Congressman Ted Poe
It seems to me that in today’s world of technology that information is just a few clicks of the mouse away. But, when I went to “google” the history of the six flags over Texas, all I got was roller coasters and funnel cakes. Since we are in the midst of my favorite stretch of time in Texas history, I thought it was time to remind folks that Six Flags Over Texas is more than just an amusement park – it is Texas history.
Like the commercials say, Texas: it’s a whole other country. Matter of fact, it has been under five other countries and its own: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States, and the United States – twice. The Republic of Texas became the 28th state of the United States in 1845, but succeeded during the War Between the States in 1861 and joined the Confederate States, but rejoined the United States at the end of the war in 1870.
The first flag to fly over Texas was the Spanish flag. Spain laid official claim to what is now parts of Texas from 1716 – 1821, as part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, or Colonial Mexico. The Conquistadors, the greatest explorers in history, explored the Texas Gulf Coast, specifically Galveston, in the early 1500s and were the first non-Indians to settle the area. It was under Spain that new livestock and irrigation systems were introduced and names like: San Antonio, Hidalgo, Padre Island, Llano Estacado and the Guadalupe get their origin. Many of our earliest laws and judicial procedures date back to Spanish control – as well as the introduction of Christianity under the Fransiscans. And of course, we cannot forget the Mission de San Antonio or known to us as the Alamo.
During this same time, a portion of Texas flew the Fleur-de-lis emblazoned flag. What all began as an accidental landing, later became the first French settlement in Texas. Meaning to secure the mouth of the Mississippi for the French, explorer La Salle was about 400 miles off target and landed in Matagorda Bay in the late 1600s and the French claimed Texas as their own. The short lived colony and Fort St. Louis fell to the Karwankawa Indians, but marked the first French presence in Texas.
The Spanish were becoming increasingly concerned about the French presence in Louisiana and some areas of southeast Texas, including a settlement along the Trinity River in Liberty County. Once the Spaniards arrived at Fort St. Louis, only the remains of three Frenchman were left. They destroyed what was left of the fort, buried the cannon and attempted to erase any presence of the French in Texas by building their own Presido over the old fort. It wasn’t until 1996, that the cannons and the remains of the Frenchman were recovered in Garcitas Creek and confirmation of the exact location was determined.
Tensions between Spain and the Viceroyalty were at their boiling point by the 1800s and Mexico began asserting her independence. This was only aggravated by the Napoleon’s French led invasion of Spain and the time was right for break from the crown. As a result, Texas too was feeling rebellious and readying for independence. Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821 and formed its new borders that included Texas. Many Texans helped in that war of independence and Texas was now under the Mexican flag. But again, the Texians, as they were calling themselves by then, weren’t the only ones eyeing a departure.
The flags that flew over Texas from 1836 to today are probably the most talked about in our history. It was these next few weeks, 173 years ago, that the Texians were reeling from the defeat of the Alamo and the massacre at Goliad at the hands of the Mexican Army. The Runaway Scrape was making its way across southeast Texas and setting the stage for the most important battle in Texas history.
On April 21, 1836, General Sam Houston and the boys defeated a larger Mexican Army along the banks of the San Jacinto. Texas was a free republic and claimed land in what is now New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Idaho and Wyoming. After April 21, 1836, the new flag flying over Texas was the Lone Star of the Republic of Texas. And for nearly ten glorious years, Texas was a nation all unto itself. Now some say what came next was the voluntary annexation of the Republic by the United States, some would disagree. In fact, the United States didn’t want us and rejected any notion of annexation early on, until it became evident that the British might be interested. So with a change of heart, Texas was admitted into the United States in 1845. It was admitted by a simple vote of Congress.
Old Glory flew for 16 years over the plains of Texas until the War Between the States left Texas with a new choice. In 1861, Texas lowered the Stars and Stripes and raised the Confederate States of America flag. However, this too came with much debate. Texas Governor Sam Houston resigned over the decision because he felt that it was a decision that should be made by popular vote. But it is also widely believed that the vote he wanted was not whether or not to succeed from the Union, but whether to return to the Republic over joining the Confederacy.
After the War, the Confederate States of America were no more and Texas was readmitted to the United States and the Star Spangled Banner has flown proudly ever since. Since Texas was a country once, we are the only state that can fly our state flag at the same height as the US flag – but would you expect anything else, it is Texas.
So this spring break and summer when you pack up the family to head up to Dallas to take in the latest and greatest in amusement park fun, share a little Texas history with your kids so they know that there is more to the Six Flags Over Texas than the Texas Giant and bumper cars. It’s Texas history.
And that’s just the way it is.