SPEAKER AND TOPIC
Welcome and Meeting Overview
Patricia A. Hayes, Moderator
President, Philosophical Society of Texas
Texas Myth/Texas Values—A Conversation
Betty Sue Flowers, University of Texas at Austin
John Silber, Boston University
Inside the Texas Myth
Bishop John McCarthy, Diocese of Austin
Charles Ramírez Berg, University of Texas at Austin
Diana S. Natalicio, University of Texas at El Paso
Looking Back From 2010
Peter Zandan, IntelliQuest
Jim Blackburn, Blackburn & Carter
Karl Rove, Political Consultant
The Once and Future State: A Writer’s Texas
Thomas F. Staley, Introduction, University of Texas at Austin
William Broyles, Moderator, Austin, Texas
Elizabeth Crook, Austin, Texas
Stephen Harrigan, Austin, Texas
Don Graham, University of Texas at Austin
Two hundred ninety-eight members, spouses, and guests of the Philosophical Society of Texas gathered at the Renaissance Austin Hotel in Austin, December 3–5, 1999, for the Society’s 162nd anniversary meeting. President Patricia A. Hayes organized an exciting meeting on “Texas Values/Texas Future.” Members and guests enjoyed a Friday evening reception at the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art and dinner at the University of Texas Alumni Center. President Hayes introduced the new members of the Society and presented them with their certificates of membership. The new members are: Marilyn Aboussie, Robert G. Breunig, Rufus Cormier Jr., Edwin Dorn, Juliet Villarreal Garcia, Howard D. Graves, Ricardo Romo, Jerry D. Thompson, and Judith Zaffirini.
President Hayes served as moderator for the Saturday morning program. William Broyles was the moderator for the writer’s panel in the afternoon. We enjoyed an evening reception, dinner, and entertainment by Ed Miller at St. Edward’s University.
At the annual business meeting, Vice President A. Baker Duncan read the names of the members of the Society who had died during the previous year: Henry Bell Jr., Bob Bullock, William E. Darden, Page Keeton, Dorothy Knepper, H. Malcolm Lovett, Ruel C. Walker, and Pauline Zachry.
Secretary Tyler announced that our membership stood 195 active members, 86 associate members, and 34 emeritus members.
The following officers were elected for the coming year: A. Baker Duncan, president; Ellen Temple, first vice president; George C. Wright, second vice president; J. Chrys Dougherty III, treasurer; and Ron Tyler, secretary.
Sunday’s agenda included a lively panel discussion featuring Charles Ramírez-Berg, Jim Blackburn, Betty Sue Flowers, Stephen Harrigan, John Silber, and Peter Zandan with participation from members and guests. President Hayes declared the annual meeting adjourned, to be reconvened on December 1, 2000, in San Antonio.
I’m going to begin and talk for about fifteen minutes, followed by my colleague, John Silber. Then the floor will be open for your questions and comments.
I’m delighted to be here to talk about Texas myth and to share the stage with someone who is, if not a Texas myth, at least a Texas legend. If you look up myth in the dictionary, you’ll see several definitions. One characterizes myth as a story that isn’t true, which is the usual way we use the term. Another defines myth as a story told about the gods. But the third and most interesting definition of myth is a story that we accept uncritically—a definition that doesn’t say anything about whether or not the story is true.
It’s that third definition that I will use today—that is, a myth is a story that embodies our view of reality, and that, in some way, whether it’s literally true or not, expresses our identity. Because myth of this type embodies our values and expresses our identity, it usually tends to err on the side of being positive, which is what I’m going to do a bit this morning, knowing that there will be others who will critique the myth throughout the day. So I’m not going to go into the shadow side of the Texas myth as much as I might.
The Texas myth is a particularly strong myth, and arguably, you could say it’s done a lot to hold together this large, disparate space. But our state is in transition now, and it’s time to think about the story we tell about who we are and what our values are. How does the Texas myth contribute to our development? How does it possibly hold us back? We’re more diverse than ever, and that old cotton, oil, and cattle nexus that forms the background for so many Texas stories is shifting to other places—high-tech, for example.
I was reminded of this shift a few years ago. My four-year-old child, along with some of his friends, were playing cowboys and Indians in the playscape at McDonald’s. Some things never change. And the girls had to be the Indians. As I said, some things never change. The girls were captured for most of the game, which I also remember. If you were a girl, and therefore an Indian, you spent a lot of time in captivity while the boys got to run around shooting guns.
Well, so here were the boys in the playscape. Suddenly, they began yelling, “The Indians are coming, the Indians are coming!” Of course, the Indians were already captured, but there’s always a new group of Indians coming. “The Indians are coming, the Indians are coming!” Now I knew what the next lines would be: “Call out the cavalry.” But they said, “The Indians are coming! Quick, dial 9-1-1!”
A characteristic of myths is that they evolve.
