Modern history

Chapter 47

The Giant World of Texas

Does half my heart lie buried there,

In Texas, down by the Rio Grande?

—Frank Desprez

THAT Texas has a quality all its own—spacious, militant, hospitable, beaming with self-satisfaction—is known to everybody, and its splendidly large vitality can be expressed in any number of ways, historically, geographically, and in terms of politics, economics, raw materials, folklore, what not. Texas is, of course, the only American state that, after nine years and 301 days as an independent republic, entered the United States of its own free will, and on what were more or less its own terms. And it is the only state that, without consent of Congress, may split itself into five different states at any time. An old joke says that it would have performed this fission long ago, except that nobody could decide which of the new Texas states would get the Alamo. In actual fact, of course, no matter what accretion of power such a self-division might bring in Washington, ten senators for instance, nobody in the whole great lump of a state would ever dream of it. Because then Texas would no longer be Texas, enormous, overflowing with euphoria, and unique. Its most preciously guarded attribute is its bigness.

There are at least four main points to be made about the Lone Star State at once. It does not properly belong to the South, the West, or even the Southwest; it is an empire, an entity, totally its own. Also it is beginning to seep over the edges; Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, even California, feel its mighty impact, and if we were writing about Europe instead of the United States, one might easily be tempted to a paragraph about Texas “imperialism.” A related item: most Texans don’t know it, and most dislike being told, but actually this colossus of the United States, with its tremendous chauvinism and flamboyant pride in every kind of statistical achievement, is apparently not gaining but is to a small degree losing population. The estimated population was 6,389,690 in 1940; 6,255,691 in 1943.1

Second, despite its fantastically great economic power, Texas represents the kind of “exploitative” or “colonial” economy typical of all western states; it lives, and lives well, basically by the multifarious production of raw materials—cattle, cotton, sulphur, petroleum, a hundred others—but most of this reservoir of production is owned outside the state, not in. Texas is probably the richest “colony” on earth, India excepted, and though all its citizens will band together to assassinate anybody who says so, it has been badly fleeced by outsiders in its time; even Pappy O’Daniel once agreed that it was “New York’s most valuable foreign possession.” The state possesses only one wool-scouring plant, though it is by far the greatest American wool producer; one Dallas firm owns 17 per cent of the cotton spindles in the state, but most other textile mills are controlled outside; one important company (though not the biggest) supplying oil-well machinery is a subsidiary of U.S. Steel; about two-thirds of electric power is controlled through subsidiaries by Electric Bond & Share; not a single Texan is on the board of directors of the two most important sulphur companies;2 and the greatest single industrial enterprise in the state, Humble Oil, is 72 per cent owned by Standard of New Jersey.

Third, Texas has by all odds the most virile “nationalism” of any American state. All sorts of stories are apposite; for instance the sign I saw in Fort Worth in May, 1945: BUY BONDS AND HELP TEXAS WIN THE WAR. And it is notorious that outside the San Antonio post office are three chutes for mail, marked City, Texas, and Other States and Foreign Countries. Yet this extremely acute local patriotism has not precluded an intelligent preoccupation—of course preoccupation is too mild a word—with world affairs. Partly by reason of the cotton business, which naturally promoted close ties to Great Britain, Texas was probably the least isolationist state in the union, and certainly the most interventionist in the West. So many Texans went to Canada to enlist before Pearl Harbor that Montreal wags talked of “the Royal Canadian Texan Air Force.” Sam Rayburn told me (it’s just a joke, don’t mind), “Of course the real reason Congress passed Selective Service was to get someone in the Army not a Texan.” As to the actual fighting of the war, the contribution of the state to the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force was spectacular. I choose only one illustration out of hundreds. Nineteen out of the seventy-nine men who took part in the Doolittle raid on Tokyo were Texans.

My fourth point would have to do with a complexity of intellectual, cultural, and social values. To put it baldly, it is that Texas, an immensely stalwart adolescent, is in a number of fields growing up.

Everywhere in the state wonderfully and slightly self-conscious patriots would ask me what Texas reminded me of most. As a rule, I would answer “Vermont,” because Vermont too was, as we know, an independent republic for some years, because it too has a very special individuality and character, and, most important, because—exactly like Texas—it is a one-party state where almost every election is decided by the primary, though of course in Vermont a different party wins. Then I would be likely to add that Texas reminded me a good deal of Argentina. Not all Texans liked this. But the similarities are, indeed, extraordinary: cattle culture, absentee ownership, vast land holdings by semifeudal barons, a great preoccupation with weather, an under-developed middle class, interminable flatness and open spaces, and fierce political partisanship and nationalism. And, it might be added, the Texas “Regulars” are—or were—representative of a kind of reaction closely paralleling that of Argentina.

When I say that Texas, growing up, has just discovered that it needs a lot of brains, as well as brawn, I mean simply that it is facing for the first time a resolution of various intellectual dilemmas. Texas is having to learn to think, after years when the forces of nature provided such largess that such a painful and disciplining matter as abstract thought was hardly necessary. The state has had to discover that to have plenty of muscle isn’t quite enough. Several of the Texas dilemmas are, it would seem, elementary. For instance most people want badly to maintain intact the industrialization that came with the war. Yet at the same time powerful forces in the legislature are violently antilabor; there was an attempt last year to force through a bill outlawing the closed shop. Apparently it had never occurred to many Texans that, to fulfill an industrial program, you must have not merely machines but men to work them. And of course to think such a dilemma through to its logical conclusion means that you have to make a painful choice—you have to give something up (either your precious new aircraft industry or your antipathy to labor); you can no longer have your planes and eat them too. As another example take the great dispute over education. Texas wanted, and wants, the greatest and richest university in the world. Yet it did not quite grasp the point that no university can be worthy of the name without being anchored on something that many conservative Texans feared, academic freedom.

Perhaps one should add a word about the newness of Texas, its youth as what might be called “a great power,” and the violent speed and fortuitousness with which wealth was created or accumulated; this has had innumerable social consequences. In 1884, the state possessed 84 million dollars in bank deposits; in 1914, 246 million dollars; in 1944, well over $2,500,000,000. A kind of nouveau riche psychology swept the citizenry; of the 254 counties about 200 produce (among many other things) oil; and vast and instantaneous wealth struck a great variety of people, from the poorest tenant farmers up and down. That there should be a cultural lag was inevitable; that plenty of the newly rich should have done crazy things was inevitable; that the wave of wealth should have produced some obscurantism was inevitable. Another item: not only did Texas become rich; it was, and is, the only confederate state that did so. Hence, one sees in Texas a remarkable fusion of old “southern” characteristics, plus big money; atop the cattle and cotton reactionaries was imposed a layer of corporation owners, reckless gamblers in bootleg “hot” oil, and neo-carpetbaggers from the North.


Another point, minor in itself, worth making now is that so many prominent Texans should have been born elsewhere. At times, traveling through the state, I wondered if I would ever meet a native Texan; at times, I wondered if all really conspicuous Texans were born in Tennessee. Of course I am exaggerating. But for the record, Jesse Jones was born in Tennessee, and so were Sam Rayburn and Hatton Sumners; Will Clayton was born in Mississippi, and Lee O’Daniel in Ohio.

