When I was growing up in the suburbs outside of New York, what I knew about Texas would just about have fit on a pin head. Under the age of ten, I could probably sing ‘She’s the Yellow Rose of Texas’ and ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas,’ having some vague idea that Texas was called ‘The Lone Star State.’ Aside from that, I knew it was somewhere ‘out there’ in the middle of the country, was the largest state in the union as was then, and that, for some reason, everything in Texas was big. The mind boggled. Around the age of ten I learned there was something called The Texas Rangers but had no idea who they were, and also that all the men wore cowboy hats. I was aware that Texas was the center of the American oil industry, and that there was a family named King who owned the largest ranch in the United States. And then there was Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and The Alamo, and eventually Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings singing about Luckenbach, Texas—wherever that might be. Oh, and bluebonnets grow there.
There’s no rhyme or reason to why certain facts filter through, whatever the truth behind them, and others do not, and I have no real idea when the true facts about Texas started to fall into place. In school, history is a general sweep of The United States and perhaps a touch on your home state. My first trip to Texas was when I was aged fifteen with a bunch of fellow high school kids, most of them older than I who had skipped a grade, all bound for college the following year. The trip included El Paso and Houston, and I recall the boys were all terribly…well…naughty, for want of a better word. After that, there were brief visits from London to Dallas, en route to a ranch in Tucson, and a visit to friends living in Richardson, TX. The one memory I have about that stay is being put in a chokehold by a woman in a department store trying to sell me cosmetics.
However, Texas retained its exotic status in my brain despite these unfortunate interludes. I knew Dallas and Houston were hardly representative of a state that could swallow a huge chunk of Europe, never mind several east coast states. The Alamo was a symbol of fortitude and courage; not only had Crockett and Bowie made their mark but elsewhere Sam Houston and Stephen Austin were helping to shape what would become the twenty-eighth state. But there was no historical reason why I would choose Texas as the main setting for my contemporary novel; I was entranced by the Texas Two-Step, and ideas sprang from that. In beginning to write, research, as it often does, uncovered new facts, some of which, I dare say, even Texans may not be aware of. Here are some interesting facts related to Texas I uncovered:
- Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father, drew up a plan to take over Mexico, which, of course, would have included the area known as Texas. Then-President John Adams nixed the plan. It wasn’t until 1846 that Texas was finally admitted to the Union—a full ten years after gaining independence from Mexico.
- Karl Marx and Frederich Engels believed that all of Mexico, then including Texas, should be placed in the hands of the United States. After Texas won independence from Mexico, the very diplomatic President Martin Van Buren (President 1837-1841) decided on Texas remaining autonomous, which it did from 1836-1846. It was President Polk ( President 1845-1849) who agreed to admit Texas to the Union.
- The boundaries of Texas originally included half of what is today New Mexico, about a third of present Colorado, plus bits of Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming. The extra bits were given up in exchange for the US Federal Government assuming Texas’ debts.
- Galveston, the major port of Texas, was called ‘The New York of the Gulf’ and was once more prosperous than Dallas or Houston, and had more millionaires than Newport, RI. The hurricane of 1900 killed more than 20% of the population, some six thousand people, far more than Katrina. And…
- Only two Presidents were Texans by birth. Can you name them without Googling?
With this hodge-podge of information, how did I end up with Texas as the setting for my book? Civil War General Philip Henry Sheridan said, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.” As I sit here dealing with the remnants of a northeast blizzard, a little bit of Texas’ heat would do me fine. But the appeal isn’t in its climate. What I know about Texas is this: the climate is pretty unbearable in the summer months, and I don’t think I could survive; the geography is varied and encapsulates a good variety of much of the United States; there are dance halls and honky tonks that go back to the nineteenth century and I’d like to visit them all; and the people are, for the most part, proud, big-hearted, warm and welcoming. That may not be a lot to go on, but that’s what I know about Texas.
If you can startle me with an interesting fact about Texas, you might win a copy of Dances of the Heart. Go ahead and try. There’s plenty of facts out there. The facts I garnered above came from:
American History Revised: 200 Startling Facts. Morris Jr., Seymour. Broadway Books, New York.
The winner of a copy of Dances of the Heart is Hebby Roman. Many thanks to everyone who educated me on the great state of Texas!
Photos above : first two and the last, courtesy of Karen Casey Fitzjerrell; fifth, courtesy of Cristal Downing; remaining historical photos in public domain
Successful, workaholic author Carrie Bennett lives through her writing, but can’t succeed at writing a man into her life. Furthermore, her equally successful but cynical daughter, Paige, proves inconsolable after the death of her fiancé.
Hard-drinking rancher Ray Ryder can find humor in just about anything—except the loss of his oldest son. His younger son, Jake, recently returned from Iraq, now keeps a secret that could shatter his deceased brother’s good name.
On one sultry night in Texas, relationships blossom when the four meet, starting a series of events that move from the dancehalls of Hill Country to the beach parties of East Hampton, and from the penthouses of New York to the backstreets of a Mexican border town. But the hurts of the past are hard to leave behind, especially when old adversaries threaten the fragile ties that bind family to family…and lover to lover.
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