Texas has an area of 268,820 square miles, an area greater than France. El Paso, Texas is closer to Needles, California than it is to Dallas, Texas. Texas is divided into 254 counties, some of which are bigger than the entire state of Connecticut. The King Ranch, a cattle concern in South Texas (purchased in 1853 by Captain Richard King from Mexicans for about two cents an acre, but “sparking generations of integrity, preservation, and innovation”) has more land than the state of Rhode Island.
When the United States purchased Louisiana from France in 1803, American authorities insisted that the agreement also included Texas, but the boundary between New Spain and the United States was fixed at a point much smaller than present-day Texas. Ever greedy for new land, many Americans refused to recognize the agreement, and wanted the United States to raise armies to invade the area west of the Sabine River.
In 1821, the Mexican War of Independence included the Texas territory, which became part of Mexico. Hoping that more settlers would reduce the near-constant Comanche raids, Mexican Texas liberalized its immigration policies to permit immigrants, most of whom came from the United States. By 1834, Texas had grown to approximately 37,800 people, with only 7,800 of Mexican descent.
The Anglican immigrants tended to ignore Mexico’s civic laws, so Mexico imposed new restrictions beginning in 1829, including outlawing slavery. Needless to say, this was an unpopular move; the mostly Southern white families who poured into Texas attempted to replicate the Southern slave culture in the cotton and sugarcane counties of Texas. It was all benign however, as the Texas Legislature concluded in 1857: “Our slaves are the happiest . . . of human beings on whom the sun shines…”
Meanwhile, as early as 1832, Texians, or non-Hispanic white residents of Mexican Texas, started meeting to discuss requesting independent statehood.
In 1835, an army under Mexican President Santa Anna entered Texas and abolished self-government. Texans responded by declaring their independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. On April 20–21, rebel forces under Texas General Sam Houston defeated the Mexican army at the Battle of San Jacinto. The Mexican government, however, refused to honor the terms granting the Lone Star Republic its independence agreed to by Santa Anna.
Texians then created a provisional government but it collapsed from infighting. The Mexicans took advantage of the chaos by attacking the Texians, and after a thirteen-day siege, they overwhelmed Texian defenders at the Battle of the Alamo. David “Davy” Crockett, the 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, and politician died at the Alamo.
News of the defeat united the Texans, who met and signed a Declaration of Independence on March 2, forming the Republic of Texas. Internecine conflict continued however, with one faction preferring the continued independence of Texas, and other advocating annexation to the United States. The Republic’s inability to defend itself added momentum to Texas’s eventual annexation into the United States.
Texas was finally annexed when the expansionist James K. Polk won the election of 1844. On December 29, 1845, Congress admitted Texas to the U.S. as the 28th state of the Union. (On October 13 of the same year, a majority of voters in Texas approved a proposed constitution that specifically endorsed slavery and the slave trade.)
The Mexican government had warned that annexation would mean war with the United States. When Texas joined the Union, the Mexican government broke diplomatic relations with the United States. In June 1845, President Polk sent General Zachary Taylor to Texas to defend Texas from a Mexican invasion, and ordered Taylor’s forces to the Rio Grande, into disputed territory that Mexicans claimed as their own. On April 25, 1846, a Mexican cavalry detachment attacked a U.S. patrol that had been sent into the contested territory. The Mexican cavalry routed the patrol, killing 16 U.S. soldiers. Both nations declared war. In the ensuing Mexican-American War, there were no more battles fought in Texas, but it became a major staging point for the American invasion of northern Mexico.
Among those fighting was Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant, and among those opposing the war as illegitimate was Congressman Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln called the war immoral, proslavery, and a threat to the nation’s republican values. President Polk had justified the war by accusing Mexico of shedding “American blood on American soil.” Lincoln responded by introducing a series of resolutions demanding to know the “particular spot of soil on which the blood of our citizens was so shed.” The jingoistic and land-greedy response to the war, however, drowned out the protests of Lincoln and others.
In any event, after a series of United States victories, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the two-year war. In return for US $18,250,000, Mexico gave the U.S. undisputed control of Texas, ceded the Mexican Cession in 1848 (most of which today is called the American Southwest), and Texas’s borders were established at the Rio Grande.
Post-war Texas grew rapidly as migrants poured into the cotton lands of the state. They also brought or purchased enslaved African Americans, whose numbers tripled in the state from 1850 to 1860, from 58,000 to 182,566. Hispanics did not fare well in the new American state. Mexicans were depicted as lazy beggars and corrupt thieves, and heirs to Spanish and Mexican grants were expelled form their land without payment.
But don’t expect Texas textbooks to show the U.S. as the “bad guy” in this affair. The Texas State School Board has insisted that the U.S. be shown in a “positive” light.
Texas has other rather bizarre demands on its educational content (which is important because of the size of its market and the fact that textbook publishers are eager to cater to it, and standardize textbooks based on its demands). History standards, for example, call for teaching about the influence of Moses and biblical law on America’s founding documents. Thus Perfection Learning’s Basic Principles of American Government holds that Moses contributed the idea that “a nation needs a written code of behavior” to the American government. It also recommends the “Book of Exodus” to students for further reading.
As for slavery, Texas was reluctant to give it up. By 1865, there were an estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas. Since news moved slowly, most Texans were not aware of the end of the Civil War until May 1865, and the Army of the Trans-Mississippi did not surrender until June 2. On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas on behalf of the federal government. On June 19, standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Granger read aloud the contents of “General Order No. 3,” announcing the total emancipation of slaves:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
June 19th became a day of celebration for blacks. From 1940 through 1970, in the second wave of the Great Migration, more than 5 million blacks left Texas, Louisiana and other parts of the South for the North and West Coast, and took the Juneteenth Day celebration with them. Today, Juneteenth Day is celebrated by blacks around the United States.
Eeyore’s birthday is also celebrated every year in Texas, in a day-long festival in Austin on the last Saturday of April. Eeyore, an old grey stuffed donkey generally characterized as a pessimistic, gloomy, and chronically depressed, is of course a friend of Winnie-the-Pooh, the widely known and loved fictional bear created by A. A. Milne. But Eeyore is the favorite character of many.
In one of the Pooh stories, Eeyore believes his friends have forgotten his birthday, only to discover they have planned a surprise party for him. In honor of this story, the Department of English students at the University of Texas at Austin decided in 1963 to throw Eeyore a birthday party every year. The original event featured a trashcan full of lemonade, beer, honey sandwiches, a live, flower-draped donkey, and a May Pole. It has grown since then to be a community event, with live music and food and benefits local non-profit organizations. You can learn more about it on the website, here.