Still another preliminary point is the power of Texas in the national capital. At one time no fewer than eleven chairmen of Senate and House committees were Texans; today, though somewhat less, the figure still exceeds that of any other state. Tom Connally, former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is a Texan, and so is Tom Clark, the attorney general; so is that useful citizen Maury Maverick, formerly of the Smaller War Plants Corporation, and so are Eisenhower, Nimitz, and a phenomenal number of military chieftains.

But all this is so far the merest scooping off of top cream. It is only the beginning of a beginning of the Texas story. Let us proceed.

Some Texas Jokes

A young lady, daughter of a great Texas rancher, arrived at an eastern finishing school, and was asked where she came from.

“Nueces County, Texas,” she replied.

“And where may that be?”

“It’s the northwest corner of my grandpappy’s cow pasture.”

Another little story has to do with Admiral Nimitz. The Texas theory of his success is that he was operating in the one thing in the world bigger than his home state, namely the Pacific Ocean.

And of course there is the anecdote of the New Englander who, visiting Texas, finds a lobster in his bed. Tactfully, and fully aware of Texan propensities to the grandiose, he tells his host, “Look at this Texas bedbug.” The host shakes his head doubtfully and answers, “Must be a young one.” This story belongs to the same genre as that of the Texan, visiting a fruit stand in California, who sees a watermelon. He rubs it, inquiring skeptically, “Is this the best avocado you have?” Answer (because chauvinism exists in California too as we know): “You son of a gun from Texas, keep your hands off that grape.”

I like the story, doubtless antique, that I heard near San Antonio. A child asks a stranger where he comes from, whereupon his father rebukes him gently, “Never do that, son. If a man’s from Texas, he’ll tell you. If he’s not, why embarrass him by asking?”

Once a Brooklyn GI was shipped to a Texas camp. It didn’t take him long to get the feel of things. One evening, after wandering alone in the mesquite, he returned with seven rattles; these he showed proudly to his comrades, explaining, “I just killed a big Texas woim.”

Recently in the Houston Chronicle appeared this small advertisement:


Will be Permanent Resident Need 2-bedroom house, apt. or duplex, preferably unfurnished or what have you for wife, 14-year-old boy and self?

Of Texas jokes there is no end, and most of them have to do with the state’s monstrous girth, bulk, and heft. They become transmuted into that characteristic phenomenon of the United States, the tall tale; dozens of collectors seize upon these avidly, and improvise upon them day by day. At least two anthologies of Texas jokes exist, and have had a wide sale among the local patriots.3 Serious experts in Texas tales, like that grand and salty scholar J. Frank Dobie (who is my candidate for being the most distinguished living Texan) are walking anthologies of contemporary folklore.

The Texas Almanac, an invaluable compendium, prints as of unknown origin the following “speech” by a visitor to the state, which has become a minor classic:

Texas occupies all the Continent of North America except the small part set aside for the United States, Mexico, and Canada … and is bounded on the north by 25 or 30 states, on the east by all the oceans in the world except the Pacific … and on the west by the Pacific Ocean, the Milky Way, and the Sidereal Universe.

Texas is so big that people in Brownsville call the Dallas people Yankees, and the citizens of El Paso sneer at the citizens of Texarkana as being snobs of the effete east.4

It is 150 miles farther from El Paso to Texarkana than it is from Chicago to New York. Fort Worth is nearer St. Paul, Minnesota, than to Brownsville…. The United States with Texas off would look like a three-legged Boston terrier.

The chief occupation of the people of Texas is trying to keep from making all the money in the world…. Texans are so proud of Texas that they cannot sleep at night …

Unless your front gate is 18 miles from your front door you do not belong to society as constituted in Texas…. One Texan has forty miles of navigable river on his farm. If the proportion of cultivated land in Texas were the same as in Illinois, the value of Texas crops would equal those of all 47 other states…. Texas has enough land to supply every man, woman and child in the world with a tract five feet by twenty.

If all the hogs in Texas were one big hog, he would be able to dig the Panama Canal in three roots. If all the steers in Texas were one big steer, he could stand with his front feet in the Gulf of Mexico, one hind foot in Hudson Bay and the other in the Arctic Ocean, and with a sweep of his tail brush the mist from the Aurora Borealis. Some state !5

One cycle of Texas stories has to do with the weather; Mr. House records some beauties:

The vagaries of Texas weather are illustrated by the experience of a hunter who told of seeing thousands of ducks on a lake. As he raised his gun to fire, a norther struck, freezing the water. At the roar of the gun, the ducks flew away, carrying the lake with them.

“Do you ever have cyclones up here?” a visitor in West Texas asked. “No, sir-e-e,” he was informed. “We did have one once but it ran into a sandstorm about three miles out of town and was ripped to pieces.”

When a man’s hat blows off, he telegraphs to the station ahead. Or (another version) he just reaches up and pulls down another hat.

Such tales do, it is important to mention, derive with direct logic from everyday occurrences. While in Dallas I saw a small Associated Press dispatch describing how eight people were killed, twenty-eight injured, and ten small ranching communities wiped out, by a sudden freak windstorm that arrived and left again in a matter of minutes.

Then there is the historic-geographic cycle. I found maps of the United States as a Texan sees it, with marvelously distorted state frontiers, so that the Lone Star State stretches up to the Canadian border, and the Great Lakes are called “A Few Lakes Near Unexplored Territory”; I picked up postcards containing a history of the United States, “Texas Style,” with items like “1620—First Texan sets foot on Plymouth Rock,” “1778—Valley Forge—one of the darkest moments in history, next to the Alamo,” “1845—the Union joins Texas,” and “1945—Texans get Hitler’s goat at Berchtesgaden—Germany collapses.” The stories about Texas prowess in World War II are literally without number. Someone asked a Texan early in 1944 how much longer the war would last. He replied, “One year to beat the Germans, one to beat the Japs, and one to get the damn Yankees out of Texas.” Now this kind of story also derives from specific local phenomena. Texans on Okinawa asked to fight under a Texan flag, and—of course not quite seriously—former Governor Coke Stevenson issued a statement in August, 1945, to the effect that Texas would accept the Japanese surrender without demanding “a separate peace.”

As to the Texas quality of gay belligerency a typical anecdote is this from I Give You Texas.

“Tell us about the fight,” a lawyer asked an elderly East Texas woman.

“I didn’t see no fight,” she replied.

“Well, tell us what you did see,” said the attorney, leaning back lazily.

“I went to a dance over at the Turners’ house,” the woman said, “and as the men swung around and changed partners, they would slap each other and one fellow hit another one harder than the other one liked and so he hit back and somebody out with a knife and somebody else drew a six shooter and another fellow out with a rifle that was under the bed and the air was full of yelling and smoke and bullets, and I saw there was going to be a fight, so I left.”

But sooner or later we always get back to the recurrent theme of size, the concept of the grandiose. Texas is the place where you need a mousetrap to catch mosquitoes, where a man is so hardboiled that he sleeps in sandpaper sheets, where the grapefruit are so enormous that nine make a dozen, where Davy Crockett fanned himself with a hurricane, where a flock of sheep can get lost in the threads of a pipeline, where canaries sing bass, where if you spill some nails you will harvest a crop of crowbars, where houseflies carry dog tags for identification, where if you shoot at a javelina (peccary) it will spit your first bullet back, then race it toward you, and where that legendary creature Pecos Bill, the Texas equivalent of Paul Bunyan, could rope a streak of lightning.

