Given that the conquerors’ diseases wiped out much of the indigenous population, it seems a bit ironic that the Spaniards named their new territory Tejas (tay-has), a corruption of the Caddo word for ‘friend.’ Caddo, Apache and Karankawa were among the tribes that Spanish explorers encountered when they arrived to map the coast in 1519.
Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. At first Texans supported Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna, until he eliminated the state federation system. That didn’t sit well with many independent-minded ‘Texians’ (US- and Mexico-born Texans) who had been given cheap land grants and Mexican citizenship. Slavery was outlawed and immigration curtailed, and clashes escalated into the Texas War for Independence. A month after Santa Anna’s forces massacred surviving combatants at the battle of the Alamo and the battle of Goliad, Sam Houston’s rebels routed the Mexican troops at San Jacinto with the cry – let’s all say it – ‘Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!’ Thus the Republic of Texas was born. It ended nine years later when by treaty Texas opted to become the 28th state of the Union.
Cattle ranching formed the core of Texas’ post–Civil War economy, but the black gold that spewed up from Spindletop, near Beaumont, in 1910 changed everything. From then on, for better or worse, the state’s economy has run on oil. During the energy crisis of the 1970s, when gasoline prices quadrupled, Texans – who were the biggest domestic oil supplier and had many of the nation’s largest refineries – laughed all the way to the bank. Boom time was big, but the bust in the 1980s was just as spectacular. A worldwide glut devastated the oil industry and towns were deserted overnight.
The 1990s buzzword was diversification. South-central Texas became a high-tech corridor, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) encouraged trade south of the border with neighboring Mexico. Former Texas governor George W Bush was elected to two terms as president of the United States, which must have made his father, George Bush Sr (the 41st US president), mighty proud. Those still involved in the oil industries have long joked, ‘Lord, give me just one more boom and I promise I won’t piss it away.’ With crude oil prices continuing to rise late into the 2000s, it looks like their dreams just may have come true.