The facts of our lives are always changing. But our destiny as a state depends not just on these changing facts but on the story we tell about what’s happening and who we are and what we want to do about these changes. In the same way, an individual’s life is shaped not just by the facts—for example, I happened to be born in Waco, and there’s nothing much I can do about that, one way or the other. But the story you tell about these facts makes a difference.
You can tell the story of the facts of your life as a hero tale. You can tell the story as a victim tale. You can choose any of a number of plots on which to talk about the story of your life. So while we may or may not have much control over the facts, we do have a lot of control over the plot, and that shapes what we see and do in the future. It’s this particular part of the power of myth—how it shapes the way we see the facts—that underlies the importance of myth in our future as Texans.
Given the power of our Texas myth, we should look very closely at the story we have traditionally told about who we are and what we aspire to be. This morning, I’ll focus on four main features of this myth.
First, the Texas myth is a version of the hero myth. I’ll make a broad claim, which you might want to dispute, that four central myths have shaped us in the West: the hero myth; the religious myth—again, remember that a myth is not necessarily untrue; the enlightenment myth, in which, fortunately, our country was founded; and the economic myth, in which we now reside.
As I said, the Texas myth is a version of the hero myth. Of the four myths, that’s the one that has shaped the Texas myth most particularly. Myths do not just come full blown, like Athena from the head of Zeus. They don’t just arrive on our doorstep. They’re made up of bits and pieces of other myths, and the Texas myth is made up of bits and pieces of the hero myth.
Certain aspects of the hero myth are important to consider. For example, the hero myth emphasizes the individual and not the community. We praise the self-made man. The hero myth puts a premium on the will, not the heart: “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”
Every schoolchild in Texas to some extent still grows up with this myth. I’m sure Abilene, the town I grew up in, is not the only place whose primary schools are each named after Texas heroes. I went to Bonham.
The names of the half-dozen main heroes of the Alamo were familiar to all of us. In fact, I remember how shocked I was as a third-grade Girl Scout on a field trip to the Alamo to realize that there were more than six people who died there. I thought it was six people against the whole Mexican army. That was how focused we were on the individual hero myth.
We admire the rugged individualist, the wildcatter, the risk-taker, whether he’s up or down. There’s no end to stories about Texas heroes. They’re so familiar to us that I won’t dwell on this aspect of the Texas myth, but move on to the next.
Second, the Texas myth is related to the land itself. It’s a distinctive version of the Promised Land myth. As you know, many of us have German ancestors. These German immigrants came here in part because of the sales job that was done on what a great land it was. You know, you could just throw a seed on the ground, and it would grow immediately.
Texas was described as a kind of Eden so often that the first book published in English in Texas mentioned this hype1. The book was written by Mary Austin Holley and was based on letters she sent back from a visit to Austin’s colony. In this book, Holley criticized the extravagance with which admirers of the Texas myth talked about the land—“as if enchantment had indeed thrown its spell over their minds.” This was 1831—and we were already bragging about our land.
Another example can be found in Scene Two of one of the earliest poems published in Texas—a book-length poem by Hugh Kerr published in 1838. It’s truly deadly; I don’t recommend that you read it. You can tell what kind of poem it is by its title: “A Poetical Description of Texas, and Narrative of Many Interesting Events in that Country, Embracing a Period of Several Years, Interspersed with Moral and Political Impressions: Also, an Appeal to Those Who Oppose the Union of Texas with the United States, and the Anticipation of that Event. To Which is Added the Texas Heroes, No. 1 & 2.”2
I shall quote four lines from that poem:
Gonzales and Victoria
Are towns upon the Guadalupe;
The first is distant from the bay,
The latter, some thirty miles up.3
Lines such as these prompted a contemporary critic to say, “Oh, Kerr, Kerr, Kerr / what did you write those poems fur?”4
Now, Kerr also praises the beauty of Texas extravagantly. A quote: “Few spots on earth can this excel.”5 But even he admits:
In these remarks we do not mean
The whole of Texas to include:
Some parts of Texas, we have seen,
Which from this praise, we must exclude.6
A little honesty there.
In any case, there’s another strain to this land-of-milk-and-honey myth, or land of oil and money, as it later became, and that’s a valuing of the land not so much for its beauty or its history or flora and fauna particularly—just the land itself. This is not the European or East Coast custom of a second or country home. You get to a certain point in life in Texas, you get your deer lease, or if you’re lucky, your ranch. This is not sightseeing. This is not relaxation. This is possession.
The Texas Centennial poet, Grace Noll Crowell, wrote a poem in that centennial year of 1936 called “Texas the Woman” in which these lines appear:
As if she were a woman, men have loved
Their Texas through the years:
. . . .
And men are men, and love is what it is; [I leave you, as philosophers to contemplate that line.]
Impelling each to grapple with his hands
For his beloved, possessing what is his:
Texas, the woman, soft-eyed, gracious, fair,
Her head held high, a star caught in her hair.7
Of course, any state can be personified as a lady, but what makes this analogy so pervasive in Texas poetry is that Texas, unlike most earlier states, was pictured as independent from its beginning—liberty with a star in its hair. The 1836 struggle was seen not as a civil war with one section of Mexico rebelling against another but as a war of liberty against tyranny, with Texas as liberty.