A Bouquet of Superlatives

The Lone Star State is, in all conscience, big enough. I don’t know any remark more relevant than one attributed to Pat Neff, a former governor who is now president of Baylor University, that Texas could wear Rhode Island as a watch fob. Its largest county, Brewster, is, quite seriously, six times bigger than Rhode Island; the second largest, Pecos, is more than twice the size of Delaware and is within a shade of being as big as Connecticut; of the total of 254 counties, actually 59 are as big as Rhode Island or bigger. Roughly, Texas is one-twelfth the size of the entire United States; one out of every twelve American square miles is Texan. It is calculated that if the state had the density of population of Massachusetts, its population would be 145,000,000 (instead of 6,255,691); one provincial town, Dalhart, is nearer to five other state capitals (those of New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska) than to Austin. As an indication of the enormous spread of the state, one Texas football team once played in the Rose Bowl in California and another in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in the same year—as representatives of East and North !6

Then consider some Texas firsts. The state wears the biggest hats in the world, and it has more pretty girls per square inch than any known segment of the earth’s surface. It has produced more top-rank movie stars (Ginger Rogers, Joan Crawford) than any other state except possibly California, and Texas A&M is by far the largest military school in the nation. The assessed value of its public school system is five billion dollars, and it has sixty radio stations. The third biggest bookstore in the United States is in Dallas; the state capitol is the eighth biggest building in the world; and the deepest hole in the world (an oil well reaching 15,279 feet) is in Pecos County. Texas is the second state in the union in garlic production, third in asphalt, third in fuller’s earth, third in sodium salts, and fourth in gypsum, cement, and rice. The world’s largest vegetable farm is in Texas (at Edinburg), the world’s greatest tomato center (at Jacksonville), and the world’s largest spinach center (at Eagle Pass).7 Uvalde, Texas, is the honey capital of the world, and Tyler is the rose capital of the world; Port Aransas is the world’s biggest crude oil shipping port, and the Beaumont-Port Arthur region is the world’s biggest oil-refining center. The state contains 410 different telephone companies, 4,000 different varieties of wild flowers, 95,200 oil wells, 7,090,000 cows, and 36,103,000 chickens. And it is the first state in the union in petroleum, natural gas, beef cattle, helium, sulphur, cotton, sheep and goats, mohair and wool, hides, pipeline mileage, pecans, mules, carbon black, cotton gin machinery, and polo ponies.8

All this being said, one should perhaps add a note of another color. Texas, the old story says, is the state with more cattle and less milk, more rivers and less water, more schools and less education, more miles of view and less to see—than any place on earth!

And I cannot resist mentioning that when I told Texas friends that I was writing a book on the United States many immediately suggested that there should be two volumes, one on Texas, the other on the other forty-seven.

A Word on Sensitiveness

Like most things big, Texas is very sensitive; its amour propre may be easily damaged, its frontal defenses pierced. A year or so ago, Stanley Walker, stanch Texan that he is, wrote an editorial in the New York Herald Tribune mildly twitting his home state; the consequent eruption was enormous. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, choking with rage, delivered itself of not less than 2,500 words of foaming counterattack,9 and one reader wrote in: “I have never seen a copy of the Herald Tribune, but … it symbolizes much that is repulsive in American journalism…. The editorial was probably meant to be funny, but it looked vicious to me and uncalled-for…. The editorial, probably aware that Texas leads the United States in railway mileage, ignores that fact but makes the astounding misstatement that Texas does not have the best or fastest trains … The Trib says that one may catch better fish off Long Island than off the whole Texas coast. That’s a bald-faced lie!”

Early in 1945 the Baltimore Sun ran a somewhat more severe editorial, entitled “Pious but Hopeless Request for Humility in Texas,” and expressing the hope that in time it might become a bit self-critical. “Most of the states have produced over the years an occasional student…. Most have been called upon to examine, in the scientific spirit, the bases of their local pride and patriotism…. Texas, so far as we have heard, has never gone through this wholesome experience. In all history, no Texan has ever challenged the utter perfection of the Lone Star State, its climate, its geography, its history, its civilization. The only statement ever approaching such objective appraisal we have ever heard of was that of the man who confessed, in his cups, that there is no spring in Big Spring. There is no record of what happened to that bibulant and perhaps it would be better not to inquire. But it would be pleasant, nevertheless, to learn from authoritative sources that Texas was populated by human beings and not by supermen.”

No Texas reply to this churlish attack from Maryland has been recorded.

History: Two-Minute Glimpse

But we must retrace our steps briefly and see, as the phrase is, how Texas got that way; no state has a more fascinating history. It has existed under six different flags,10 Spanish, French, Mexican, its own, Confederate, and American. The name “Texas” derives according to one theory from a mongrel Indo-Spanish word, tejas, which was an early salutation meaning “friendship”; and “Friendship” is still the motto of the state. The modern creators of Texas are, as everyone knows, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston. Austin, the son of a Missouri trader named Moses Austin, and a man who sat for a time in the Mexican parliament as a deputy for “Coahuilae Tejas,” founded in 1821 the first American settlement in what is now Texas, at a town called San Felipe. Within a dozen years this colony grew to number two thousand Americans (and some British); that these stout pioneers should sooner or later revolt and declare their independence from Mexico was inevitable. The undisputed boss of the Texas revolution, when it came, was Sam Houston, a hard-living, hard-drinking, hard-eating chieftain, who was so tough that, as a contemporary said, “one drop of his blood would freeze a frog.” The revolution became a war and in 1836 a group of 188 Texans under Colonel William Barrett Travis, trapped in the Alamo in San Antonio, refused to retreat or surrender and were massacred to a man, by the Mexicans, after making a suicidally heroic fight. Then six weeks later came the Battle of San Jacinto, in which Houston beat that preposterous creature Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, killing some six hundred Mexicans with a loss of only eight of his own men. Thus Texas became an independent nation (March 2, 1836), and Houston was its first president. He was president twice, and—after statehood in 1846—governor. Then he was “deposed” when he supported the union as against the confederacy, and he died in 1863. There is no character in American history that quite rivals him. The Indians called him “Big Drunk.”

The decade of independence cost the state dearly in some respects, but Texans still taste memories of that period with the warmest relish; I have heard people today assert that they’d like to be independent now. Texas was duly recognized as an independent republic by the United States, Great Britain, France, Holland, and several German states; the building that housed the French Embassy at Austin still exists; Texas had its own army, navy (six small sailing vessels), postal services, currency, and the like. But of course merger into the union was in-escapable. What held it up was the dispute over slavery; the South wanted Texas in; the North did not. All this happened when Houston was at the height of his powers, and he took advantage of it to do some of the brightest bargaining ever known. For one thing—though as a finesse rather than as a threat—he calmly suggested that Texas become a Crown Colony of Great Britain! The British, interested in cotton, might well have agreed and so Washington, nervous, accepted Houston’s fancy terms. Texas entered the union by authority of a joint congressional resolution, something unique, and the state was given—among much else—the title to all its own public land, a right that no other state has. A convention met at Austin to ratify the agreement, and the last president, Anson Jones (who incidentally came from Massachusetts) lowered the Lone Star flag and told the legislature (February 19, 1846), “Gentlemen, the Republic of Texas is no more.”11

I noted above that Texas, by terms of its special arrangement, may at any time subdivide itself. The actual text is: “New states of convenient size, not exceeding four in number, in addition to said state of Texas, may hereafter, by the consent of the state, be formed out of the territory thereof, which shall be entitled to admission under the provisions of the Federal Constitution.” But Texas was too busy pushing itself around to think much of self-division. There was a Texas “war” with Mexico, and even an expedition against Santa Fe, in New Mexico. Once an invading Mexican army took San Antonio.

