I was born and raised in El Paso, and except for the two years in the United States Army, I never spent more than two weeks outside Texas. Correction! I worked the better part of a year in Albuquerque, NM, for their Chamber of Commerce but that area was once a part of Texas.
Provincial? Texas pride? Maybe some of both.
In my second semester as a sophomore at E.P.H.S. I was working construction on the Student Union at the College of Mines. The school officially opened on September 23, 1914, as The Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy with 27 students in buildings at Fort Bliss. In 1919 the school’s name was changed to the University of Texas Department of Mines and Metallurgy, and in 1920 to the Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy (TCM). The school’s name changed again in 1949 to Texas Western College of the University of Texas (TWC). Finally in 1967 the school’s name changed for the last time to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).
When I went off to college it was a 600 mile drive to The University, though today we have to add “of Texas at Austin.” Never did I suppose that the ding-a-ling college in our backyard at El Paso, Texas College of Mines and Metal-lurgy, would one day become the, yes, the University of Texas at El Paso, or UTEP. Say it more than once and it sounds like an Indian war whoop, doesn’t it?
U-T-E-P, U-T-E-P, U-T-E-P, U-T-E-P.
When I got to The University at Austin, of course, I took some flack from guys in the fraternity who asked me how I ever got into Texas, being from El Paso? Then I’d hear, “You’re not from Texas. You’re from New Mexico. Or is it Old Mexico?”
The issue of Texas citizenship comes up in a variety of ways. A basic question is, “What constitutes being an authentic Texan?”
Being born and raised on Texas soil is a sure answer expressed in one of our Texas anthems (should we call them hymns?). I’ll say being born here makes you a Texan, especially in our family.
You may think it ridiculous or quaint, but it’s true. When my oldest brother Frosty was a medical intern in Boston Children’s Hospital, his wife Betty was expecting. Dad, who by then had moved us from El Paso to San Antonio, shipped Frosty Jr. a cigar box of San Antonio dirt to smuggle into the delivery room at Boston Children’s Hospital so Forrest Moseley Smith, III, his grandson, could with certainty claim to have been “born on Texas soil.” Today he’s a really fine, superb even, real estate attorney here in Houston with a son Forrest Moseley Smith IV, who will in all likelihood will have a son. Cinco? Perhaps.
Like the Star Spangled Banner in which “free” is the highest of the high notes, so also is “soil” in the anthem, The Eyes of Texas.
True Texans know the songs, but we seldom sing ‘em as hymns except on Texas Independence Day (March 2nd), or San Jacinto Day, which is April 29th. These are still holidays for orthodox Texans, and including Ben Franklin.
I always heard that if you have a problem hitting the highest of the high notes (like “free” or “soil”), either Jack Daniels or Johnny Walker can help. But that was in boyhood days before AC was perfected when our family would sneak off in late July to Cloudcroft, NM to enjoy air conditioning naturally at 9,000 plus feet altitude. (Say it with a lilt. Come on now, “naturally!”)
Regarding Texas citizenship, one might ask about other ways to attain it like “jus boli,” one’s right as a direct descendent of a Texas citizen. Or you might ask, “Can a person take some kind of an exam to qualify for becoming a Texan or make it as in taking Texas History?”
It used to be that if you went to public schools in Texas, you had to take Texas history two or three times, as well as exams that go with it. By Texas law I took Texas history in Dudley grade school, as well as at El Paso High School, and again when I attended The University, yes at Austin).
Even though my wife Charis was working on her master’s degree at LSU when she moved here from Shreveport, she still was required to take Texas History before she could teach in any Texas grade school.
Texas history is a unique and wonderful subject! At Live Oak Ranch, our family place near Bergheim, my oldest brother and I started collecting books with “Texas” in the title. Ask yourself, does any other state have anything like the Texas Almanac, encompassing data on all 254 of our counties, some of them bigger than a half dozen eastern United States?
Texas alone has a comprehensive encyclopedia entitled “The Handbook of Texas,” which was first published in two volumes by the Texas State Historical Association in 1952. Now it’s up of five volumes, with most articles the work of PhD candidates in history at The University of Texas at Austin.
While textbooks and histories of Texas abound, Lone Star, by T. R. Fehrenbach who lives in San Antonio, stands in a class by himself. Dr. Fehrenbach holds a PhD in history from Yale and his writing is both prodigious and prolific. Fehrenbach has more love of Texas in his little finger than most Texas legislators have in their whole bodies, and a whole lot more integrity. To hear him talk Texas history is like taking a drink from a fire-hose or it’s best just to read his classic, Lone Star, so you can enjoy it at your own pace.
At the UT Law School in the ’50s there was a professor, Judge Stayton, who authored Texas Civil Procedure, a textbook so big that law students like my brother Paul almost needed a hand truck to manage it. Law students used to say, “Taking Procedure from Judge Stayton is like taking the Bible from God.”
Something like this might be said of Dr. T. R. Fehrenbach’s definitive Texas history set forth in Lone Star. Though he never taught professionally, his single volume is comprehensive and must reading for literate Texans.
I have developed a theory on Texas citizenship that I think holds up consistently. It can be tested on most any Texan you care to nominate, heroes such as Houston, Crockett, Travis, Milam, Bowie, the original three hundred, or your favorite living Texas ex-governor. Perhaps you moved here hoping to get away from other impediments.
It boils down to this: An authentic Texan must be flawed or illegitimate in some respect.
Some years ago, I started collecting biographies of Sam Houston. To say that he was a complex character is manifestly correct. It is my estimate that the total universe of Sam Houston biographies is over a hundred volumes of which I might have a third today. In candor, I’ve not read them all. But I assure you that books about Sam Houston that go down the trail of making him a scout altogether trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, etc., are into deep fiction.
Back to our overarching question of what makes an authentic Texan, you might ask questions like, “How long do you have to live in Texas before you’re naturalized?
When does the claim become valid?
What about one’s identity and family?
What proof of character can you hope to show? What about felony offenses, if any? Health?
Any contagious or social diseases?
What occupations or marketable skills should a Texas immigrant bring?”
Stop! Stop! Stop!
Go down your list. Houston lived for years in a drunken stupor with Indians who called him “Big Drunk.” Crockett, considered a statesman, was but marginally literate. Travis was a wide-ranging womanizer. A lot of early Texans came here to get away from debts. Most of the people who came to Texas were trying to make a fresh start, and that’s why they tacked up signs or painted GTT on their old home places.
“Gone To Texas.”
When early Texans got here they found a lot of other GTT folks making fresh starts, too. They got right down to business rather than wasting time checking credentials, credit ratings, pronunciations or family pedigrees. My great-grandfather Samuel Fountain Moseley summarized it well when he settled in Jefferson, Texas, then a port and the third largest “city” of Texas. He said, “Count every man in Texan honest until he proves himself otherwise.”
Texas has always been a great business state, and that’s a big part of the reason for its greatness; also, the high level of confidence and acceptance are factors in our prosperity. Who cares about how well-connected you are or whether you’re descended like Bostonians from Cabots or Lodges? Who cares if you roll your “r’s” or not, or hold your fork right, or scratch yourself in public, or pick your nose, or scratch your rear in public places.
In the final analysis, the mark of an authentic Texan and only dependable criteria for Texas citizenship is this: You must have at least one obvious blemish or defect embarrassing to yourself or others.
Do you qualify? You don’t even have to tell us what it is.
We’ll take you like you are.
Welcome to Texas!