And that leads to the third feature of the Texas myth, which is that the Texas myth is a subset of the myth of the United States as the home of liberty. In fact, Texas founders consciously grafted what they were doing onto the U.S. myth of the Revolution—even though the story didn’t exactly fit, because our relation to Mexico was not the same as the colonists’ relationship to Great Britain. But we did graft our myth onto that myth, and then it simply froze into place.
The U.S. myth went on to incorporate things like the melting pot, the immigrant, and the great cities, such as Chicago and New York. Many different details were added to the U.S. myth as it developed. But Texas stayed in a kind of perpetual state of primal, rural independence of mind, and that is important for our myth.
I was told that even our electric grid is so independent that it connects to the rest of the world in only two places, which is amazing. And perhaps we stayed in that formative state of the U.S. myth for so long because our economy stayed tied to cattle, oil, and other products of the land. We’re a little like Jefferson’s ideal of a nation of farmers and small landowners—only transposed a bit to ranchers and large landowners.
So these three features of the Texas myth—the hero, the land, and a version of liberty—are very powerful. Let me give you an example of how this works even today.
Texas recently had an amazing campaign against litter. In fact, Roy Spence of GSD&M, who’s going to talk this afternoon, was one of the creators of that campaign, which was “Don’t Mess With Texas.” All of you are familiar with that, I am sure.
What they did, whether consciously or not, was to take three aspects of our myth and perform a kind of Aikido movement on it. That is, they took the energy that comes from our macho “don’t mess with me” ethos and the fierce possessiveness we have in relation to our land and just used it to a different end. After that campaign, those of us who felt we had a constitutional right to throw beer cans on the highway out of our pickups, almost overnight, quit throwing beer cans. During the next five years, there was a 72 percent drop in litter. That’s a phenomenal change, one largely attributed to this campaign. What made it so effective? It used the energy of the Texas myth and turned it to other ends.
Now, this story points to a key feature about myths—that while they can be very powerful, their power can be moved to other ends. That energy can be turned.
If anyone can transform a myth, I think Texans can. Why? Because of the fourth feature of the Texas myth—that we hold our myths as myths. We tell them consciously as myths. In fact, many Texans buy their first pair of boots only when they’re heading off to Harvard. We may never wear boots in Texas, but we’ll put them on before heading up north.
We support our myth overtly. It’s not just Kay Bailey Hutchison and George Bush who were cheerleaders. We all are when it comes to Texas and we’re outside of Texas. We’ve been known to exaggerate, to tell tall tales. We’re master storytellers. And that means that we have it in our power to transform the story of who we are and what we aspire to be.
1. Texas: Observations, Historical, Geographical, and Descriptive. In a Series of Letters, Written during a Visit to Austin’s Colony, with a view to a permanent Settlement in that country, in the Autumn of 1831 (1833).
2. Published by the author, New York, 1838.
3. p. 83.
4. William Ransom Hogan, The Texas Republic: A Social and Economic History, p. 172.
5. p. 11.
6. p. 11.
Before I say a few words about the way in which this program is structured, let me see if I can briefly thank several people who have generously helped frame this day’s events.
We began a couple of years ago with a committee that I hope still recognizes the final result. Those generous folks are Tom Staley, Terry Sullivan, Jerry Supple, and Greg Curtis. Throughout the past couple of years, I have had abundant help from my good friend here at the podium, Betty Sue Flowers, in defining the shape of this program.
Bill Hilgers was the eloquent spokesperson who persuaded John Silber to join us, and Cathy and Jerry Supple are my folk music consultants for this evening.
I would also like to thank the RGK Foundation for its generous gift in support of this program, and George and Ronya are here; thank the Blanton Museum, again, for their gracious hospitality last night; and in anticipation, thank St. Edward’s University for their hospitality this evening.
Finally, the staff and colleagues who have made this possible: Baker Duncan, our chair-elect, who will take the gavel this afternoon, worked very hard on the essay contest. You met the winner last night and, for those of you who asked, there are a few copies of his essay up here; Ron Tyler, who works very hard for these meetings; and especially Evelyn Stehling. She is probably not in the room, but she is an extraordinary support to this effort and a person to whom we are all in debt.
A word about the program inspiration. I suspect we are all at a point where if we hear Y2K one more time, our eyes will glaze over. But I still am intrigued by the notion that in less than thirty days it will be the year 2000, and we are part of a very small percentage of human beings who live at that point in time, at that thousand mark. Maybe it is the philosopher in me, but it calls me right away to put down a marker and reflect and ask myself something about what it is my life is about and what kinds of values are driving it.
So when I knew I was going to have responsibility for this program just thirty days before the millennium and I thought about the name and mission of this society, it seemed to me most appropriate that we, as philosophers and as Texas philosophers, take some time today to think about what Texas has stood for, what Texas values are. Is that ground on which we stand shifting? Should Texas challenge itself in the light of some changing demographics, ever more dominant technology, and environmental consciousness?