Where did the Texans come from, after statehood? A flip answer might be (a) Virginia and Tennessee; (b) Scotland. The state was settled crosswise. Most of the earlier settlers, of good old southern stock, simply moved in from across the Mississippi; the only important foreign group today, aside from the Mexicans, is the nucleus near San Antonio of folk of German extraction. As to the Scots, they came in early, bought enormous quantities of real estate, opened up the Panhandle, and are still of cogent importance to the State’s economy. Also, as we have seen in Wyoming and other western states, Scottish and English financial power was considerable, if only because London banks were willing to lend Texans money cheap.

Texas history after the Civil War falls into several phases; first, that of dominance by the cattlemen; second, the growth of the great towns and a consequent dilution of ranch influence; third, the modern era which began with discovery of oil. The Spindletop gusher came in near Beaumont in 1901, and spilled out nine hundred thousand barrels of oil before it could even be capped. As to the cattlemen they are a tremendous story in themselves, and I will have a word for them in a chapter following; one signal factor was the invention of barbed wire, which made possible the fencing of land. During most of the modern period the chief political problem of Texas was prohibition. The first prohibition referendum was filed in 1881, and for years the state see-sawed for and against liquor, with the churches and the rural areas (which grew in importance all the time, as the great ranches were broken up for farms) supporting the drys, and the towns and politicians mostly wet. Nowadays this issue has diminished in importance—though local option movements are strong in many counties—and has been superseded by others which we will soon explore.

Seeing It in Profile

I climbed the university tower at Austin, and Professor Clarence E. Ayres, who was once a teacher of mine at Chicago, showed me the view. A low black-green line to the west is the Balcones Escarpment, a geological fault that all but splits the state; on the east a river valley leads placidly through black soil to brush country and then the sea.

Roughly—very roughly—one may from this vantage point divide the state in two; the imaginary demarcation would stretch from the southeastern corner of the Panhandle to a point midway up the Rio Grande. And between these two Texases—east and west—the differences are profound. The east is, by and large, cotton country, with tenant farming, a Mississippi Delta culture, mushrooming industries, big towns, poor whites, most of the state’s Negroes, and, of course, oil. The west (and part of the south) is the Texas of what used to be the open range, Mexicans, drugstore and other cowboys, great Hereford herds, dust, the high plains, mechanized agriculture, windmills, sheep, mountains (Texas is supposed to be “flat,” but it has plenty of mountainous country and not less than eighty peaks over 5,000 feet high) and of mesquite and desert. There is, today, a very considerable intrastate migration; east Texas is losing population to the west, partly on account of erosion; much soil in east Texas has worn out. Also the west has fewer Negroes, and many Texans move out there for this reason. Much of the eastern portion of the state appears to be draining slowly toward the less thickly populated west.

Cotton cultivation, which is of transcendent importance, is another index of the differences between east and west. In the east, where Texas is most “southern,” cotton is still farmed largely by tenants, working by hand on small tracts. But in the west it is produced for the most part by fairly big owner operators on fairly big plots of land who use machines. And let it always be remembered that Texas produces one-quarter of the total American cotton crop, which means about one-seventh of that of the entire world.

Each of the great divisions of Texas, east and west, may of course be further subdivided. In the east, back of the coastal plain, is both the “piney belt” centering on Tyler and the black soil region that sweeps like a scythe and contains Dallas, Austin, Waco. The piney belt is almost indistinguishable from Arkansas or North Carolina; it has huge timber deposits and red clayey soil. Here are the most backward Texans; here are oil, roses, rain, and the hinterland of Martin Dies. To the south are still other subdivisions, first the great expanse of brush and cattle country, second the irrigation-made garden known simply as “the Valley,” i.e. the valley of the Rio Grande. This is a Texas still heavily underlaid with Spanish culture, and of wonderful fruit and vegetable farms, politics at their most corrupt, and a lively frontier spirit. Here too the state meets Mexico, and it should not be forgotten that Texas fronts on more of Latin America than any other state.

West Texas we may in turn subdivide—again very roughly—into the marvelous upland known as the Edwards Plateau, of deeply eroded limestone and possessed of what is called the finest climate in the world; the “Central Plains” and the “High Plains,” which nowadays tend to grow sheep and wheat as well as cattle; the Panhandle which merges into Oklahoma; and, to the southwest, two tawny “provinces” of almost uninhabited semidesert, known as “Trans-Pecos” and the “Big Bend,” which latter is the seat of the country’s newest national park.

The Lone Star State is so copious and varied, in fact, that although all Texans consider themselves Texan, a sharp and growing sectionalism exists. This may express itself on all sorts of levels. For instance west Texas (132 counties) has its own chamber of commerce, and boasts of its own specialized statistics. The masthead of the Dallas Times Herald carries the slogan, “The Times Herald stands for Dallas as a whole” (italics mine); this in a city the population of which is three hundred thousand.

A word on place names. The author of Texas Brags has found eleven towns or villages named for minerals and the like (Mercury, Radium, Carbon, Gasoline, Earth, Mud); six for colors (Blue, Green, Magenta); more than thirty for trees (Ebony, Cypress, Mulberry, Peach); a dozen for fish and game (Sturgeon, Quail, Peacock, Turkey); and a hundred or so for Christian names (Jean, Lizzie, Agnes, Leo, Otto, Gus). Among miscellaneously named towns Texas has Climax, Lovelady, Pointblank, Lariat, Cistern, Dime, Box, Echo, Bronco, Gunsight, Sublime, Teacup, Pep, Cash, Nix, Cost, Grit, and Ace.

Snapshots of Six Texas Cities

HOUSTON, the biggest city in the state (population 384,514), is, with the possible exception of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the most reactionary community in the United States. It is the home, spiritual or temporal, of the Texas Regulars, of the ponderous oil tycoons, of attorneys like Judge T. A. Elkins, head of one of the biggest legal firms in the world, of distinguished women like Mrs. Oveta Culp Hobby, who is executive vice president of the Houston Post and who ran the Wacs, and of Jesse Jones. It is a city where few people think of anything but money, where the symphony orchestra is of the feeblest, and where the only tolerable bookshop was boycotted by many patrons because the proprietor announced in 1944 that he would vote for FDR. It is also the noisiest city I have ever visited, with a residential section mostly ugly and barren, a city without a single good restaurant, and of hotels with cockroaches. But it is also the city of a splendid university—Rice Institute—and of people like Colonel J. W. Evans, the president of the Cotton Exchange and one of the creators of the port of Houston, who has held practically every job the community can bestow that calls for genuine civic spirit and bears no salary.

