The Lone Star State

 

Pen Pictures of America

"This is My Own, My Native Land"
by Joel Cook, Vol. VI, published in 1903

Westward from the Mississippi River the "Sunset Route" to the Pacific leads across the sugar plantations of Louisiana. This Southern Pacific railway passes many bayous having luxuriant growth of bordering live oaks, magnolias and cypress, hung with festoons of Spanish moss, crosses the Atchafalaya River at Morgan City, and beyond, skirts along the picturesque and winding Bayou Teche in a region originally peopled by colonies of French Arcadian refugees from Nova Scotia. Ultimately the route crosses Calcasieu River at Lake Charles, and thirty-eight miles beyond, goes over the Sabine River into the "Lone Star State" of Texas, the largest in the Union.

The name of Texas comes from a tribe of Indians found there when La Salle made the first European settlement on the coast at Fort St. Louis on Lavaca River in 1685, but after the Spanish occupation in the eighteenth century the country was long known as the New Philippines, that being the official designation in their records. At the mouth of Sabine River is Sabine Lake, where Port Arthur has been established as a prosperous railway terminal, having access to the Gulf by a ship canal with terminating jetties, deepening the channel outlet to the sea. Farther along the coast is Galveston, the chief Texan seaport, built on the northeastern extremity of Galveston Island, which spreads for thirty miles in front of the spacious Galveston Bay, covering nearly five hundred miles surface. The entrance from the sea is obstructed by a bar through which the Government excavated at great expense a channel, flanked by stone jetties five miles long. It is a low-lying city with wide, straight streets, embrowdered in luxuriant tropical vegetation, while the equable winter temperature makes it a charming health resort. A magnificent sea-beach spreads along the Gulf front of the island for many miles. Galveston, in September, 1900, was swept by a most terrific cyclone and tidal wave, destroying thousands of lives and a vast number of buildings.

 Texas was a Province of Mexico, under Spanish and afterwards Mexican rule, and its many attractions in the early nineteenth century brought a large accession of colonists to the eastern portions froni the adjacent parts of the United States. The Americans became so numerous that in 1830 the Mexican Congress prohibited further immigration, and the result was a revolt in 1835, the organization of a Provisional Government, a war which ended in the defeat of the Mexicans in the battle of San Jacinto in 1836, and the final independence of Texas. The people then sought annexation to the United States, but the State was not admitted until 1845, the Mexican War following. Two men of that time were prominent in Texas, Stephen F. Austin, who brought the first large colony from the United States settling on the Colorado and Brazos Rivers, and Sam Houston, who, after being Governor of Tennessee, migrated to Texas, led the revolt, commanded their army, and was made the first President of the independent State. The latter has his name preserved in the active city of Houston on Buffalo Bayou, a tributary of Galveston Bay, and about fifty miles northwest of Galveston. Houston is a busy railway centre, handling large amounts of cotton, sugar and timber, and is rapidly expanding, having sixty thousand people.

The Trinity River is the chief affluent of Galveston Bay, flowing down from Northern Texas, and having upon its banks another busy railway centre, Dallas, with fifty thousand people and an extensive trade. About thirty miles above, on Trinity River, is the old Indian frontier post of Fort Worth, now a town of forty thousand population and the headquarters of the cattle-raisers of Northern Texas. For many miles in all directions are the extensive cattle ranges, and to the north and west spreads the "Great Staked Plain," a vast plateau elevated nearly five thousand feet above the sea, covering some fifty thousand square miles, and being surrounded by a bordering escarpment of erosion to the lower levels, much resembling palisades. The stakes driven by the early Spaniards to mark their way are said to have given this plain its name, and it has now become an almost limitless cattle pasturage. When Austin's American colony settled on the Colorado River west of Houston, his name was given the town which was ultimately selected as the State Capital, where there are now twenty thousand people who look out upon the magnificent view of the Colorado Mountains. Here is the Texas State University with seven hundred and fifty students, and one of the finest State Capitols in the country, a splendid red granite structure, which was built by a syndicate in exchange for a grant of three million acres of land, the building occupying seven years in construction and costing $3,500,000. Two miles above the city an enormous dam seventy feet high encloses the waters of Colorado River for the water supply and manufacturing power, and thu makes Lake McDonald, twenty-five miles long. A heavy storm and flood in the spring of 1900 broke this dam and let out the lake, causing great loss of life and damage in the city.

