What Makes Texans Tick

Texas seemed mysterious and faraway when Eric Anderson, MD, lived in Scotland. However, after living amongst Texans, socializing with them and treating their problems, he thinks he's found what makes Texans tick - what's important to them.

All photographs by author

In 1958, 18 months after graduating from med school in Edinburgh, Scotland, I was a country doctor in Groveton, Texas. It was the most exhilarating and terrifying time of my life. It’s a long story and not really relevant to this article (although my first book Coming To Texas gives an account of those years), but two of my three children were born in Lufkin, Texas and we all lived happily there for four years. Even when my son was a college freshman at the University of New Hampshire, when coeds asked him, “Where you from?” he’d proudly drawl, “Ah’m from T-e-e-e-xus!”

From living amongst Texans, socializing with them and treating their problems I think I’ve found what makes Texans tick — what’s important to them.

Size

Our neighbors, Jimmie and Ethel Reese, made a point of easing us from a busy European city to a laid-back, slow-spoken rural community, and Jimmie took infinite pains to verify that my, now-late wife Margaret, and later our children knew all about this state we were lucky enough to live in.

As I remember it one of the first things Jimmie told us — at a time before Alaska joined the United States — was the size of Texas, the biggest state in the USA.

“Texas is so big,“ he told us, “You could put all the people in the world in Texas and every man, woman and child would have a piece of land one hundred yards by two hundred -- and there would still be enough land left around the perimeter of Texas for the armies of the world to march round our border in lines, 18 men across!”

I tried to do the math in my head but it was hopeless. Wow! I thought, we have a lot to learn!

And I really learned a lot about this larger-than-life place, and this is my homage, my paean to it.

War of Independence

Top image: the Alamo, San Antonio. Bottom picture: Santa Anna’s silver urinal, captured at the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto. Author’s photograph shot at the Bullock Texas State History museum, Austin, item on display courtesy Sam Houston Memorial Museum, Huntsville, Texas. Most urine pots in the old days were made of clay but the urinal of the elegant Santa Anna was made of silver.

History for Texas includes more than the Alamo, of course, but when it was overrun by Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and he executed its defenders his ultimate defeat was certain. The independence Texas tore from Mexico began at San Jacinto.

Pioneer days

Austin, Texas. The State Capitol, completed in 1888, reminds visitors Texas is the Lone Star State. The Renaissance Revival style based on the magnificent architecture of 15th century Italy suggests even then Texas felt it had a claim to greatness. Bottom image: detail of panel second left in top picture.

Despite Austin’s historical position as the state capital it shows more interest in the future than in the past. It is a city bursting with energy for yuppies, a place for successful young people, a home to the computer generation; in fact it has been called the Silicon Valley of Texas.

Austin, Texas. Capitol Rotunda, its space matched by the overhead dome

The Capitol is always busy — admission is free and it has an excellent cafeteria. Many of the visitors are Hispanic. They have forgiven the Texans for taking what was once thought to be their land.

War on lawlessness

The size of Texas and the remoteness of the communities showed the need to have the land surveyed — even as the Comanches were carrying out raids claiming the land.

A horse at the most could handle only 30 miles in a day. Furthermore, the vast expanses were many days from the arm of the law which required the fast formation of a special force: the Texas Rangers. Created in 1823 they are the oldest law enforcement force in the United States.

Waco, Texas. Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. Herman Walker’s statue of two Rangers mesmerizing two small boys with their “Saturday Matinee and There We Was,” 1982. The Ranger badges were originally self made, usually from a Mexican silver five Peso piece.

Cowboys

When farmers returned from the Civil War they found the men who had been made temporary Texas Rangers had not been able to prevent crime from creeping back into their land nor had those left behind been able to keep the herds of cattle thinned.

The milling herds of Longhorn cattle, especially in the southern part of Texas, were an obvious source of income if they could be brought north to where the people and the developing railroads were. So began the Chisholm Trail.

“More than six million cattle were herded out of Texas in one of the greatest migrations of animals ever known,” according to the Texas Historical Commission.

Fort Worth, Texas. Amon Carter Museum of American Art. “A Dash for the Timber:” Frederic Remington 1889. Bottom image: Fort Worth, Sundance Square Chisholm Trail mural: Richard Haas painted this three-story trompe l’oeil in 1988.

The cattle drives rolled into Abilene and Dodge City, Kansas; and although cowboys were found all over the West, no cowboy swaggered quite like a Texan cowboy.

Top Irving, Texas: The Mustangs of Las Colinas equestrian sculptures. Robert Glen. 1984. Bottom image Waco, Texas. Waco’s on-going Chisholm Trail Heritage Sculpture. Robert Temple Summers II.

The Texas cowboy could swagger even on horseback. To ride a horse was as natural for him as eating chow. He and the horse were as one.

“We spoke the same language!” an old-timer told me.

Horses: man’s best friends

Maybe familiarity with horses gives Texans their confidence, although it does seem to come naturally for them. Some of the performers at the Heart O'Texas Fair and Rodeo in Waco, Texas, started as really young children.

Top Images Waco Heart O’ Texas Rodeo. Lower images Fort Worth stockyards.

You get plenty of chances to shoot Texans at its annual rodeo in Waco but you have to be quick on the draw as a photographer in Fort Worth — and have a smile ready.

I came out of a van labeled “Visitors” as two young women walked towards me. I wanted something to fill in the empty space below the Stock Yards sign and asked if they’d pose. They immediately agreed and one even flashed her skirt to add pizzazz!

I asked a guy standing beside a longhorn if he’d stand closer to the steer’s face and he said, “How’s this?” and jumped on its back!

Texans, don’t you just love ’em?

History

Strangely, in busy, busy Austin, the capital and home of several museums, the locals didn’t seem as interested in their state’s history as we had expected.

We thought the soul of Texas might be in the 1886 Driskill Hotel, the one-time home of a cattle baron and now a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America. However, none of the people in the downtown Austin streets — enjoying a music festival — seemed to know where it was located. We found it but the hotel was busy and we couldn’t meet any employee who knew enough about it to show its charms.

Austin, Texas. Driskill Hotel. Old World glamour. How many hotels do you know with firearms as decoration?

Larger than life politicians

Surprisingly of all our presidents, only two were born in Texas — Lyndon B. Johnson in Stonewall, Gillespie County, and, even more surprising, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was born in Denison, Grayson County (then moved to Kansas as a baby).

Austin, Texas. Texans don’t hide their heritage. Those are the boots LBJ wore in the White House. He won the Silver Star in combat in World War II. His Lincoln Continental was — like LBJ — big, bold and brassy.

Texas seemed mysterious and faraway when I lived in Scotland. I hope it loses those characteristics. One of my grandchildren and her husband now live in Austin, Texas, and two more of my four grandchildren say they are going to move there!

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.