Fifty years ago Houston was a village; today it is reliably predicted that it will have a million people in fifty years. The great geographer

J. Russell Smith once said that it will be the New York of the late twentieth century, and I have heard serious-minded Texans, not Houstonians, aver that it will be the capital of the world a hundred years from now.12

What built Houston with such prodigious speed was a combination of the ship canal, oil, and cotton. Consider the canal. Houston is fifty miles from the sea; after a disastrous tidal wave killed five thousand people in Galveston and made that city temporarily derelict in 1900, the Houstonians decided to make a deep water port of their own. The canal, fifty miles long, stretches from Buffalo Bayou to the Gulf. And today, though the fact is hard to believe, Houston is the fourth ocean port in the United States, exceeding every rival except New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.13

There are more than one hundred great oil fields in the Houston area, and nine refineries are adjacent to the canal. The entire region between Houston and Beaumont seems, in fact, to be a single throbbing factory; it contains the biggest tin smelter in the world, and heavy chemicals, synthetics, plastics, are moving in. So the prophecies that Houston will some day be a kind of Pittsburgh are probably not far off the mark. It has, it would seem, everything: basic natural resources, climate, geography, and a healthy labor supply made available in part through the mechanization of agriculture.

The man who “owns” Houston is of course Jesse Jones (though its richest citizen, and reputedly the wealthiest man in Texas, is an oil operator named Roy Cullen). And Jones is to a considerable degree responsible for Houston’s giddy industrial growth, because—I mean no criticism—as head of the RFC during the war he was in a position to locate new industry in the area. As to his personal holdings, they are immense. He owns the Houston Chronicle and its radio station KTRH; he owns or operates the three leading Houston hotels; he is the chief stockholder in the National Bank of Commerce, the city’s richest bank, which in turn owns the Gulf building, its tallest skyscraper; he has very large real estate holdings, which include most of downtown Houston; his family owns the controlling share in the powerful Bankers Mortgage Company. Oddly enough Jones, a builder, has never paid much attention to oil. Many people, Texans as well as non-Texans, hate Jesse Jones; and hatred often snaps out of his own cold eyes. Meeting him I thought that he carried a stronger note of the implacable than anybody else I have ever talked to in American public life. As far as politics are concerned Jones cuts little ice in Texas, even in the Houston area; his political interests lie outside.

Houston is, of course, almost exclusively populated by people, like Jones, who were not born in Houston. The day I arrived I had a splendid lunch with a group of leading citizens; not one was Houston born. The host, Colonel Evans, was a Kentuckian; Lamar Fleming Jr., another guest (and one of the great cotton men of the world as well as a founder of the Texas Regulars) was born in Georgia. Later I talked to the leading newspaperman of the community and he said that half his staff were non-Texan as well as non-Houstonian.

Twenty-three miles east of Houston is the San Jacinto monument, which, taller than the Washington monument, is in fact the tallest stone structure in the world; perhaps irreverently I thought it looked like an oil derrick enormously magnified. Jesse Jones was largely responsible for building this formidable monstrosity, because—so he told me—the only two monuments in the country that he never tired of looking at were those to Washington and Lincoln in Washington, D.C., and he “drew a sketch” to combine them both, with San Jacinto as the result. Driving back to Houston with two friends I got a savory glimpse of the bigness of Texas in another field. We had lunch at a famous roadhouse, where I found that each of the three main courses was double: first came shrimps and crab, then shrimps and crab again (differently prepared), then fish and chicken.

DALLAS, a highly sophisticated little city (population 294,734), urbane as well as urban, quite chic, with a nice gloss and sheen, differs enormously from Houston. It has (or had) a Little Theater and its cultural and professional life is vivid; it is the seat of an excellent university, Southern Methodist, of admirable hotels and restaurants and bookshops, and of what is probably the finest specialty store in the United States, Neiman-Marcus.

“Dallas is rich and beautiful,” a Texan friend told me, “but it isn’t Texas.” What he meant is that it is not “west” Texas. For Dallas, though Fort Worth is only a metaphorical stone’s throw away, no more connotes longhorns and coyotes than do Columbus, Ohio, or Charleston, West Virginia. Its wealth came originally from cotton, and until recently it was the largest internal cotton market in the country; but primarily it is a banking and jobbing and distributing center, the headquarters of railways and utilities; it is the second city in the United States in Railway Express business, the fourth in insurance, the fifth in number of telegrams.

“What did God give Dallas?” another Texan put it to me. “A group of men who had the will and enterprise to build a city where nobody thought a city could be built! Chicago had the geographical advantage of the Great Lakes; San Francisco had its bay and St. Louis its confluence of rivers. But Dallas had absolutely nothing.” Of course this neglects the not inconsiderable factor that Dallas was the pivot of the richest region in America in regard to four prime commodities—wheat, cotton, cattle, oil. Then I heard the complaint, “Houston was just lucky, with Jesse Jones giving it all that money. If we had had a Jones, our population would be a million!” But most residents of Dallas would not move to Houston for anything on earth, not even money, because Houston is somehow just a city whereas Dallas, though smaller, is a genuine metropolis and packed with charm.

Dallas was named, incidentally, for a Philadelphian who was probably the most obscure of all obscure American vice presidents (under Polk). It is conservatively minded on the whole, with a strong Baptist and Methodist tinge; I met one banker, sometimes considered its leading (conservative) citizen, who exploded, “This country’s downfall into socialism began with the Federal Reserve Act in 1913!” For a long time Dallas was the most conspicuous open-shop city in the United States; it was dominated by the utilities and had the usual traction scandals; it was a seat of early Ku-Klux Klan power, though not so much so as Fort Worth. Its leading newspaper, the Dallas News, is probably the most “professional” paper in the state; Pappy O’Daniel once called it the “Kingpin of the Corporation Press.” But under the late George Dealey, who died in 1946 at the age of eighty-six, it fought the Ku-Klux, and was one of the few Texas papers courageous enough to refuse wild-cat oil advertising while the oil boom raged.

Between Dallas and FORT WORTH (population 177,662), only thirty-three miles apart, is a chasm practically as definitive as the continental divide, and the two cities are, as everybody knows, famous rivals. But—I may be mistaken about this—I got the impression that the rivalry held more humor than bitterness, that it was all on the level of good clean Texas fun. Basically the cleavage between the two cities is of the simplest; Dallas is where the east ends, and Fort Worth is notoriously “where the west begins.” Dallas is a baby Manhattan; Fort Worth is a cattle annex. Dallas has the suave and glittering clothes of Neiman-Marcus; Fort Worth has dust and stockyards.

For this a perfectly good historical reason exists. The Texas and Pacific Railway, reaching Dallas from the east in 1872, stopped there; the line was not pushed the few miles westward to Fort Worth till 1876. And in the four intervening years dozens of big eastern firms—mercantile establishments, distributors, and the like—got nicely settled in Dallas, and have stayed there ever since. Dallas was the end of the line. Another point is that William Gibbs McAdoo, after a bitter tussle, decided in the administration of Woodrow Wilson that the headquarters of the 11th Federal Reserve district should be Dallas, not Fort Worth. My banker friend may deplore the working of the Federal Reserve system—though he could not operate a day without it—but the fact that the Federal Reserve came to Dallas instead of Fort Worth is one of the reasons why his own bank, his own city, are so rich.

