Texas Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Until Alaska was admitted as the forty-ninth state in 1959, Texas was the largest of the United States and still is the largest of the contiguous forty-eight states, occupying one-twelfth of the entire American land mass.

History of Texas

Until Alaska was admitted as the forty-ninth state in 1959, Texas was the largest of the United States and still is the largest of the contiguous forty-eight states, occupying one-twelfth of the entire American land mass. With a total area of more than a quarter of a million square miles, it stretches almost eight hundred miles from its eastern boundary in Arkansas and Louisiana to its western extremes at Mexico and New Mexico. On the south it is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico. Its northern boundary, Oklahoma, lies 730 miles from its southern extreme.

Texas is the only state in the Union ruled under six flags: those of Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States. Early explorers found this vast area intimidating, but modern transportation and a wealth of natural resources, particularly oil and natural gas, helped Texas achieve the third largest population of the United States.

Early History

The earliest settlers in Texas were American Indians who dwelt there before 12,000 b.c.e. By 5000 b.c.e., the early residents were farming and hunting with bows and arrows. In far western Texas, remnants of Pueblo dwellings similar to those found in New Mexico have been unearthed. Indian mounds like those found in the western parts of Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi were discovered in east Texas.

Exploration and Colonization

The earliest explorations of Texas were made by Spaniards. In 1519, Alonso de Pineda sailed along the Gulf of Mexico coastline from Florida to Mexico, establishing Spain’s claim to the land that lay along it. By 1528, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca explored the interior. In the 1840’s, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and Hernando de Soto both led expeditions into Texas, but their reports made the territory sound so forbidding that explorers avoided the area for the next half century.

It was not until 1682, after René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, declared Texas a possession of France, that the Spaniards took a renewed interest in the area. The French were driven out by Native Americans, but in 1690 the Spanish renewed their claim by establishing two missions among the Indians in east Texas. By 1716 they had established five missions in east Texas.

The Native American population of the state ranged from Cherokees in the east, who had been displaced from their lands in other areas, to the Tonkawa, nomadic plains Indians in the central part of the area, to the Coahuitecan and Karankawa tribes, the most primitive of the Native American dwellers, along the Gulf coast. The Lipan Apache, the Comanche, the Kiowa, and the Kiowa Apache inhabited the west.

The U.S. Claim to Texas

Louisiana was ceded to Spain in 1762. By 1800 Texas had established three permanent Spanish settlements, San Antonio, Goliad, and Nacogdoches. In 1800, France took the title to Louisiana, which was sold to the United States in 1803. The boundary between the Spanish and French claims in this area had never been established, so the United States now held a tenuous claim to Texas.

When Texas became part of the new nation of Mexico in 1821, colonization was encouraged. Moses Austin came from Missouri with three hundred families who were given land. Austin’s son Stephen brought in more settlers after his father died. Land was plentiful, and land grants were generous and easily obtained.

By 1835 about twenty thousand settlers had arrived in east Texas, bringing with them more than four thousand slaves to work in the cotton fields, thereby establishing Texas as a slave state. In the same year, Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna waged war against the Texans during the Texas Revolution, taking about 350 prisoners, who were summarily executed. The following year, he stormed the Alamo, taking control from the few Texans remaining inside.

As Anglo-American immigrants flooded into the area, the United States sought to purchase Texas. The Mexican government, which held claims to the region, tried unsuccessfully to discourage American immigration. Tensions arose between the United States and Mexico, which objected to the presence of slavery in Texas. In 1836 Texas declared its independence as the Republic of Texas, a status it held until it was annexed as the twenty-eighth state of the United States in 1845.

Cotton, an important crop in eastern Texas during its early settlement, made slave labor attractive to those who raised cotton. With slavery as a part of Texan economy, Texas joined the Confederate States of America in 1861, sixteen years after it had gained admission to the Union.