 Eighty miles southwest of Austin is the ancient city of San Antonio, known as the "cradle of Texas liberty," a Spanish town upon the San Antonio and San Pedro Rivers, small streams dividing it into irregular parts, the former receiving the latter and flowing into the Gulf at Espiritu Santo Bay. There are sixty thousand people in San Antonio, of many races, chiefly Americans, Mexicans and Germans, and it is a leading wool, cattle, horse, mule and cotton market. The Spaniards penetrated into this region in the latter part of the seventeenth century and established one of their usual joint religious-mili-tary posts among the Indians upon the plan of colonization then in vogue. The Presidio or military station was called San Antonio de Bexar, while during the early eighteenth century there were founded various religious Missions, the chief being by Franciscan monks, the Mission of San Antonio de Valero. There are four other Missions in and near the city, dating from that early period, their ancient buildings partly restored, but some of them also considerably in ruins. To the eastward of San Antonio River was built in a grove of the Alamo or cottonwood trees in 1744 a low, strong, thick-walled church of adobe for the Franciscans, called from its surroundings the Alamo. When the Texans revolted, they held San Antonio as an outpost with a garrison of one hundred and forty-five men, commanded by Colonel James Bowie, the famous duelist and inventor of the "bowie knife," who was originally from Louisiana. Bowie fell ill of typhoid fever, and Colonel Travis took command. Among the garrison was the eccentric David Crockett of Tennessee, who had been a member of Congress, and joined them as a volunteer. General Santa Anna marched with a large Mexican army against them, arriving February 22, 1836, and the little garrison retired within the church of the Alamo, which they defended against four thousand Mexicans in a twelve days' siege. The final assault was made at daylight, March 6th, a lodgment was effected, and until nine o'clock a battle was fought from room to room within the church, a desperate hand-to-hand conflict at short range, and not ceasing until every Texan was killed; but this was not until two thousand three hundred Mexicans had fallen. Upon the memorial of this terrible contest, at the Texas State Capital, is the inscription: "Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat, but the Alamo had none." This butchery caused a thrill of horror throughout the United States. "Remember the Alamo " became the watchword of the Texans, much aid was sent them, and the succor, coming from the desire to avenge the massacre, contributed largely to their ability to defeat the Mexicans in the subsequent decisive battle on San Jacinto River, down near Galveston Bay, which was fought in April.

The old Church of the Alamo, since restored, is preserved as a national monument on the spacious Alamo plaza. The name of Houston, the Texan leader, is given to Fort Sam Houston, the United States military post on a hill north of San Antonio. The old Alamo is the shrine of Texas; and as visitors stroll around the place they are weirdly told how the spirits of the departed heroes, Crockett, Bowie, Travis and others, when the storms rage at night about the ancient building, wander through the sacristy with the heavy measured tread of armed troopers. It was in the midst of a storm that the Mexicans broke through a barred window and thus gained entrance in the siege.

On the southern border of San Antonio are the extensive Fair Grounds, where Roosevelt's Rough Riders, largely recruited from the neighboring Texan ranches, were organized for the Spanish War in 1898. The most extensive Texas cattle ranches are south and west of San Antonio, the largest of them, King's Ranch, near the Gulf to the southward, covering seven hundred thousand acres, and being stocked with three thousand brood mares and a hundred thousand cattle.

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Submitter: Faye Moran  

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Sunday, 27-May-2007 12:23:08 MDT


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