Lone Star

A History Of Texas And The Texans


By T. R. Fehrenbach

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An insider’s history of Texas that examines the people, politics, and events which have shaped the Lone Star State, from prehistory to the modern day

Here is an up-to-the-moment history of the Lone Star State, together with an insider’s look at the people, politics, and events that have shaped Texas from the beginning right up to our days. Never before has the story been told with more vitality and immediacy. Fehrenbach re-creates the Texas saga from prehistory to the Spanish and French invasions to the heyday of the cotton and cattle empires. He dramatically describes the emergence of Texas as a republic, the vote for secession before the Civil War, and the state’s readmission to the Union after the War. In the twentieth century oil would emerge as an important economic resource and social change would come. But Texas would remain unmistakably Texas, because Texans “have been made different by the crucible of history; they think and act in different ways, according to the history that shaped their hearts and minds.”


Lone Star

A History Of Texas And The Texans

T. R. Fehrenbach



To the memory of my maternal grandfather,

Charles Columbus Wentz:

Born in the worst era of this nation’s past,

named for a Negro slave; cotton grower,

cattleman, and latter-day empresario;

he had always courage.



Foreword to the 2000 Edition


Techniques change daily, social mores over decades, but the basic nature of societies changes more slowly, if at all. Change in Texas over the past thirty years has been neither as rapid nor as profound as many predicted (and some would have preferred) in the 1960s. The reasons are logical: The Texan mystique was created by the chemistry of the frontier in the crucible of history and forged into an enduring state of heart and mind. This may not be an entirely rational state, but then there is not much rationality attached to ethnic identity whether Texan, French, or Israeli. Meanwhile, Texas, through the last half of the 20th century, has suffered little “history.” There has been enormous growth and a splendid record of economic development, which are not the same thing. This economic infrastructure may endure or crumble, but it will not spawn the trials, myths, and legends that explain the Creation.

This is why so little “good” historical explanation has been written of the 20th century—and why 19th-century Texas, from the Alamo to trail drives to Spindletop, will still fascinate Texans in future centuries. Records of economic development do not lend themselves to heart-stirring narratives, and history, after all, is not mere facts and figures but the telling of the human story.

As a construct, history is too often revised to match contemporary views. It has been said that each generation must rewrite history in order to understand it. The opposite is true. Moderns revise history to make it palatable, not to understand it. Those who edit “history” to popular taste each decade will never understand the past—neither the horrors nor glories of which the human race is equally capable—and for that reason, they will fail to understand themselves. The 1968 Lone Star was in some ways highly original; it was more a panorama of perceptions than a book of facts and figures. At each stage of history, the narrative was largely drawn from contemporary sources. I have seen no reason to change this, which makes the current edition an update, not a revision, from the ephemeral perspectives of the nineties.


T. R. Fehrenbach

September 1998




Foreword to the 1968 Edition


THIS book was put together from an enormous total of scattered and sometimes conflicting sources: general histories published in the United States and abroad; documents, manuscripts, and archives in English, Spanish, German, and French; historical and scientific quarterlies; private journals, family records, and letters; 19th-century newspapers and official papers of several governments. I have also drawn on specialized works on subjects ranging from anthropology to zoology and from geology to firearms. I have generally followed published works; notation of any unpublished source is made in the text. Because this is a general work, I have not interrupted the flow with irritating footnotes.

A tremendous amount of Texas historical material exists. There are county, city, and regional histories besides the general histories and the usual documents; there are biographies of almost every prominent Texan in every field, as well as histories of most industries, including the major oil companies, railroads, and cattle ranches. If every waterhole has its history, most have their mention in print. All this varied writing contains bits of exciting information and occasional gems of insight, but it tends to be drowned in detail, littered with trivia, and constricted in perspective. Texans have continually tried to capture the imperial vision that created the broad plantations, giant oil corporations, and baronial cattle spreads, as well as the hundreds of thousands of frontier farms. But the state is so wide and varied, and so rich in ceaseless action, that the student trying to grasp the “feel” and meaning of Texas’s place in American history is often baffled. Modern general histories are few. Lone Star was written in an attempt to fill this void and correlate the whole.

Despite a profusion of source material, much vagueness surrounds large areas. The men who entered Texas were overwhelmingly doers, not writers or observers. Those who did write usually wrote long after the fact and were often extremely parochial in viewpoint. Therefore, the historian has to tread carefully between different versions; it is impossible to state dogmatically which flag, if any, flew over the Alamo or behind Houston’s horse, Saracen, at San Jacinto. Differences exist not only between Texan and Mexican accounts, as would be expected, but also between Texan and Texan. For example, all of the principal figures at the Battle of San Jacinto were at odds with each other before the battle, and most became political enemies following it. Even such immense and literate journals as that of the lawyer-doctor-ranger John S. Ford, written in his old age, tend to be self-serving and must be suspect. Nor is modern scholarship immune. The question of whether the earliest inhabitants of Texas were Amerinds, or of non-Mongoloid stock, is still controversial.

