Texas celebrates its uniqueness with others Historians refer to this time in Texas as the period of the Runaway Scrape, but for most Texans these are our High Holy Days. This is the period between March 6, anniversary of the fall of the Alamo, and April 21, the birthday of the battle of San Jacinto. It is the time when we look around Texas and say, "Huh?" For example, why, oh why, did Anna Nicole Smith have to come from Mexia? Then there were Clara Harris who ran over and killed her cheating husband, Andrea Yates who killed her five children and the diapered astronaut, Lisa Nowak. Not only did the last three all come from Texas, they lived in the same area south of Houston. There were the strange Texans. Gov. George T. Wood rode a mule around the state. At night, Wood took a rope and, tied one end to the mule and the other end to his ankle. Wood refused to wear socks. Early Texan Brit' Bailey was buried standing up, facing the West "with my rifle at my side and a jug of whiskey at my feet" Did I mention Texan Howard Hughes? Texas is the state others love to hate because we have too much. work too hard, spend too much, enjoy life to a disgusting degree, and it just chaps the hell out of everyone else. In this regard Texas is to the United States as the United States is to the rest of the world. As the rest of the world loves to see Uncle Sam stumble, so do the other 49 states get a certain degree of pleasure out of Texas' troubles. The Germans have a word for it: schadenfreude, satisfaction obtained observing the trouble of others. Any right-minded soul, even a Texan, will admit that there is much to dislike about the place. Start with Lee Harvey Oswald. Charles Whitman -- the Tower Sniper. Branch Davidian David Koresh looked all over the world and decided that Texas was the best place for him. They came to Texas from elsewhere. Is this good news or bad? Texas is different from other states. There are no private beaches, or private rivers in Texas. The people own them all. You can ride a motorcycle without a helmet, but not a bicycle. Among the governor's powers listed in today's Texas Constitution is the authority to call out the militia to repel invasions. In 1999, the governor lost a key power, ordering out the militia to suppress Indian raids. In its first 30 years, Texas fought three major wars against invaders, and was constantly involved in frontier combat. Texas remained in a virtual state of war against the Indians for nearly 50 years, the longest continuous struggle of its kind in American history. There is a lot of Texas. You drive from Houston 743 miles to the east, you will be beyond Tallahassee, Fla., heading for Jacksonville. If you drive that same distance west, you will still be in Texas. El Paso is closer to the Pacific ocean than Beaumont, and Dalhart is closer to six other state capitals than it is to Austin. You could put 15 of the 50 states in Texas and still have 1,000 square miles to spare. The City of Houston was laid out by a newspaper editor. Marble Falls was laid out by a blind man. As a republic, we once rented out our navy. President Sam Houston declared the navy's commander a pirate and authorized his hanging by any other navy that could catch him. Houston was the second city in the nation to get a phone system and, along with New York City, was first to build an electric power plant. We lead the nation in cotton, cattle, sheep, goats, wool, mohair, hay, pecans and the number of inmates we execute. More than 80 percent of Texas is covered by farms and ranches, yet we are one of the most urbanized states and the only one with three cities among the biggest 10. Texas has struggled along, and usually alone, with more time spent in poverty than in wealth. But it has, survived and grown. Today we alone among the states celebrate our day of independence. How do we explain our unique, if not strange, home to others? The answer is easy. God may be an Englishman, but when he retires, he'll move to Lakeway. Ashby is humble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pure Texan History in the Lone Star State shines on March is Texas History Month. A good choice, since the month is named for Mars, the god of war, and in March of 1836 those early Texians spent a lot of time both warring and marching. A month devoted to dwelling on our past is an easy sell in the Lone Star State because we love to noodle around in our attic, which is why we have nearly 12,000 historical markers, more than all the other 49 states combined. The study of our past is required in all public schools, but there is a problem. Texas history is often taught by dull teachers, using dull textbooks. Perhaps times have changed, but when I was a Texas schoolchild no one told me Sam Houston had three wives and an untold number of kids of various hews. My studies missed the