Because Fort Worth is smaller, it is apt to be more aggressive than its rival, and also more sensitive; it calls Dallas nouveau riche, and whispers that it is “Jewish dominated.” The rivalry is a spur. Dallas had the Texas Centennial in 1936; so Fort Worth hired Billy Rose to put on a competing show and plastered Dallas with signs, 45 MINUTES WEST FOR WHOOPEE! DALLAS FOR EDUCATION, FORT WORTH FOR ENTERTAINMENT! But today the good citizens of Fort Worth, confronted with some civic problem, are apt to say, “Dallas will be doing this, so we’d better do it too.” Sometimes the two towns have to cooperate, as in control of pollution of the Trinity River, on which both lie.

Fort Worth is not only one of the great cattle towns of the nation—delivered to its stockyards last year were almost nine hundred thousand head of cattle, more than a million hogs, more than two million sheep—but also it is the biggest grain terminal west of Kansas City. Texas harvested 78 million bushels of wheat in 1944, an all-time record, and half this crop was marketed in Fort Worth; this is important in indicating the gradual swing from ranching to agriculture all over Texas; the ranches are breaking up. On the other hand, as anyone will remember who has seen Pare Lorentz’s movie “The Plow That Broke the Plains,” and as we know from previous chapters in this book, the conversion of grassland to wheat can kill the soil and make catastrophe. But to return to Fort Worth. Perhaps, in time, it will become more an agricultural than a cattle town. Yet, walking down its windy streets today, it is hard to accept this; half the men wear big pearl-gray Stetsons and fancy tall-heeled boots; the atmosphere is almost that of Cheyenne during the rodeo.

Much of the rivalry between Fort Worth and Dallas rose from the antics of an exuberant hell raiser and professional Texan named Amon G. Carter, the publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and the town’s most vociferous citizen. It is said that when Carter has to go to Dallas he takes a sandwich along, rather than begrime his spirit or stomach with food cooked in the rival city. It is difficult visiting Fort Worth, even when Mr. Carter is not there, to think that it contains anything else; but it does. In three widely varying fields, one may mention that (a) it is the international headquarters of the Oil Workers Union and its able president, O. A. Knight; (b) it is the home of one of the best trade papers in the country, the Cattleman; (c) it has Texas Christian University, a fierce competitor to Southern Methodist in Dallas.

AUSTIN, the capital of Texas (population 87,930), is one of the pleasantest small cities I’ve ever seen. The street signs are colored orange, and the lamps, uniquely in the world I imagine, shine from towers 165 feet high, thus softly floodlighting the whole town. And Austin is fantastically full of fantastically pretty girls. Texas had several capitals before Austin; in the old days, as in most western states, the capital was where the land office happened to be, and where the greatest number of folk could grab off land titles by fair means or foul. Indeed the two most conspicuous things in Austin today owe their existence to land values. One is the capitol building; the state swapped three million acres of ranch land in the Panhandle for the money (three million dollars) with which to build it. The other is the university, of which more anon.

Austin was called the “City of the Violet Crown” by O. Henry when he worked there; it contains a public monument, consisting mostly of bronze horses, which is the ugliest thing of its kind I have ever seen in the entire world; and its restaurants sold more and better beefsteaks, even in the days of meat rationing, than any place I visited in America except Butte, Montana.

I know nothing more beautiful in the United States—except perhaps the wheat fields near Spokane—than the approach by airplane to certain cities like SAN ANTONIO. They rise from the ocher plains like amber cloud shapes; their skyscrapers, seemingly so incongruous, take on the protective coloration that surrounds them; in a vast area of flatness, they rise like vertical projections of the earth they rest on; they look like huge Dutch ovens. Around them is illimitable horizontal space; above, the high sky of the West. These sentinels and towers and stalagmites almost seem to have the quality of motion; one can almost imagine them taking on a life of their own, and strutting proudly westward.

San Antonio (population 253,854) is, next to San Francisco, New Orleans, and possibly Boston, the most colorful, the most “romantic” city in America.14 It is also a businesslike metropolis. Winding through its heart is a stream, terraced and banked with green, seemingly below the level of the city proper, like an iridescent trench; you slip along in a Venetian gondola that brushes gently against the roots of concrete skyscrapers. The gulf wind makes the nights cool, even in midsummer, and flickering behind a web of branches are a thousand fireflies. But look above; there you will see a red beacon shining like a giant’s eye from a roof thirty stories high. Atop another building, that of Standard Oil, a monstrous globe rotates. But along the river banks Mexican girls (in American slacks) flirt vividly, and boys wade in the waterfall for pennies, and underneath every culvert, at each stage and boat stand, are the lovemakers. Look above again. The windows shine and men are still working. All the skyscrapers were products of the 20’s; not one today is owned by the men who built it.

Also San Antonio is a slum. The west side has a Mexican population of around sixty thousand, which—some Negro communities in the South aside—is the largest solid bloc of underpossessed in the United States. These “Mexicans” (who are almost all American citizens) have a life uniquely their own, and there is no doubt that they are severely discriminated against, socially and economically. They go to their own theaters,15 eat their own food, and speak a patois called Tex-Mex in which a word like dime is pronounced “dimey,” a market is “marketa,” and matches are “metchas.” Also the community is self-divided; there are the “Inditos,” of Indian stock and more Mexican than American, and the “Tejanos,” who are more American than Mexican. For a Mexican to become fully absorbed into the white community is very rare; a few may own shops, drive-ins, and the like, but if they want to get along they adopt “American-sounding” names. There is no Jim Crow statute against Mexicans on the books, but most “good” restaurants and hotels won’t admit them; for instance a scheme to train Mexican cadets at a primary flying school near Uvalde fell through because the local hotels and restaurants refused to serve them, though they had “accepted” detachments of officers from Turkey and Brazil.16 Mexicans working for “white” Texans can, as a rule, only rise to certain minor posts; officially there is no segregation in the schools, but since most of the Mexican population lives in one district, segregation does exist in fact. A minor point is that many Mexicans—especially those from excellent old-Mexican families or youngsters who have served honorably in the American Army in World War II—resent so acutely the way they are generally treated that they pretend to be “Spanish,” not Mexican at all, though they hate the Spaniards too. All this in a free democracy! Of course the basic fault is economic. The Mexicans are miserably underpaid; hence, they don’t get enough to eat, their homes lack sanitation, and their health deteriorates. So the white entrepreneur, having shoved the Mexican into the gutter by paying what are probably the lowest wages in the United States, asserts that the Mexican is too poor or too dirty to be reclaimed, and thus keeps him down in a permanently vicious circle.

San Antonio is also a German town; one out of every six citizens is of German birth or descent. The chief street in the German section, once called Kaiserwilhelm Strasse, is now King William Street; but it is still nicknamed Sauerkraut Bend, and still maintains a good Kaffee Klatch atmosphere. The Germans came for the most part after the revolution of 1848. Nevertheless, there is always a big German vote for such Americans as Pappy O’Daniel, whom the German forefathers, if they were like Carl Schurz, would scarcely consider a fellow spirit. There are towns and villages in the San Antonio hinterland—Nimitz came from one of them—almost as German as towns and villages in Bavaria. And each has its own special quality; some are Lutheran, some are Catholic, one is Alsatian. The German newspaper in San Antonio is one of the most competently edited foreign language papers in the United States. (Also there is an excellent Spanish daily.)