Another problem facing every Texan historian contemplating a Texan readership is that all nations have their national myths, and Texas became enough of a nation within a nation to formulate its own. Many of Texas’s legends, historically unproven and even historically insupportable, are fondly held and fiercely defended. This is not unique to Texas. The American nation has its own mythology.



This book was not written to destroy myths but so far as possible to cut through them to the reality underneath. I have not written from a present-minded or problem-oriented viewpoint, but to put things in broad perspective. The history of Texas, in perspective, lies at the core of the history of fully one-quarter of the United States. It can neither be repudiated nor ignored.

As Walter Prescott Webb wrote, “The historian whose work is to stand the test must deal with facts as if they were remote, with people as if they were no longer living, with conditions as they are or were and not as they should have been.” I am a Texan, but I have deliberately tried to write about Texans in this book as if they were Frenchmen or Chinese.

For those Americans who may be appalled at the thought that so much American destiny was wrought by the flash of flintlocks and the nation in its present form built over the bones of countless Amerinds, Mexicans, and Confederates, I might add that Texans, first and last, have always been Americans, too.


T. R. F.




Old now is earth, and none may count her days.

Earth might be fair, and all men glad and wise.

Age after age, their tragic empires rise,

Built while they dream, and in that dreaming weep:

Would man but wake from out his haunted sleep,

Earth might be fair, and all men glad and wise.






Part I





Chapter 1




I live, but I shall not live forever.

Mysterious Moon, you only remain,

Powerful Sun, you alone remain,

Wonderful Earth, only you live forever.





IN the beginning, before any people, was the land: an immense region 265,000 square miles in area rising out of the warm muck of the green Gulf of Mexico, running for countless leagues of rich coastal prairies, forests, and savannahs; reaching out hugely 770 miles from boundary to boundary south to north and east to west, to enclose a series of magnificent, rising limestone plateaus, ending in the thin, hot air of blue-shadowed mountains. Geologically, this was a New Land, thrusting westward from the sea across three major geophysical provinces of North America, the Atlantic-Gulf coastal plain, the Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountain system. Therefore, it was a land of sudden and dramatic change.

No human beings were native to the New World; every race of men entered as invaders. The date of the first intrusion is not known. But it came tens of thousands of years before the dawn of recorded history, during the last great Ice Age. Immense glaciers covered the Northern Hemisphere, and because the earth’s water supply is constant, the oceans shrank. A land-bridge rose out of the northern seas to connect Asia and Alaska, and the first men to see America almost certainly crossed this narrow strip.

They were not Indians. Another and very different race first took possession of Texas soil.

This race passed down the few unglaciated valleys of the north, seeking the sun, and the grass and game that followed the sun. These early men reached both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, but their true home was the High Plains. They left their greatest concentrations of relics and fire sites high on the limestone plateaus of Texas, and here the oldest remains of man in the New World were found. Modern radiocarbon tests proved charred wood from one such campsite to be beyond the dating range of the carbon-14 technique—and this process can search back 37,000 years. Man in Texas was not, as scientists once believed, a late arrival. Fluorine analysis of ancient human bones found in Texas limestone showed that these were contemporary with the bones of the ages-extinct Pleistocene horse, uncovered beside them. Archeologists, who once firmly thought that Indians were the first proprietors of North America, grudgingly named these original Texans Paleo-Americans, or simply, Old Americans.

They were biologically true men—the half-men, such as the European Neanderthal, had died out long before they left the Old World. They were not Mongoloid. The skulls they left behind are longheaded, more longheaded than any race of modern men. They had massive teeth, and their leg bones were flat and curved. They were more unlike American Indians than white men are different from Chinese, and they may have been a Caucasoid race that roamed east out of Central Asia in the human dawn.

The Old Americans entered Texas with hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution and social development behind them. They were erect, gregarious, symbol-and-weapon-using, and therefore intelligent. They had fire, wore fur and skin garments, and made tools of flint and bone. They chipped beautiful stone spearheads, thousands of which they left behind. They were mentally and physically equipped to conquer new worlds.

Like all Pleistocene or Ice Age men, they were hunters. They roamed across the High Plains, leaving their tools and bones from Clovis, New Mexico, to Abilene, Texas, and from Abilene east to the banks of the Pedernales, just above the Balcones Escarpment. Their favorite hunting ground was the Llano Estacado, the Staked Plains—the home of the ancient American elephant.

Magnificent animals lived on the high plateaus in those times: the awe-inspiring Elephas columbi or Columbian elephant, the mammoth, the mastodon, the ground sloth, and the ancient bison, a beast twice the size and probably four times the weight of the modern buffalo. The Old Americans must have been an incredibly tough, almost inhumanly courageous race; they pursued and killed all these animals with flint-tipped spears. They roasted meat in great kitchens or middens in the limestone; they flaked new flints around their fires, and they must have roared great hunting and victory songs to the Pleistocene moon. They left no “old” bones. Life was hard and incredibly dangerous; men probably rarely lived beyond eighteen or twenty years, and females not much longer.

