Texas State History

Texas State collage of images.

Select a topic
General State History
Historic Figures

General Texas State History

About 10,000 B.C., the first Indians arrived in Texas. These ancient peoples are called Paleo-Indians. They hunted mammoths and giant bison and other animals that later became extinct.

During this period Indians painted beautiful murals depicting human scenes and religious ceremonies on cave walls in dry areas of West Texas.

The years from A.D. 500 to A.D. 1500 are called the Late Prehistoric Period. Agricultural Indians domesticated some of our principal crops, including cotton, corn, beans, squash, tomatoes and potatoes. Burial and temple mounds of these early farmers can be found in the piney woods of East Texas.

In 1519, the Spanish explorer Pineda made a map of the Texas coast. This event marked the beginning of Spain's rule in Texas.

Nine years later, in 1528, Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked near Galveston. His small band met many Indian tribes while wandering through the Texas area, but he finally came to a Spanish settlement. He made his way to Mexico City with tales of the fabled "Seven Cities of Gold."

In the early 1540s, the explorer Coronado, in an attempt to find the seven cities, trekked through present New Mexico, West Texas and as far north as Kansas. Though he found no cities of gold, he strengthened Spain's claim on Texas. Today, an archeological site linked to Coronado is being studied by a team of archeologists in the Texas Panhandle.

Corpus Christi de la Isleta, established near El Paso in 1682, was the first Spanish mission and pueblo in Texas.

The French claim on Texas rests on La Salle's visit in 1685. He established Fort St. Louis in the Matagorda Bay area. Two years later, he was killed by his own men. By 1690, Indians and disease had destroyed the small French force. In 1995, a team of Texas Historical Commission archeologists discovered the Belle, one of La Salle's frigates, in the murky waters of Matagorda Bay. In 1996, the exact location of Fort St. Louis was pinpointed near Victoria. These discoveries represent two of the most important archeological finds in recent history, and promise to provide many answers to questions about this period in history.

Alarmed by the French presence in Texas and the French settlements in the Louisiana area, the Spaniards established in 1690 Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, the first East Texas mission.

In 1718, with the establishment of Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), the city of San Antonio was founded.

In 1821, the year Mexico gained independence from Spain, Stephen F. Austin received permission from the Mexican government to settle a colony of 300 families, now known as the "Old Three Hundred," in southeast Texas. Although Anglo Americans were already living in Texas at the time, Austin's settlement was the official beginning of Anglo American colonization in Texas. By 1836, 35,000 to 50,000 people had settled in Texas.

Early in 1835, Stephen F. Austin announced that he was convinced that war with Mexico was necessary to secure freedom. Growing tension in Texas was the result of cultural, political and religious differences between the Anglo Americans and the Mexican government. In response to the unrest, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the president of Mexico, reinforced Mexican troops in Texas. A battle fought at Gonzales on Oct. 2, 1835, in which the Mexican forces were thwarted in their efforts to retrieve a cannon, gave rise to the famous flag bearing the words "Come and Take It." Though there were earlier minor skirmishes, the Battle of Gonzales is generally considered to be the first battle for Texas' independence.

The Battle of the Alamo, lasting nearly two weeks, ended on March 6, 1836, with the deaths of all its defenders (numbering about 190). The Mexican army of Santa Anna numbered 4,000 to 5,000 during its final charge. Among those killed were David Crockett, Jim Bowie and William B. Travis. A subsequent massacre of Texans who had surrendered at Goliad on March 27 led to the battle cry of Texas' independence, "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!"

The Texas Declaration of Independence was enacted at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 2, 1836. The Battle of San Jacinto was fought on April 21, 1836, near the present city of Houston. Santa Anna's entire force of 1,600 men was killed or captured by Gen. Sam Houston's army of 800 Texans; only nine Texans died. This decisive battle resulted in Texas' independence from Mexico.

Sam Houston, a native of Virginia, was president of the Republic of Texas for two separate terms, 1836-1838 and 1841-1844. He also was governor of the state of Texas from 1859 to 1861.

Jose Antonio Navarro, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and one of the framers of the Constitution of the Republic, was a Texas native, born in San Antonio in 1795. He also served in the Republic of Texas Congress and the Constitutional Convention in 1845. Navarro County was named in his honor.

The first Congress of the Republic of Texas convened October 1836 at Columbia (now West Columbia).

Stephen F. Austin, known as the "Father of Texas," died Dec. 27, 1836, after serving two months as secretary of state for the new Republic.

In 1836, five sites served as temporary capitals of Texas (Washington-on-the-Brazos, Harrisburg, Galveston, Velasco and Columbia) before Sam Houston moved the capital to Houston in 1837. In 1839, the capital was moved to the new town of Austin.

Texas was annexed to the United States as the 28th state on Dec. 29, 1845. Texas seceded from the United States and joined the Confederate States of America on Jan. 28, 1861. Texas officially was readmitted to the Union on March 30, 1870, following the period of Reconstruction. The present Texas Constitution was ratified on Feb. 15, 1876.

In 1936, Texas celebrated its centennial. Historical markers, placed by the Centennial Commission, later were the basis for the historical marker program of the Texas Historical Commission.

On Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated during a motorcade through downtown Dallas. Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas was sworn in as president aboard the presidential airplane at Dallas' Love Field airport that same day.
Texas Historic Figures

Steven Fuller Austin
1793-1836: He grew up in Missouri, studied at Transylvania Univ. in Kentucky, served (1814-20) in the Missouri territorial legislature, and was studying law in New Orleans when his father died. Stephen took up the plans to colonize Texas and on a journey there (1821) selected the area between the Brazos and Colorado rivers. In January, 1822, he planted the first legal settlement of Anglo-Americans in Texas. He later went to Mexico City to have his grant cleared and confirmed by the newly independent Mexican government. Austin's settlements, with the towns of San Felipe de Austin and Brazoria, prospered. Other American colonists poured in. As friction developed over the years with the Mexican government, Austin opposed illegal efforts at Texan independence. He was sent in 1833 to Mexico City to present the settlers' grievances, to ask that Texas be separated from Coahuila, and to get the Mexican immigration law modified. He was accused of treason and imprisoned. On his return to Texas in 1835 he opposed the government of Santa Anna and so forwarded the Texas Revolution. He was sent as one of the commissioners (1835-36) of the provisional government to obtain aid in the United States, was defeated (1836) by Samuel Houston for the presidency of Texas, and served briefly until his death as secretary of state.


Dwight David Eisenhower
1890-1969: Thirty-fourth U.S. president; born in Denison, Texas. After graduating from West Point in 1915, he undertook further military studies and became a fast-rising staff officer in Washington, D.C.; from 1935--39 he was an assistant to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines. As World War II progressed, he continued to rise in rank and responsibilities and was assigned to command the allied forces during their invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy (1942--43). His talent for both strategic planning and staff coordination led him (December 1943) to be named supreme commander of the allied invasion of Normandy and he directed the campaign from D-Day (June 6, 1944) to the surrender of Germany (May 1945). After commanding the U.S. occupation forces in Germany, he returned to the U.S.A. to serve as army chief of staff (1946--48) before retiring from active duty. He served as president of Columbia University (1948--50) and head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1951--52) before the Republicans drafted him as their presidential candidate in 1952; under the motto "I like Ike," he won by a landslide over Adlai Stevenson and did the same in 1956. His record as president was mixed, but in the years following, his low-profile approach came to seem more attractive. He established a truce in the floundering Korean War in 1953, but still maintained American presence as the main bar to communist expansionism; with the "Eisenhower doctrine" he promised aid to Middle Eastern nations resisting communism; in 1956 he sent troops to restore order in racially troubled Little Rock, Ark. At the same time, he did little to restrain the Cold War machinations of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles or the red-scare.


Lyndon B. Johnson
1908-73: Thirty-sixth U.S. president; born near Stonewall, Texas. Son of schoolteachers, he taught school briefly after graduating from Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now Southwest Texas State University) (1930), then gravitated to Democratic politics. After serving as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administrator of the National Youth Administration in Texas, he went on to the U.S. House of Representatives (1937--49) and was quickly marked by his strong support of New Deal programs. A member of the Naval Reserve, he enlisted for active duty within hours after Pearl Harbor--the first Congressman to do so; he served in the Pacific until President Roosevelt ordered all Congressmen back to their elective office in July 1942. He won a narrow race for the U.S. Senate (1948) and served two terms (1949--61). As Democratic whip and then majority leader (1955--61)--and as the consummate arm-twisting deal-maker--he helped pass some of the most progressive social legislation of the century, including the civil rights acts of 1957 and 1960. Elected John F. Kennedy's vice-president in 1960, he became president on Kennedy's assassination in November 1963; in 1964 he was returned to office by a landslide. He proclaimed a "Great Society" program to fight poverty and racism, achieving passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965), plus a slate of social-welfare programs including Medicare. At the same time, he led the U.S.A. into an increasingly bloody and unpopular war in Vietnam. Declining support from his own high-level appointees and increasing divisiveness around the country led to his decision not to run in 1968. He retired to his Texas ranch and to writing his memoirs. Larger than life in his public behavior but more than vulgar in his private speech, sensitive to the plight of many less-fortunate Americans but insecure in his dealings with the Eastern Democratic Establishment, he ended as something of a tragic figure because of his overreaching ways.


Chester Nimitz
1885-1966: Naval officer; born in Fredericksburg, Texas. He supervised the construction of the navy's first diesel ship engine (1913--16). He was chief of staff to the commander of the Atlantic fleet submarine division in World War I. He was chief of the Bureau of Navigation (1939--41) and became commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet after Pearl Harbor (1941). In 1942 he was named commander of all land, sea, and air forces in the Pacific. He refused to attack until U.S. forces were fully ready, in spite of pressure from Congress and the newspapers. He developed much of the strategy of "island hopping" while leading the fleet to many victories. He signed for the U.S.A. at the Japanese surrender ceremonies, which took place aboard his flagship, the USS Missouri, in 1945. He served as chief of naval operations after the war (1945-47).


Audie Murphy
1924-71: Soldier, actor; born near Kingston, Texas. The most decorated American soldier of World War II, he won the Congressional Medal of Honor during the fighting in the Colmar Pocket, Germany, in 1945. He appeared in the war adventure films Beyond Glory (1948) and To Hell and Back (1948).