The Early Texas Economy

Agriculture became a major element in the early economy of Texas, some 85 percent of whose land consists of farms and ranches. Cattle and poultry production are significant in the state. Citrus fruit was grown early in the southern areas along the Gulf of Mexico and Rio Grande River. Industry was slow to develop in the nineteenth century, largely because Texas did not have sufficient hydroelectric power to drive mechanized industry.

Texas came into its own economically after 1901 when the great Spindletop Oil Field was discovered in southeastern Texas near Beaumont. This discovery triggered a rush to explore other parts of the state for oil, and it was soon found that Texas rested on a huge subterranean sea of oil that extended beyond its land mass into the Gulf of Mexico. Natural gas was also discovered in such quantities that Texas supplied more than a third of the nation’s supply.

The oil rush brought enormous revenues into Texas and created hundreds of millionaires almost overnight. The state’s population grew from about three million in 1900 to almost four million in 1910, partly because of oil. By 1990, Texas had almost seventeen million residents, making it the third most populous of the United States. By 1998, it was home to slightly less than twenty million.

The sale of oil and natural gas was important to the Texas economy. The discovery of these two fuels spurred the growth of manufacturing industries in the state, which now had the reasonable and ready supply of energy it had previously lacked.

The Move to Manufacturing

Contemporary Texas is one of the ten most productive manufacturing states in the Union. Oil refining and petrochemical companies are among the largest manufacturing industries in the state, most of them centered around the Houston-Beaumont-Port Arthur area in the southeastern portion. In 1961 Houston was chosen as the location of the Manned Spacecraft Center, at which astronauts are trained. It is the control center for the U.S. government’s manned space ventures. The establishment of this center brought into Texas considerable other industry that focuses on the manufacture of transportation equipment, including aircraft, automobile assembly plants, and mobile-home manufacturing.

Giant food processing plants grew up to process the livestock, poultry, and vegetables the state produces in abundance. Texas is also preeminent in the manufacturing of machinery, including the complex equipment used in oil exploration and drilling. A thriving mining industry exists, along with extensive textile, clothing, and timber operations.


Because of its enormous size, Texas early developed a comprehensive transportation system that, in the early days, involved boat transportation along the Gulf of Mexico and on it rivers, as well as rail transportation served by fourteen thousand miles of track. As the highway system grew to the point that it was the largest in the United States, with sixty-five thousand miles of paved roads, Texans relied more on automobiles than on trains for transportation, so passenger service waned.

In the late twentieth century, Texas had splendid air transportation. The climate is good for flying and the distances make it the most reasonable means of rapid transport. In 1974, the opening of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the third largest airport in the world, established Texas as an important hub for many national and international airlines. This airport has the second greatest passenger volume in the United States.

Texas Politics

Texas represents an interesting mix of political conservatism and populism. Texans are staunch individualists, yet the state was essentially a one-party state until the election of George W. Bush as its Republican governor in 1994.

Realizing that Texas is a politically important state, with thirty-two electoral votes, national politicians have flocked to it looking for support. Among these was President John F. Kennedy, who went to Texas in November, 1963, to support Democrats running for public office and to help assure his own victory there when he ran for reelection in 1964. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald. He was succeeded by his vice president, Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson, who remained in office until 1969.

Modern Population

Texas has always had a mix of cultures. In the southern areas along the Rio Grande River live many people of Mexican descent, some of whose families have lived there for two hundred years. These people are technically American citizens, but their ties to Mexico remain strong. The Anglo-American population includes not only people of British extraction but also large numbers of Germans, in San Antonio, New Braunfelds, Seguin, and other towns in central Texas. Eastern and southern Europeans are well represented in the state’s population, as are people from the Middle Eastern countries, especially the major oil-producing ones.

In the late twentieth century, about one-third of all Texans were of African American or Hispanic lineage. Spanish is a second language throughout much of Texas and is used along with English in most of its restaurants, hotels, and stores.

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