So our program design is structured to probe that question, hopefully in a logical way. Our keynoters will reflect on the unique mythology and philosophy that we know as Texas.
The first panel has a dual role after the keynoters. Each has an important personal and professional perspective on this topic, but they will also, as their time permits, have a chance to react to the co-keynoters. Our eleven o’clock panel is a stretch out into the future. If we were all here in 2010 and 2020, would we look back and see things in the same way?
After lunch, we have a wonderful writers’ panel to bring a closing literary perspective on our theme today. Tonight we will be at St. Edward’s University. Our host—and he may be here this morning—will be the new president of St. Edward’s University, George Martin. I hope you will get a chance to meet him—with wonderful entertainment by Ed Miller.
And tomorrow morning, we will resume a tradition of the membership, which is to have a plenary discussion on the topic with as many of our speakers as are able to remain with us.
That is the plan. After two years of planning it, I am eager to begin. So to the main event.
Who would any of us pick to frame this issue of Texas values, to unfold the Texas myth? That was my wonderful opportunity in thinking about this program. Two native Texans, but both with perspectives from outside of Texas in the United States and abroad—a philosopher and a poet, both insightful, honest, and provocative—Dr. Betty Sue Flowers and Dr. John Silber.
Betty Sue Flowers is a professor of English and former Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She has served as a Plan II Honors Program director and is a Piper professor. She’s a native Texan with degrees from UT and the University of London. Her scholarly publications include a book titled Browning and the Modern Tradition and articles on Adrian Rich, Christina Rosetti, poetry, therapy, writing, and other subjects.
She has edited Daughters and Fathers as well as four books in collaboration with Bill Moyers. Betty Sue has served as a moderator for executive seminars at the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, as a consultant for NASA, as a member of the Envisioning Network for General Motors, and as a member of the Vision Team for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In 1992 and again in 1995 and 1998, she worked with an international team to write Global Scenarios for Shell International in London, stories about the future of the world for the next 30 years. She has recently edited a book in conjunction with Joseph Jaworski on the inner dimensions of leadership, Synchronicity, and has also completed a manuscript for the Christina Rosetti edition in the English poets series.
Last year, Betty Sue was the writer and editor of the Global Scenarios for Sustainable Development sponsored by the World Business Council in Geneva.
Dr. John Silber was born in San Antonio and took his B.A. summa cum laude in philosophy at Trinity University. While at Trinity, he also studied fine arts and was awarded the Coppini Gold Medal for painting in oils.
He took his M.A. and Ph.D. at Yale. After teaching at Yale, he returned to Texas, where he joined the Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin and served as chair and then dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He was the first chairman of the Texas Society to Abolish Capital Punishment and a leader in the integration of the University of Texas. He was also instrumental in founding Operation Head Start.
In January 1971, John Silber became the seventh president of Boston University. At Boston University he emphasized the attainment of academic excellence and financial stability. Most recent NSF records show that Boston University, which ranked one-hundredth in sponsored research in 1971, now ranks forty-fifth.
Going against a national trend of declining SAT scores, Boston University’s have increased steadily, and Dr. Silber has invested deeply in a strong faculty, as evidenced by Nobel Prizes and a Nobel laureate.
Dr. Silber resigned as president effective May 31, 1996, and on June 1 assumed the newly created post of chancellor. In addition, as many of you know, to his leadership of the university, Dr. Silber introduced innovative programs to partner with public education, contracting to operate the schools of Chelsea, Massachusetts. He also opened the Boston University Academy, a private high school that earned accreditation in a record time of three years, three months.
In January 1996, Governor William Weld appointed Dr. Silber chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education, in which post he served until 1999. He also has written widely on philosophy, especially on Immanuel Kant, on whom he is a leading authority; on education and social and foreign policy; and his work has appeared in any number of well-known journals.
John and Kathryn Silber are the parents of seven children and twenty-four grandchildren.
With that, please welcome Dr. Betty Sue Flowers and Dr. John Silber.
It is a pleasure to get back to Texas, to see so many friends and to hear Professor Flowers’s wonderful lecture. Betty Sue Flowers has covered the area so adequately that it would probably be wise for me just to pack up and go home. Since she was once my student in Plan II, I shall, of course, take full credit for everything she said.
In addressing this issue of “Texas Myths”—it was easier for me to do something on this subject when I was in Salado in 1984, for they gave me an hour and a half, which let me address the subject in the manner of Fidel Castro. Under present time constraints what I have to say will be impressionistic and some of it, despite my best efforts, will duplicate what has already been said.
I should like to begin by distinguishing three kinds of propositions. First, there are universal statements which are true of all members of a class, such as: human beings are mammals. Second, there are generalizations, statements that truly characterize most members of a class. For example, humans have two ears. Every now and then a Van Gogh cuts one off but he is still human. Third, there are stereotypes. Stereotypes characterize only a minority of the group they purport to describe. Stereotypes are based on reality, but they can be and often are misused; when they are anecdotal and true of specific individuals, they can be attributed to most or all members of a group in ways that are abusive. Anecdotal evidence may provide the basis for sound generalizations, but only when the anecdotes are characteristic of most members of a group.