fact that Santa Anna used opium and that Robert Potter, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, performed an un-requested sex-ending operation on his wife's lover and was later murdered by his neighbors. Everyone knows the Republic of Texas had an army, but few know that we also had a navy. We were so poor entire fleet, including ships and sailors, was once rented out to Mexican revolutionaries for $8,000 a month. We even maintained a Texas Marine Corps, which had its own money problems. Any Texas Marine who died or was killed on duty had all his effects but his uniform auctioned off, the money going to his next of kin. The Marines then re-issued the uniform to the next in line. Even that uniform was a hand-me-down from the U.S. Marine Corps. You don't have to be a Crockett scientist to appreciate the colorful, exciting story of Texas. It is one of those odd situations where, the more you look into it, the more you want to know. So let's take a look at some overlooked stories of our past. - To this day, a Texas Ranger's badge is carved from a Mexican silver coin. - Outside Brownsville was the Battle of Palmito Ranch. It was the last land battle of the Civil War, more than a month after Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. The Texans won. - The city of Marble Falls was laid out by a blind man. - As we all know, William Buckley Jr. is a wit, columnist, TV host and sophisticated Ivy Leaguer extraordinaire. What isn't very well known is that his grandfather, John Buckley, was high sheriff of Duval County. Honest. - In Cisco, Conrad Hilton bought his very first hotel, the Mobley. After a later West Texas acquisition, Hilton observed, "At Lubbock, I found that Texas had no use for an imported French chef." - In 1924, Warren Pruett's hardware store in Real County was hit by an airplane. The pilot was Charles Lindbergh. - During inauguration ceremonies for the president of the Republic of Texas, among the dignitaries walking in procession to the podium were the editors of Texas newspapers. That seems only proper. - Although the Heisman Award is given by the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City, the prize was named for John W. Heisman, football coach at Rice, 1924-1927. - Speaking of sports, while stationed at San Antonio, Lt. Dwight Eisenhower coached football at St. Louis College, now St. Mary's University. -Sam Donaldson, Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Day O'Conner were all born in El Paso. - The movie prizes, the Oscars, were named for a Texan. In 1931, an employee of the motion picture academy, Margaret Herrick, upon seeing the little statue, said, "It looks just like my Uncle Oscar." Oscar Pierce was a Texas rancher. - The first award for Best Movie was given in 1927. It went to "Wings," made, not in Hollywood, but in San Antonio. - It is a myth that Texas can leave the Union anytime it wishes. We tried that once in 1861, and it didn't fly. Another myth is that only the Lone Star flag can fly at the same height as the U.S. flag. Any state can do that. - President Sam Houston was once handed a note demanding a duel to the death. Houston returned it to his secretary, saying "This is number 24. The angry gentleman must wait." - Among the governor's powers listed in today's Texas Constitution is the authority to call out the militia to repel invasions. In 1999, the governor lost a key command that goes with the job: ordering out the militia to suppress Indian raids. Ah, yes. If only the teachings of Texas history in our classrooms were as exciting as the real thing. Nowhere in my textbooks were quotes such as, "... the Texians being entirely a military people, not only fought, but drank, in platoons." - Western Monthly magazine, October, 1838 During the republic's days, a shopkeeper in Baltimore sent his partner in Galveston a load of bonnets, writing that they "were old stock and out of fashion, but believe they will sell in Texas." And remember this line from the movie "Thelma and Louise:" "Look, you shoot off a guy's head with his pants down, believe me, Texas is not the place you want to get caught." A Houston newspaper editor, Dr. Francis Moore, got elected to the Republic of Texas Senate and worked for an anti-dueling law. Sen. Oliver Jones labeled it, "An Act for the Protection of Cowards." The measure became law, and until 1939, all Texas officials had to swear an oath that they had never taken part in a duel. When we consider the story of Texas, a mere month is not nearly long enough to absorb it all. While Massachusetts and Virginia have good state histories, their juicy parts ended eons ago. Ours continues like a stampeding herd: Enron, Katrina and Rita, Runaway Scrape II, DeLay, Kinky and the continuing saga of the astronauts. The best part about Texas history is that some of it is true.