San Antonio is also an Army town, with both Kelly and Randolph fields, and of course “Fort Sam” (Fort Sam Houston), the biggest Army post in the country, and as everyone knows, it contains the Alamo, which gives it a military symbolic character quite unique. Also San Antonio is a Negro town; 9 per cent of its population is colored, and it has one of the most picturesque Negro bosses in the United States. Finally San Antonio is the “pecan capital of the world.” Most of the pickers are Mexican; there have been times when their wages were five cents a day.

Politically San Antonio is run by the ranchmen plus the gambling interests plus two men, P. L. Anderson who is the police and fire chief (and who wears a diamond in his necktie that looks almost as big as a peanut), and Owen Kilday, the sheriff of Bexar County. Kilday (one of his brothers is a congressman, another is a priest) was in part responsible for beating Maury Maverick, when Maury—incontestably the best mayor San Antonio ever had—ran for re-election in 1941. The way to play politics in San Antonio is to buy, or try to buy, the Mexican vote, which is decisive; there is a cruel little joke, “An honest Mexican is one who stays bought.” Maury Maverick won when he carried the west side, and lost when he didn’t carry the west side. The Mexicans voted for him because they liked and admired him and knew that he would do for them what he could, not because they were bribed or purchased.

The most interesting and courageous personality in San Antonio at present is Archbishop Robert E. Lucey of the Roman Catholic church. Lucey, a hard-fighting liberal, has ideas, vision, and ideals. He has fought for equal rights for Mexicans and Negroes; he is the implacable enemy of bad politics, nepotism, corruption. As a result he has some choice enemies and the local bourgeoisie denounces him as a “red.” Another splendid priest is Father Tranchese of Guadaloupe Parish. The kind of atmosphere in which men like these work may be illustrated by the fact that the Hearst paper is the most liberal in the town! I met one publisher who, talking of national affairs, said in all seriousness that the entire bureaucracy in Washington should be scrapped—“except the FBI !”

South of San Antonio are the most formidable of the great ranches, like the King Ranch which, owned by the Kleberg family, covers more than 1,250,000 acres in five different counties and is a feudal domain like no other in the United States. It has a fascinating history, dating back to a lucky landfall by a British sea captain; it is shaped roughly like Connecticut, and you could put all of Connecticut in it without hitting a wire fence. One of the Kleberg brothers served in Congress for a time; a large factor in his recent defeat for re-election was that part of his constituency, despite the Brobdingnagian proportions of the ranch itself, became industrialized by war developments; this brought labor in, and labor is very anti-Kleberg.

West of San Antonio—to conclude this section—is the pleasant town of Uvalde, the home of “Cactus Jack” Garner, who was FDR’s first vice president and who is today an embittered relic of the past.

EL PASO (population 96,810), in the west corner of the state, is the city of the Four C’s—Climate, Cotton, Cattle, Copper. In a way it is run (like communities in New Mexico and Arizona) by “ex-lungers,” folk who came out to get cured of tuberculosis. It is a friendly, vivid, animated town, the largest border town in the United States, and well governed. In a sense El Paso doesn’t belong to Texas at all, but to New Mexico (for instance it gets its electric light from a company actually in New Mexican territory); nothing leads to it except five hundred miles of semidesert; and other Texans say that El Paso never goes to Austin at all, except to ask for money. In contrast to San Antonio it has pretty well solved the political aspects of its Mexican problem; it has more Mexicans proportionately to population (70 per cent) than San Antonio, but nobody “votes” them nowadays; there is no machine, and the mayor, J. E. Anderson, is an honest man. The El Pasoans like to say they are more independent politically than any other community in Texas; O’Daniel for instance ran at the bottom of the ticket in El Paso in both his last elections. El Paso, like San Antonio, is a good deal of an Army town; its great post is Fort Bliss. The dominant economic interest is the Phelps Dodge Corporation, about which we will hear more before this book is done.

El Paso is, incidentally, the seat of the only frontier dispute between the United States and a foreign nation. Some six hundred acres called the Chamizal Zone, including some valuable urban real estate, have been claimed by Mexico since 1894; what happened was that the course of the Rio Grande shifted, making property rights uncertain. Late in 1945, President Truman announced that he was giving his attention to this dispute.

Amarillo and the Dust Bowl

Grass was the mother and father of it all.

—Archibald MacLeish

Finally, AMARILLO. This fascinating place (population 51,686) is in a way the purest Texan city of them all. I do not mean, needless to say, pure in the moral sense. Amarillo is raw, violent, and the most open open-town in the country except possibly Las Vegas in Nevada. I mean pure in that it contains a distillation of some of the sharpest qualities of old Texas, and that it lies open and exposed to some of the mightiest forces ever let loose by nature.

Amarillo is the heart of the Panhandle, the “High Plains,” and the short grass country. Look at any detailed map; the counties, row by row and tier on tier, are absolutely identical in size, mathematically square, and as artificially made as building blocks. The town is the natural capital of a region as big as New York and Pennsylvania together; and in this whole immense area, it is the only town of consequence; thus its hinterland includes half of Oklahoma and parts of Kansas and Nebraska (the celebrated Dust Bowl); and people drive some 350 miles to Dallas to shop. Like El Paso, it has little connection except by formality with Austin, which is twenty-four hours away by the fastest train; its citizens think of themselves as belonging to a separate Texan state. And since Amarillo is the center of the largest expanse of open prairie in the United States, at an altitude of 3,700 feet, its weather is notorious. There is a famous anecdote to the point; a German settler said, “De vedder out here I do not like. De rain vas all vind, and de vind vas all sand.” It is brilliantly suggestive that Gene Howe usually starts his column in the Amarillo Globe with some such remark as “The weather—beastly!” Yet it may be a gloriously sunny day. What Mr. Howe means is that Amarillo needs moisture, and from the local point of view the weather is terrible unless it rains.

The region around Amarillo produces several natural wonders. In Deaf Smith County the water, heavily loaded with lime and phosphate, is supposed to cure bad teeth, and the tale goes that if you “drink a little, the lime will first build up under your fillings, then pinch them out.”

The economy of Amarillo and the Panhandle is built on oil and natural gas, cattle, and wheat. Here was the country of Colonel Charles Goodnight, who built the first wire fences and who gave his name to one of the most famous of the longhorn trails, and of ranches like the XIT, which is, or was, Scottish owned and which once comprised not less than 3,050,000 acres, and was the largest property of its kind in North America, and the Matador, another monster owned by Scots. The cattlemen gave Amarillo much of the quality for which it is still famous; they would come to town after six months on a ranch, loaded with money and empty of everything else, and a lot of fireworks would result. I heard one story of a lady, the mother of three children, who alternated with her husband on these six-month visits, since someone had to stay home and watch the children; the lady’s exploits with alcohol and otherwise far outshone anything a mere man ever did. Sometimes an oil gusher would be discovered right in the middle of a ranch; so, overnight, the rancher would become fantastically, inordinately rich. The complex phenomenon known as Amarillo society carries traces of this to this day. Multimillionaires learned table manners first, how to read second.