When we talk about Texas myths, we must keep these distinctions in mind; we must know if we are talking about stereotypes, generalizations, or characteristics of all Texans. I doubt that we have any myths that are universally characteristic of Texans. There are some that are generalizations, true of most Texans, but there are many more myths that are only stereotypes, true of only a minority.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with stereotypes; they give rise to all kinds of good humor. For example, Churchill loved to say that Germans are either at your throat or at your feet. That was good stuff in wartime. I grew up hearing that the English have no sense of humor. This eighteenth- and nineteenth-century stereotype was based on Americans’ limited experience with stuffy English aristocrats and gave rise to the joke, “You want to make an old Englishman laugh? Tell him a joke when he’s young.” The stereotype ignores the fact that the English have perhaps the finest sense of humor of any people on Earth. Shakespeare, unlike Schiller, laces even his tragedies with humor.
Stereotypes are harmless when they are used playfully as jokes that aren’t designed to injure anybody or to be taken seriously. But when we try to pass off a stereotype as if it were a sound generalization, we run the risk of making a serious mistake. When stereotypes purport to characterize a group in a way that is truly offensive and demeaning, they can be extremely harmful. Sometimes a stereotype takes on a mythic proportion and is accepted as generally true, not from the standpoint of description but from the standpoint of aspiration. In such limited cases a stereotype may be constructive. But more often, indeed usually, stereotypes are objectionable even when they are favorable to the group they purport to describe, as in the familiar, blacks are musical and like to dance. Although this stereotype is not meant to demean blacks, it is highly insulting nevertheless.
The complex relation of stereotypes to myth is central to our subject. Texans have been the target of far more stereotypes than the people of any other state in the United States, possibly equal to any ethnic group. In fact, you may say that Texans are an ethnic group judging by the long lists of Texan stereotypes on the Internet. Consider: “Texans have the best politicians that money can buy;” “Dallas salutes a person who can buy a piece of art, but not a person who can create one.” There are hundreds of jokes about Texans. “You know you are a Texan if you had a toothpick in your mouth when your wedding pictures were taken,” and “you know you are a Texan if you think that a six-pack and a bugzapper are high entertainment.” These are selected from scores on the Internet.
Some Texas stereotypes come very close to being generalizations. That Texans tend to be hyperbolic and highly colorful in speech is, I believe, generally the case. Examples: You know the famous question: How many Rangers do you need to control a riot? One riot, one Ranger. Clearly hyperbolic, despite the prowess of that group of law enforcement officers. Then we have the song taught all San Antonio schoolchildren in the 1930s, W. Lee O’Daniel’s “Beautiful Texas”:
There are some folks who still like to travel
To see what they have over there.
But when they go look
It’s not like the book,
And they find there is none to compare
To beautiful, beautiful Texas.
That is clearly exaggeration, but it is nevertheless a point of view in which we were indoctrinated in school. When my father-in-law wanted to describe a man whom he held in genuine contempt, he said, “The good Lord never stretched skin over a sorrier piece of flesh.” That is Texas speech—colorful, hyperbolic, incisive, memorable. I can’t imagine a Bostonian saying anything like that. The Chronicle of Higher Education quoted a statement by Shelby Metcalf, the basketball coach at Texas A&M, who recounted what he told a player who had received four Fs and one D. He said, “Son, looks to me like you’re spending too much time on one subject.”
But at this conference I think we should focus not on the stereotypes that are just for humor but on the stereotypes that come close to being generalizations characteristic of most Texans. My views are from both inside and out; I have spent about half my life in Texas and half in exile. I left Texas 29 years ago with regret because, as many of you know, it wasn’t my idea. But when I felt I had to leave, the choice of where to go was strictly limited by my Texas heritage, by the myths in which I had been reared and the values they entailed. I did not consider a job in the Middle West or on the West Coast. I grew up with ghosts and I wanted to go to a place that had ghosts of its own. When one grows up with myths that give life meaning, one does not want to go to a place denuded of the meaning that comes through myths and through mythic figures. One speaks of them as ghosts—not spirits that haunt you, but those that give meaning to one’s life.
As a boy in San Antonio I felt emotionally and cognitively that I was walking the same streets on which Sam Houston and other Texas heroes had walked. I also grew up knowing that Texas had been governed under six flags, five of which I found essential: the French, the Spanish, the Mexican, the Texan, and the flag of the United States. The Confederate flag, although it is a part of our Texas heritage, is anomalous, for it was adopted after Texas had joined the union and flown the Stars and Stripes. It was adopted over the vehement objections of many Texans, including Sam Houston, who believed then what we believe today: that Texans are Americans. We are, nevertheless, a particular species—namely, Texans.
