Created by local writers and photographers, Compass American Guides are the ultimate insider's guides, providing in-depth coverage of the history, culture and character of America's most spectacular destinations. Compass Texas covers everything there is to see and do -- plus gorgeous full-color photographs; a wealth of archival images; topical essays and literary extracts; detailed color maps; and capsule reviews of hotels and restaurants. These insider guides are perfect for new and longtime residents as well as vacationers who want a deep understanding of Texas.
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Texas is like the elephant that the blind men examined. To the traveler who's seen its western extremes, Texas is mountainous desert. The passerby on the High Plains believes that Texas is very much like Kansas, a newly settled land of wheat fields. Pine trees, paper mills, and Confederate flags make East Texas look much like Mississippi, and on its southern boundaries, Texas seems to be a very well-paved extension of northern Mexico.
The naturalist regards Texas as a diverse assemblage of desert, wetlands, and plains ecosystems, separated by geological shifts and escarpments. To rock climbers, Texas is a place of desert handholds; for teenagers, it's a cluster of amusement and theme parks. For Generation X, Austin is the Emerald City, and to television viewers worldwide Dallas is the home of oil barons and wives with big hair. Those who live in the endless suburbs of its cities see the state as a free-wheeling, big-spending, exhilarating land of glitz and unpredictable economic indicators.
For cocaine traffickers, Texas is a porous borderland, while marijuana wholesalers see it as a vast plantation. For the true-crime buff, Texas is the land of Bonnie and Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly, and Lee Harvey Oswald. Hollywood depicts Texas as Cowboy land, New York writes that Texas is a redoubt of bigots and gun nuts, and Washington gives Texas the greeter's job when Congress names itself Good Neighbor to Mexico.
Since most Texans know only a part of the state, we shrug our shoulders and wonder what Texas really is. With so many vast regions and sometimes contradictory images, it can't be any other way. Consensus is never reached even among those natives who are widely traveled and widely read. So we all simplify, generalize, and jump to our own conclusions, making Texas mean something a little bit different to each of us.
The task of defining Texas falls most heavily upon historians, yet many natural events and agricultural developments that continue to shape Texan's lives occurred well before the arrival of Europeans here. Nobody witnessed Texas rise from an uncharted spot of ocean floor, though that distant event was the basis of the state's twentieth-century role as an oil producer. Nor did anyone record the coming of the human species to the turf, nor the important centuries of agricultural experimentation that followed. Herbalists, hunters, agriculturists, and statesmen crossed and made use of this landscape. When Europeans and recorded history arrived, more than 50 small tribes were living in Texas, but they were rapidly decimated by the diseases that explorers, colonists, and priests introduced.
Spanish Colonial Era
The state's name tells part of the story. Texas is a latter-day spelling of the Spanish colonial term Tejas, which was a transliteration of a word (taysha) used by some groups of Indians from the East Texas Caddo civilization to mean "friend." The Caddo were settled people, keepers of orchards. Those who did not die from disease or depredation during the Spanish colonial period were driven out of Texas in 1859, and today, no remnants of the state's indigenous peoples remain inside the state's boundaries. Two of the three Indian tribes in Texas recognized by the federal government -- the Kickapoo and Alabama Coushatta -- immigrated to the region, as the European population did. The third tribe, the Tigua, who today count some 1,200 members, apparently left the area, adopted Christianity in New Mexico, and returned to Texas during the Spanish occupation, in flight from unconverted, rebel brethren. Those tribes known for having ruled over much of the state during the nineteenth century, the Apache and Comanch
e, also came to Texas on the run. At no point in the state's recorded history was its surface wiped clean of human population and begun anew, but the aboriginal population was very nearly erased.
Spanish attempts to Christianize the Indians and colonize the area were tepid at best. The oldest Texas mission, at Ysleta in El Paso, was founded in 1681 for the Tigua refugees. Scattered settlements arose in East, South, and Central Texas, but none was populous, wildly prosperous, or able to defend itself from hostile designs. The Apache wiped out dozens of them, crops failed when rain didn't come, hurricanes blew them away, plagues brought their populations low. Unlike a few spots in equally forlorn northern Mexico, in Texas no important lodes of gold or silver were found, nothing to inspire feverish immigration or heroic works. But if the Spanish failed to make Texas a populous place, they accomplished much more than the French, who for five years exercised a pretentious and empty claim to sovereignty over the area. French influence in Texas is and was negligible, and where it is evident, owes its strength to Cajuns, immigrants who arrived via Louisiana from Canada, and not to schemes hatched to "benef
it the continent. "
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