This is the prepared text for my remarks at the Texas Center at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas, 25 March 2022.
I have been asked to talk today about Texas identity. What is it? How do we understand it? What does it mean? What does it demand of us?
Those of us who work in Texas history and heritage all stand in the shadow of T.R. Fehrenbach. There is a real sense in which the half-century of Texas historiography since his 1968 Lone Star is mostly a reaction to him. So let’s start with him. He writes that “[t]he Texan’s attitudes, his inherent chauvinism and the seeds of his belligerence, sprouted from his conscious effort to take and hold his land.” To Fehrenbach, it is the struggle that defines Texas and the Texans. This struggle, a blood-and-soil affair, renders Texans “the most ‘European,’ or territorial, of Americans.” We are Texan by virtue of the struggle — like Americans who became fully themselves after Yorktown, or Ukrainians now in the crucible of a true war of independence.
Unlike thirty-six other states, we had that war of independence. We made ourselves with arms and suffering, and there is pride in it. It’s easy to see why Texans enjoy and embrace the Fehrenbach thesis. It says good things about ourselves. It communicates an inherited virtue. If we did not fight in our revolution or win our frontier — and none of us alive now did — then at least we live in those lights. We are the sons of heroes.