The Confederate flag was a highly ambiguous element in our history, as I learned from reading about Sam Houston. Although he, like all heroes, had feet of clay, he was nevertheless a hero both noble and notable whom we need not compromise or tarnish in any serious way.
In 1831 Tocqueville noted in his diary, “When the right of suffrage is universal, and when deputies are paid by the state, it is singular how low and how far wrong the people can go.” About a week later he met a man while traveling by steamboat at the mouth of the White River. The gentleman had left his wife, gone to live among the Indians, taken an Indian wife and liked to have a drink. When he heard that this man was also a former government official, Tocqueville apparently thought the people had gone very low and far wrong. He wrote in his diary:
We are traveling at this moment with an individual named Mr. Houston. . . . This man was once Governor of Tennessee. . . . I asked what could have recommended him to the choice of the people. His having come from the people, they told me, and risen “by his own exertions.” . . . They assured me that in the new western states the people generally made very poor selections. Full of pride and ignorance, the electors want to be represented by people of their own kind. . . . [To get elected,] you have to haunt the taverns and dispute with the populace.
But Tocqueville, being an empiricist and a careful observer, decided to question Sam Houston about his life among the Indians, and before long he was taking page after page of notes on their religion, their government, their concepts of justice, and the role of Indian women.
“Does it seem to you,” Tocqueville asked, “that the Indians have great natural intelligence?” Houston replied, “Yes, I don’t believe they yield to any human race on this point.” And then he added, and this is an important fact about Houston, “However, I am also of the opinion that it would be the same for the negroes.”
Then the conversation turned to an analysis of U.S. government policy toward the Indians, and again Tocqueville was busy taking notes. When their voyage had been completed and it came time for Tocqueville to sum up his impressions of Sam Houston, he was no longer sneering. Sympathetic and, finally, deeply impressed by the quality of this man of the people, he wrote, “The disappointments and labors of all kinds that have accompanied his existence have as yet left only a light trace on his features. Everything in his person indicates physical and moral energy.” That physical and moral energy was clearly expressed in 1860 when Houston committed political suicide in Texas by refusing to support the secession movement and by insisting that Texas remain with the Union and support the cause of emancipation.
In Sam Houston we have not only a genuine Texas hero but an American hero, one who decisively embodies Texas myths and values and gives them a reality that can only come from incarnation. His life reflected a personal code of honor. Houston based his assessment of people not on prejudice but on experience. Being in touch with people of all races and with the land, he respected and was a friend to indigenous people and was foremost among those promoting the spread of civilization in their territory.
It is unfortunate, I believe, to disparage myths just because, while true in general, they are not universally true. Nor should we disparage heroes because they sometimes fail to live up to their ideals. One may assert, I am convinced, the sound generalization that myths and heroes often express values worthy of emulation and that Texas has done more than its share of exalting both myths and heroes.
Texas was settled entirely by immigrants, pioneers who suffered terrible risks and hardships getting to Texas and additional hardships in trying to survive once they arrived. That is the literal truth. The earliest were the Paleo-Americans who probably came from Asia about 40,000 years ago and were extinct before the Indians arrived as sequential pioneers. A very large percentage of later immigrants came not only from the thirteen colonies but also directly from Europe, Mexico, and Central and South America.
The myth of the Texan as cowboy or frontiersman arose naturally from the fact that immigrants to Texas following the American Revolution were pioneers who tamed a raw and largely barren land, sturdy survivors who endured vicious encounters with the indigenous peoples and who eventually prevailed. And it is still believed that Texans have a frontier mentality, reflected in their behavior and their laws. Although it is only a stereotype to say that Texans dress like cowboys, wearing cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats, it is more than a stereotype when we suggest that the frontier mentality continues to have both a mythic and a literal hold on the consciousness of Texans.
Our mythic drama of the spring, our morality play, begins on March 2 with Texas independence, followed by the fall of the Alamo on March 6 and then redemption on April 21 with Sam Houston’s victory at San Jacinto. The fall of the Alamo exemplified a high order of heroism. However unjust and unfair the Texans’ perspective on the fall of the Alamo may be, it is still the case that the people who died there were dying for principle, for the cause of freedom and independence. Their motives and intentions come across, it seems to me, as heroic, even as I acknowledge that there is a compelling case for the Mexican perspective on the battle of the Alamo. It is the very essence of tragedy that there is both right and profound loss on both sides. Two lines from Cavafy, addressed to Greek heroes, apply equally well to the heroes of the Alamo:
Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Heroes do not fear losing; they fear lacking the valor to stay the course. The men who died in the Alamo showed courage, integrity, self-sacrifice, and a very high sense of personal honor. There is also in this example evidence of their energy and self-sufficiency. These are, I believe, genuinely noble myths. They fire the aspirations of young people, make us, as young people, aspire to greatness.
