6
The Texas Mystique

The Texas mystique—paternalistic, chauvinistic, wealthy, aggressive, friendly, exploitative, prejudiced, independent, optimistic, enterprising, boisterous, masculine. All of these adjectives belong more or less in modern Texas history. They are the descriptive words of a myth—widely believed, casually followed, occasionally helpful, and painfully misleading. The mystique led a rancher in Scurry County to shoot out the lights of a drilling rig and a Vice President of the United States to profane the Taj Mahal, a burial chamber, with a Texas yell.

The image of the Texan was broadcast to the nation with the opening of the Shamrock Hotel on St. Patrick’s Day, 1949. Glenn McCarthy, wildcat oil millionaire and land speculator, built this prosaic, eighteen-story hotel in Houston and decorated the interior with sixty-three shades of green. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, when he witnessed it, said, “I always wondered what the inside of a jukebox looked like.” But it opened with 175 movie stars, 50,000 people, and the Dorothy Lamour radio show.

The crowd was so dense that it took thirty minutes to move through the lobby. Jesse Jones got stuck in the entrance, and Mayor Oscar Holcombe had to wait outside for two hours. The radio actors had to shout their lines over the noise, unidentified people cut into the broadcast, and members of the audience grabbed the microphone to hoot into it. NBC cut off the broadcast, and the star of the show went to her room to weep. This scene provided a model for Edna Ferber’s epic of modern Texas, Giant (1952).

The rest of the world has come to expect such behavior of Texans, and the state’s literary tradition has supported and, to an extent, created the mystique. At the center of the tradition were three writers from the University of Texas—J. Frank Dobie (1888–1964), a folklorist; Walter Prescott Webb (1888— 1963), a historian; and Roy Bedichek (1878–1959), a naturalist. They lived and worked together in Austin for thirty years after World War I and were close friends. Once a month they met at

TEXANS, WE ARE
AMERICANS. AMERI-
CANS, WE ARE HUMAN
BEINGS. THAT IS THE
REAL TRANSITION, AND
SHOULD BE. BUT THIS IS
HARD, I THINK, FOR US
TO ACCEPT AND MUCH
HARDER TO ENJOY,
BECAUSE THE ESSENCE
OF OUR IDEA OF SELF, OF
TEXAS AS A CULTURE,
IS INDEPENDENCE. FOR
THIS KEY SELF-IDEA OF
OURS, THE MEANING OF
INTERDEPENDENCE IS
PENETRATION. OR, TO
BE EXACT, OUR BEING
PENETRATED—
PENETRATED BY
NATIONAL COMMERCE,
PENETRATED BY NEWS
WE DON’T WANT TO
BE, MUCH LESS READ
ABOUT. PENETRATED
BY FOREIGN PEOPLE’S
PROBLEMS, PENETRATED
BY FEAR OF ENEMY
MISSILES THAT CAN
PENETRATE US AND
EXPLODE US.

Ronnie Dugger, Texas in
Transition Conference,
Austin, 1986

-149-

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Texas, a Modern History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Maps vi
  • Preface vii
  • 1- Land and Nature 1
  • 2- The Spanish Legacy 23
  • 3- Texas and the United States 47
  • 4- Settlement 79
  • 5- Texas in Transit 118
  • 6- The Texas Mystique 149
  • 7- [God Bless Texas] 188
  • 8- Afterword Books and Themes 216
  • Appendix I Presidents and Governors of Texas 219
  • Appendix II Counties of Texas 220
  • References 223
  • Index 231
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