The story of natural gas is a story in itself; one of the standard Texas boasts is that it wastes more natural gas per day than the whole rest of the world produces. The Panhandle field is the world’s largest, with reserves estimated at 25 trillion cubic feet; the annual production is almost two trillion cubic feet (of which about half is wasted); kitchen ranges burn it in a thousand towns all over the country. Natural gas has produced its own mythology, its own techniques, its own greatest expert, Professor Eugene P. Schoch of the University of Texas; some of it in the Panhandle is so rich that “you can squeeze the gasoline out of it.” There are hundreds of individual owners and operators; the biggest is the Phillips Petroleum Company of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the head of which was once a barber in Iowa.

Near Amarillo is the only important helium deposit in the United States; this is a government monopoly, and plays no role in the life of the town. Amarillo is also a great center for carbon black; this, the soot from burning gas, is used in processing rubber, and is “foreign” owned, in large part by Boston interests.

Amarillo’s most conspicuous citizen is probably Gene Howe (“Panhandle Puck”), a conservative and individualistic editor whose column, “The Tactless Texan,” is widely read in the area. Also he is a considerable factor in the political life of the town, though his policy is to play down local politics.17 He was a leading Texas Regular. Howe is the son of the Kansas philosopher E. W. Howe, famous for his “Ventures in Common Sense.” Another local worthy is Cal Farley, a professional wrestler and baseball player from Minnesota, who became one of the biggest tire distributors in the country, and who founded as a hobby the Boys’ Ranch at Tascosa, a home for urban incorrigibles.

Beyond all this is the factor of the Dust Bowl that was, and that may someday be again. Everybody knows the legendary anecdote of the farmer who, arranging with a banker to inspect his farm and thus get a loan, saw the farm blow past the bank. And Gene Howe told me that in April, 1935, there were twenty-seven days out of thirty when, at noon, he could not see across the street.

Amarillo is, however, not the actual center of the Dust Bowl; that lies about fifty miles north, beginning at Dumas and stretching up into the Oklahoma strip. But Amarillo suffered too. The great drought began in 1935, which was the worst year, and lasted for seven years. Normally the rainfall is about twenty-one inches; from 1935 to 1942, it averaged less than ten, and moreover when the rain did come, it came too heavily, in drenching spurts, and washed away what little soil had not already been destroyed. On roads north of Amarillo you may still see drifts of dust along the highways, covering the fences; there are still houses totally dusted under. The region has always had sand storms but this was something else; it was black dust, the top soil of whole farms. The earth was exposed down to the hardpan, and in some cases no soil was left at all; the farms in the worst-hit areas have long since been abandoned. The soil that blew away fell, as we know, on Tennessee, on Vermont, on North Carolina, and even far out into the Atlantic.

The question naturally arises what Texas—and the nation as a whole——is doing to forefend repetition of this disaster. The Department of Agriculture and its soil conservation experts have set to work with the co-operation of Texas authorities; they have done well—so well that part of the area has been literally reconstructed. The great fundamental reasons behind the Dust Bowl were first that the land had been overgrazed, second that too much prairie had been plowed up for wheat. So, in general, restorative and preventive measures took three forms:

(1) Shelter belts, that is, trees like apricot, Russian olive, Chinese elm, that can survive the rigorous local conditions, have been planted by the hundred thousand since 1937-38. The United States government furnishes the trees free, and pays part of the labor costs. (2) Such cover crops as maize, soy beans, and sweet clover were planted, to hold the earth down, and get some root and fiber back into the soil. Also contour farming and terracing are being taught, and every effort made to persuade stockmen to pasture their herds lightly. (3) A series of “water controls” and “damming draws” is being built up.

Finally, a word on agriculture in general in this part of Texas. There is no tenant farming as in the South, no sharecropping; around Amarillo everybody owns either his ranch or his equipment, though plenty of big ranchers hire labor; normally a hand will get $125 per month plus a house, a cow, and chickens. To support a family in the Panhandle, a man needs three-quarters of a section, i.e. 480 acres. Most farms are much bigger, running from 640 up. And the “mechanized migrants” play more and more of a role, the tractor teams and fleets of itinerant combines, which we have already noted in Montana and the Northwest, and which move with the harvest across the country month by month.

So much by way of introduction. Let us turn now to the world of Texas politics.

1 This decline was, however, almost certainly a temporary wartime phenomenon.

2 See The Brimstone Game, by Professor R. H. Montgomery, PP. 65-66. Sulphur in Texas, which is largely controlled by the Mellons, is one of the richest and most effective monopolies in the world; the state produces about 85 per cent of the world's supply. It was Professor Montgomery incidentally who first used the phrase, "Texas is a colony of Manhattan.

3 See I Give You Texas and Tall Talk from Texas, both by Boyce House and published by the Naylor Company, San Antonio. Some of the stories below are taken from these volumes, by permission. See also a lively book Texas, A World in Itself, by George Sessions Perry, which contains many admirable jokes and tall tales as well as much serious material.

4 A friend in Amarillo told me, “People in Houston think we’re foreigners. And when I go to Houston, I think so too!”

5 The remarkable thing about this Homeric catalogue is that some of the details are factually quite correct.

6 Life, April 10, 1939. Another source for Texas facts and figures is a superb article in Fortune, December, 1939. See also Time, June 8, 1936.

7 But another great spinach center, Crystal City, has gone to the length of irecting a statue to Popeye on its main street.

8 Most of these and other similar facts and figures are neatly summarized in a gay pamphlet called Texas Brags by John Randolph, Houston, 1944.

9 A major point in the reply was that Texas had contributed 172 “native” generals and 11 admirals to World War II; among the generals were Kreuger, Simpson, Chennault, Truscott, Eaker.

10 Call it seven if you include the green flag of that romantic insurrectionary Augustus Magee and his “Republican Army of the North” which invaded Texas in 1813.

11 See Texas, A Guide to the Lone Star State, in the American Guide Series.

12 People told me that Houston “is the only town in the West that is still a southern town,” but I saw rather little evidence of this. Except for its frontier élan it might well be in Illinois.

13 It is equally hard for non-Texans to realize that Beaumont, near Houston, is the seventh American port, outranking Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. And both Port Arthur and Texas City are bigger ports (eighth and eleventh in the country respectively) than Newport News, Portland, or Seattle. The town of Corpus Christi (seventeenth) is a kind of small and growing Houston. This has to do with ocean ports. The biggest Great Lakes port (and second only to New York in overall rank) is as we know Duluth, Minnesota.

14 But when part of this chapter appeared in magazine form I got indignant letters—chiefly from GI’s—protesting bitterly that San Antonio, far from being “romantic”, was a “steaming, stinking, dirty hole” and worse. Also I had several letters asking why I had not mentioned that it contains a superlative hotel; I take pleasure in agreeing that the Hotel Saint Anthony is indeed one of the most delightful in the United States.

15 Mexican theaters as a rule run one Mexican or Spanish feature, one American film with Spanish titles, and two complete sets of newsreels. Most have doublesize “love seats,” which are explained away to northern tourists as places for a plump lady and her children. Of course such theaters exist elsewhere than in San Antonio; the most conspicuous movie in downtown Houston runs Mexican films.

16 In April, 194S, the president of the Permanent Commission of the Mexican Congress and another deputy were refused luncheon at a restaurant in Pecos, Texas.

17 As a matter of fact Amarillo is not much interested in politics per se. The town is well run by a city manager, and it is quite a job to persuade anybody to be a candidate for mayor.

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