I don’t think these myths associated with the frontier and the Alamo exclude women. When I attended school as a child I was taught that women suffered hardship and sometimes death along with men and that women were the civilizing influence. Women were responsible for our ability to read and write; they, they alone, explained why Texans took seriously such things as poetry, literature, art, and the preservation of our wildflowers. All of these civilizing virtues were attributed to what Goethe described as “das Ewig-Weibliche,” the eternal woman that draws mankind to higher objectives.
These myths, however limited and incomplete, are enabling, energizing myths that reveal or express the consciousness of Texans. They also explain in significant degree the magnetism of this state. Texas did not become the second most populous state in the United States because of the extraordinary procreation of Texans. They don’t all live the way Kathryn and I lived, rearing a very large family. If they had all had 24 grandchildren—and we are still counting—that might have explained how Texas got to be the second largest. But we are the second largest largely because Texas is a magnet for immigration. People want to come to Texas for the same reason that so many Bostonians wear cowboy boots and hats. Although most of them are native Bostonians, they have a longing for jobs on the frontier where folks wear cowboy boots and hats and appear to be a little freer and livelier than in Boston.
Developments in Texas over the last century are exciting and compellingly attractive. Consider entrepreneurship in Texas, and in particular in Houston. What happened to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and New Orleans as major sea ports? Although Houston is 40 miles from the sea and not even on a major river, it has eclipsed them all. How? By enterprise, imagination, and drive, by determination, dynamism, and entrepreneurship—qualities that are genuinely useful, even to people who lack those qualities. The high-tech developments in Austin are equally impressive. The Austin area is Texas’s answer to California’s Silicon Valley.
It is not that Massachusetts was lacking in ghosts. I went there very largely to associate with the ghosts of Abigail and John Adams, the Pilgrims and the Indians, including Massasoit on the one hand and King Philip on the other. King Philip is not to be confused with the King of Spain. That was the name that they gave an Indian chief who declared war on the colonists and for a long time succeeded in beating them. Unfortunately, the Indians of Massachusetts, unlike the Comanches, didn’t have horses. But all these heroes are present in Boston, where we can walk the streets with the founders of our republic. They, like the Texas heroes, capture the imagination. But they may be less likely to evoke emulation because they lack the currency, the presence and accessibility of Texas myths. As in the case of the Adamses, many of the Boston ghosts seem remarkably beyond our capacity to reach their standards.
One of the Texas myths that has a great deal of truth behind it is the myth of boom and bust. An oil man, a wildcatter, strikes oil; his well comes in and he becomes a multimillionaire. But the next thing you know he has ten dry holes and is broke. But a few years later he has hit another well and once again he is a millionaire. When he dies, however, he leaves whatever he has—whether rich or poor—to his kids. Sometimes he leaves his estate to all his children, sometimes to only one. But that was not the habit of wealthy Bostonians.
In Boston daring sea captains built the clipper ships and sailed them to China. And in the China trade, a single voyage made one a millionaire. With two successful voyages one was rich beyond the dreams of Croesus. But what did those millionaire sea captains do with their money? The Forbeses, Cabots, and others established thrift trusts. These trusts were administered by banks and oriented toward security. They generated sufficient income to cut the nerve of enterprise in the descendants of these great pioneer entrepreneurs, but they rarely left them with sufficient wealth to become major philanthropists. These trusts dampened-down the energy, imagination, and enterprising daring of the descendants. The economic revival of Massachusetts, its economic miracle, has largely been the result of the immigration of talent from other states and countries, including a good number from Texas, drawn by the presence of excellent universities staffed by faculties drawn from all parts of the world. Massachusetts certainly had its share of heroes. But few Massachusetts heroes are mythic. Rather, they are generally distant historic figures who have a far weaker hold on the imagination of younger generations than Texas myths and heroes.
This difference in mentality is illustrated by another anecdote. The San Antonio Spurs basketball team decided to leave the city unless a new arena was built. What happened? Just a few months later the people in San Antonio voted to build a new arena and keep the team. They located the arena in Bexar County rather than within the city limits in order to offer the Spurs a tax advantage. And there they are.
Consider the contrast in Boston. For the past twenty-five years Boston has been trying to develop a convention center. In order to make it financially sound, one must build it in association with a football stadium and a baseball stadium. Both the Red Sox and the New England Patriots wanted a new stadium. The economics of the situation were obvious and compelling. A football team plays ten to twelve games a year. The parking lot for ten thousand cars is used only ten or twelve times a year. If a baseball team is added to the complex, an additional 80 days of parking is assured. When a convention center is introduced, at least another 100 days of parking are required. With this combination the parking garage becomes a profit center instead of a loss. When the project was still under consideration, I wrote an op-ed piece in one of the newspapers pointing out that it would take about three months in Houston, about six months in San Antonio and about four and a half months in Dallas to work out all the details. But in Boston 20 years was not enough. The only group that responded favorably to my article were the developers. All parties—including the taxpayers—had a common interest in a complex combining all these elements because the center would have been a major engine of economic development. Nevertheless, it could not be done.
