To Die for Texas


OPINION — Never ask someone where they’re from. If they’re from Texas they’ll tell you. If they’re not, there’s no sense in embarrassing them.

No doubt you’ve heard the old saw before, but it remains one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given. And while I’ve always tried to live by that code, there’s more to the story than that.

When I left Texas to attend college in Arkansas, the first thing people usually asked me was where I was from. I learned pretty quickly that people from other states, and countries, were divided into two distinct categories when it came to opinions about the Lone Star State. There were those who were obviously impressed with Texas, and there were the rest, instantly on the defensive, who tried (and failed) to explain to me why their state, or country, was just as good as Texas. Regardless of which side of this metaphorical fence they happened to stand, it was apparent they were all envious.

Bum Phillips supposedly once said you could go anywhere in the world and draw the shape of Texas in the dirt, and people would recognize it. Maybe that’s true, but I don’t think you have to draw anything for people who are observant. A Texan is hard to miss.

I went to Alaska several years ago with a group of men and boys, and during the trip people often asked us, “Are you from Texas?” We wondered what tipped them off, but were never sure. Maybe it was the way we walked. Maybe it was the pistols we all wore, in case of bear attack. Maybe it was our Texas accents. Big 7 Travel recently surveyed 1.5 million social media users, and the Texas accent was voted sexiest in the nation. No surprise there.

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Above: Texas — March 2, 1836

On a trip through Arizona my wife and I stopped at a hotel in Winslow for the night. After checking us in, the lady behind the counter looked at me and said, “Would you do me a favor? Would you say ‘yes, ma’am?’” When I did, she closed her eyes and sighed. I looked at my wife, and she just shook her head.

The sheer size of Texas is impressive, but the Lone Star State mystique is even bigger. A detective friend from California once told me about a fugitive who had been caught in Los Angeles. The criminal wasn’t impressed by a California cop, and refused to talk. When my friend told him there was a Texas Ranger on his way to ask some questions, the prisoner wet his pants. Literally.

Some of my ancestors served as Texas Rangers, and fought at the Battle of San Jacinto, the seminal event enabling Texas to become a country. A many-great uncle, William Mosby Eastland, was among those captured during the Mier Expedition, and was the only officer to draw a black bean during the ‘diezmo,’ the bean lottery famous in song and story. Seventeen Texans were executed by a firing squad at Rancho Salado, Mexico, and as the only officer, my uncle offered the farewell address for the condemned men. At the end he said, “As God is my witness, I am not ashamed to die for Texas.”

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Above: All about Eastland, Texas.

It’s been said that Texas is more than a place, it’s a state of mind. I can’t argue with that. Texas represents an attitude that’s a combination of hospitality, fearless wildness, adventure, and rugged individualism that seems to be fading from civilized society. People who have never been to the state often speak of it with a kind of awe. The name has become an icon for a unique boldness and enthusiasm for life found in few locales. Who wouldn’t want to be from Texas?

Why do Texans love Texas so much? Well, if anyone asks that question, they won’t understand the answer. They also don’t understand why, when Texans happen to have children outside of the state, they often send for some dirt from home, so their child can be born over Texas soil. It’s love, of course, but it’s love that’s felt on a level not understood by non-Texans. It’s reverence, and it’s not just in our blood, it’s in our marrow.

One thing I know for sure is that, as much as Texans love their state, there is no place on earth where a visitor or newcomer can feel more welcomed and embraced than Texas. When you love your state as much as Texans do, it’s impossible not to want to share it.

On March 2, Texas celebrated the 184th anniversary of its becoming a nation. Few other states share that distinction, and none continue to enjoy the amazingly fierce loyalty of its citizens. That loyalty is dogged and intractable, so if you do come to Texas to stay, don’t try to change us. That’s the one thing we won’t abide . . .


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