

Boundary lines between Mexico and the Republic of Texas were defined in the Treaties of Velasco. The eastern border between the Texas Republic with the United States remained the same as had been established by the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 between Spain and the United States. Also known as the Florida Purchase Treaty, the treaty had ceded Florida to the United States and defined precise boundary lines between the United States and Spain, then Mexico, and ultimately the Republic of Texas.

A key player in the fight for Texas Independence was Sam Houston [pictured]. Born in Virginia in 1793, Houston remains the only American to have served as governor for two different states. He moved from Virginia to Tennessee, fought in the War of 1812, and in 1827 was elected Governor of Tennessee. In 1829, he relocated to Arkansas. By 1832, he moved to Texas. Along with Stephen F. Austin, James Fannin, Frank W. Johnson, and Edward Burleson, Houston became a commander and leading figure in the Texas Revolution.

On 12 Apr 1836, (5 weeks after the Battle of the Alamo, and 2 weeks after the Goliad Massacre), spurred by war cries of ‘Remember the Alamo!' and ‘Remember Goliad!’ General Sam Houston led his Texian army to defeat Santa Anna in the Battle of San Jacinto that lasted only 18 minutes. [Pictured: The Battle of San Jacinto (1895) by Henry Arthur McArdle]

Now a country unto itself, the Republic of Texas elected a Congress of 14 senators and 29 representatives. Although David G. Burnet served as Interim President from March 1836 until October 1836, the first elected President was, understandably, Sam Houston. Houston also served as the third President for the Republic of Texas.

Despite its victory of Independence from Mexico, and the treaty signed by Santa Anna, tension remained between the new Republic of Texas and Mexico. In particular, the southern and western boundary lines, as well as control of the Rio Grande, were still being disputed.

Texas claimed the Rio Grande, one of two principal rivers in the southwest United States and Mexico. With a total length of 1,896 miles, the Rio Grande extended from south-central Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. Mexico claimed the Nueces River, the “southernmost major river in Texas, northeast of the Rio Grande”. Tensions continued from the time the Republic of Texas was established until after Texas joined the United States.

Sam Houston supported the statehood of Texas, perhaps foreseeing the situation with Mexico had to be ended once and for all, and that war was a distinct possibility. Not surprisingly, when Texas became the 28th state of the United States on 29 December 1845, the Mexican-American War ignited four months later on 25 Apr 1846.

With the strength of the American government now protecting the interests of Texas, victory was realized exactly 1 year, 9 months, 1 week, and 1 day later on 02 Feb 1848. Not only did the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo end the Mexican-American War, but Mexico finally acknowledged Texas (and other territories that were part of the Texas Republic) were NOT under their control, and the Rio Grande became the defining border between the United States and Mexico.

With Texas now the Lone Star State, Sam Houston became its senator, serving as such from 1846-1849. Ten years later, on 31 Dec 1859, Houston became the 7th governor of the State of Texas. However, when Texas joined the Confederacy and seceded from the Union in 1861, Houston refused to swear loyalty to the Confederate States of America. Houston then retired to his home in Huntsville and died there before the end of the Civil War, on 26 Jul 1863 at the age of 70. Yet his impact on Texas history and his legacy continues to live.

Should you ever find yourself driving on Interstate 45 outside of Huntsville, be sure to see the Texas-sized statue of perhaps its greatest forefather, Sam Houston. There are also five USA Navy vessels named in his honor, an United States Army Base, historical park, national forest, university, memorial museum and…oh yeah…the fourth largest city in the United States—Houston, Texas.

As for Texas, as someone whose ancestors date back to the days of the Republic, I am very proud of Texas, its heritage, and its people. Whether I am in my yard, walking my dog around the lake near my house, or driving down that long stretch of I-35 to Austin and San Antonio, all I have to do is look up at the cornflower blue Texas sky and remember that long ago talk with my grandfather.

How big is Texas? "As big at the eye can see."

Thanks for stopping by today. I hope you found the post informative. ~ AKB

15 comments:

  1. Once again you have written especially well, Ashley. Easy to see why your books are so well-written. Of course, your subject today is a favorite of mine--Texas.

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    1. Thank you, Caroline. So glad you enjoyed the post.

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  2. What can I say? You get an A+. When the national news reports were explaining that Germany would take a half a million refugees, I'd hear...even in Texas...but it's a big country. No, it's half as big as Texas. Hard to imagine. Sure, much of the Western part of Texas has harsh climate, but every square inch is owned by somebody...in other words, inhabited--even if the land is ranchland.
    I turned in a post to Annette Snyder for her 50 Authors/50 States, blog. Mainly I gave quirky facts about Texas. There are plenty of those, too. I enjoyed this.

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    1. Thank you, Celia. I remember seeing a documentary on Alaska as the largest state, but most of it is uninhabitable. Still, Texas had a long run as the biggest state, 104 years. For Texans, it is the greatest state There is just something about Texas that takes hold of your heart and won't let go.

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  3. You Texans are a trip. I remember before Alaska became a state Texas was famous for being big--big everything. When you compared it to western Europe, it certainly does look big.
    I lived in south central Texas for a little over a year so I got a chance to travel around the state--and I still didn't get to see all of it, mostly in the western part of the state. My husband and I arrived in Texas when the bluebells were in bloom. It was quite a beautiful sight. I don't know if it's the atmospheric conditions over central Texas or what, but I loved the rolling pink clouds that had lightning in them, but no rain. I loved watching them. And for some reason, the stars seemed huge. I haven't figured out why they would seem that way. It was very hot where I loved, but dry, not like the humid heat here in North Carolina. I didn't mind the heat as much in Texas and the wind seemed to always blow, too.
    Yep, Texas is a diverse and beautiful state--and huge. LOL
    I really enjoyed reading your blog, Ashley.

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    1. "The stars at night are big and bright...(clap, clap, clap, clap)...Deep in the Heart of Texas." Sorry, Sarah J, just had a flashback of my mom teaching us that song. Glad you enjoyed the post. :)

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  4. OOOPS! I love Sarah--she's one of my best buddies...but she made a...gasp...mistake! We don't have bluebells in Texas...Scotland has bluebells. Texas has Bluebonnets. Never mind, though. When I first asked a cover artist to put bluebonnets--our state flower--on a cover, she put bluebells. Well, they were sure pretty, but not the right flower. I know..picky, picky, picky. Love you, Sarah McNeal...just keep that in mind.

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  5. Proud Native 6th Generation Texan. Thanks for the great post.

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    1. You are most welcome, Denise. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. - AKB

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  6. Thanks for the Texas history refresher! After taking Texas history classes in elementary school, high school, and college, pride for the state and its background was definitely instilled into Texans of my generation. I don't live in the Lone Star State now, but it's still home, and I visit as often as possible.

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    1. Hi Sandra: Thank you for your comment. I often wonder what people from other states would think when little chikdren said the Pledge of Allegiance to the USA flag, then turned to the Texas flag to say that pledge, "Honor the Texas flag.." Not sure if they still do it in schools these days.

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  7. Great post, Ashley, as always! I'm not a native Texan (my dad was) but I got here as soon as I could. Hubby and I and our kids have lived here for close to 30 years now, so I consider myself a "naturalized native". You illustrated the size and diversity of this magnificent state, well, magnificently!

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    1. Thank you, Lyn. I am very proud of my Texan roots, and the pioneer spirit that endures here.

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