One must also ask, why was the TV series Dallas so popular throughout the country? Why was J.R. such a popular figure? (As you know, he was based on the character of Frank Erwin. Like Frank, J.R. had genuine virtues to match his genuine vices, and he had both in abundance.)
There is, however, a darker side to the Texas myth. These are my concluding remarks on the frontier myth of the individual that goes into the wilderness and tries on his own to bring law and order. The reason why it is a darker side is because there is no longer a frontier and fortunately the days of Roy Bean are over. In all fairness—and now I will quit preaching and go to meddling—this myth of the frontier hero who brings law and order on his own terms is not a stereotype, but a dark and troubling reality.
I went out to Lake Travis the day before yesterday. I went up to the door of a house where I wanted to talk to the owner. He has a sign in the window by the door that says, “We don’t dial 911.” That is, he is prepared to shoot and kill any trespassers, as is his guaranteed right in the protection of his property and his life under Texas law.
In 1954, the year before I came to the University of Texas, a reporter from Time magazine visited with Chief Justice John Edward Hickman of the Texas Criminal Supreme Court. The reporter asked, “Why is it, Judge, that if a man steals a horse, you hang him, but if a man kills his wife’s paramour it is justifiable homicide?” Justice Hickman replied, “Son, I don’t understand the question. There are some men that need killing, but no horses need stealing.” In Sensobaugh v. State in the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, October 18, 1922, the court held:
A “homicide is justifiable when committed by the husband upon the person of anyone taken in the act of adultery with the wife; provided, the killing take place before the parties to the act of adultery have separated.” Penal Code, act 1102.
But the court continued, “Even under our statute, the paramour does not forfeit his privilege of escape, nor does he wholly forfeit his right to defend his life.” In this case, the appellant had been charged and convicted not of killing his wife’s paramour but of tying him up and removing his love-making organ with a razor. The court noted that the accused could not therefore justify his act under the statute. The court held:
Article 1105 of the Penal Code expressly permits homicide in order to prevent maiming …. Doubtless, if serious bodily injury had been inflicted by the appellant in an attempt to kill the injured party, his immunity would be secure under the statute but the record negatives such an intent, and makes it plain that his intent was not to kill, but to torture and maim the paramour.
The conviction and sentence of 60 days in jail and a fine of $300 were upheld. In Texas at that time, that sentence seemed reasonable. In Massachusetts it would have seemed an outrageous endorsement of a criminal act.
I wrote a San Antonio lawyer to ask him if this law was still on the books. He replied, “The bit about shooting the guy doing the horizontal mambo with one’s wife is one of those things bound up in Texas lore.” But he continues, “I hope it’s true. I’ve heard it often enough, but I don’t know if it ever was the law.” As you know from my own research with the Key Reporter, it was the law until 1974. But the Texas lawyer continued, “In any case, it is not the law today, as we are, regrettably, becoming more like other states in our jurisprudence.” That “regrettably” is an interesting comment, and it supports the stereotype if not the generalization.
When we move from the realm of lore and myth to current state of affairs, we find the myth of the frontier is confirmed in Texas by its incorporation in Texas law. All non-felons have the right to possess and carry shotguns and rifles. They can’t carry them into schools, government buildings, or bars. There are a few places they are prohibited, but otherwise they are permitted. The only restriction is that persons must not brandish firearms in a way to threaten anyone.
Secondly, non-felons may also possess handguns without permits or license, but they can only carry them around their house or place of business or if they are going to or from a hunting or fishing trip. And they must not brandish them at all.
Persons with concealed-handgun licenses may possess and carry concealed handguns anywhere except in the specified prohibited places. And it is important to remember that Texas is what is called a “shall issue” state as regards concealed handgun licenses. If one meets the statutory requirements, one has a right to a license without having to show a need for the license and without securing permission from the local sheriff or the local chief of police. Texas also has a different legal standard from other states concerning deadly force which one can use in defense of oneself, in defense of others, and to protect one’s property in case someone is about to steal it.
These are generalizations rather than universal truths about Texas only because the law is not always either obeyed or enforced. But they are generalizations which, being embodied in law, cannot be dismissed as stereotypes. They are the foundation of the frontier myth. They are Texas law, and as such should be universally recognized and obeyed by Texans. For good or ill, they set Texas far apart from most of the rest of the nation. The Internet expresses these sentiments in the form of jokes—jokes pertaining, for example, to restaurants—“Be sure to sit in the non-shooting section;” a Texas restaurant “is where you can eat the cast of Bambi.”
This is by no means the whole story on Texas, but it is a side of Texas and an extension of the myth of the frontier and the myth of the frontier hero that calls, I believe, for sober reflection and possibly for alteration.
In conclusion I am deeply grateful for your invitation to reflect on Texas history, laws. mores, and myths. One can never deny the appeal of a state so original, complex, and dynamic. It offers an inspiring heritage.
 I owe all this knowledge to Mr. T. R. Fehrenbach, who is, I believe, a member of this organization. And I ought to beashamed of myself even talking about this subject in his presence because he knows so much more about it than I do.