They may have made flutes and drums, and they may have worshiped their God or gods, but nothing more of their culture has survived—with one fantastic exception. These were the great stone heads found in the bed of the oldest trace of the Trinity River, seventy feet above the present flood plain. Paleontologists consider these heads the most exotic relic unearthed in North America.

The heads, discovered among the bones of the Columbian elephant and the giant mastodon, were tooled from rock. One weighed 135 pounds, one 60, and the third an even 100. The first two massive heads are recognizably human: one frowns, one smiles. The third, and largest—weird, inhuman—can only represent some unknown force or beast.

The Old Americans wandered across the high plateaus for many thousands of years. But nature is never constant, and the world is never made. The land changed. The vast ice sheets retreated north; the rivers dug deeper into the earth, and the lakes dried. The lush land that had been Texas grew hotter, harsher. The woolly mammoth disappeared. Something happened to the elephant. Perhaps, like the ground sloth and the mastodon and small native horse, it was pushed on its way to extinction by Paleo-American spears. The Pleistocene ended, and the Pleistocene animals died. The Old Americans vanished with them.


Whether the race died out, or merely changed so much over the millennia as to be no longer recognizable, is unknown. But there were already new conquerors, new proprietors, on the land. Before the land bridge sank, other men crossed from Asia and pushed out across the Great Plains. Some went east, and some west, and some did not stop until they had climbed the Andes, thousands of miles to the south.

The new men were definitely Asian. They were Mongoloid in skin shade, hair form and color, and other ways. These were the Amerinds, or American Indians, as Europeans later named them. They called themselves, in hundreds of different tongues, merely the People, or sometimes, the Real Humans.

Like the Old Americans, the Amerinds came as hunters and gatherers. But besides their racial stock, they differed from the Paleo-Americans in many ways. The Old Americans apparently came in a single invasion, over a relatively short period of years. There were never very many of them, and they preserved a certain cultural unity; Old American spear points, for example, never varied much from place to place, or over thousands of years.

The Amerinds came in a long series of invasions, a genuine Völkerwanderung that had not completely ceased by historic times. By about 5000 b.c. these invasions were in full swing, and they continued for thousands of years. The ice was gone; instead of a few unglaciated routes, the Amerinds could choose a thousand corridors south. Some remained for long periods in the north before they left, and some never roamed at all. The Amerinds—most of whom in North America showed almost identical racial or physical characteristics, with only minor variations of height or color—became differentiated culturally. They split into linguistic stocks, and then adopted mutually unintelligible languages within each linguistic group. They made their tools and artifacts in different ways: the early Amerinds left twenty-seven different kinds of dart points on the Edwards Plateau of Texas alone.

They carried a great assortment of stone and bone tools: axes, knives, drills, pipes, scrapers, picks, and gravers. Their principal weapon was still the spear, but they had developed the atlatl, or throwing stick, to give them extra range. They came out of Asia with domesticated dogs.

Culturally varied, speaking different languages, nomadic and constantly impinging on each other, the hundreds of bands of Amerinds could only follow the oldest human logic: they made war. Each new folk wandering from the north invaded already appropriated hunting grounds, and the first wars stemmed from the most logical of reasons, the defense of territory. But a constantly roaming, constantly colliding people soon imbedded the idea and act of warfare deep in their cultural heart. All men except the Real Human Beings—kith and kin—were enemies. The fighting was not racial, but internecine, as in modern Europe; the center of society and most important member was the warrior. There was a place for women, because warriors were too occupied to work; there was a place for priests or shamans, and both the young and old, but no place at all for the weak or cowardly.

Civilized men, caught in their modern traps and pressures, have often looked longingly toward the seeming freedom, and barbaric majesty, of the Stone Age, nomadic Amerind male. Females did his bidding; he seldom soiled his hands with labor. But the division of labor, and the culture that grew up around it, was cruelly logical. The warrior had to hunt and fight. He had to kill the elusive deer, the dangerous bear, and the powerful buffalo with a flint spear, or the tribe went hungry; he had to defend his soil, and—the culture soon demanded it—carry war and raids to the enemy, for women and spoils. He had to prove his courage from the day of manhood until he died, and sometimes prove it while dying. The fiendish custom of torturing captured males—captive children were enslaved or adopted, and women were equally useful—probably originated as a courage rite. The tortured captive had to prove his courage at the stake; the tormentors had to gain moral superiority by breaking it. Significantly, whatever sadistic pleasure they got out of it, almost all Amerinds considered it an evil omen if a prisoner defied their tortures and died well.

Virtually all Amerind peoples took scalps from the bodies of their enemies, living or dead, and every warrior lucky enough to secure them wore or displayed them in various ways. These were, certainly, more positive proof of courage or success in war than the medals or decorations of more civilized man.

Amerinds spread through the forests of the eastern seaboard of North America; they poured down into Mexico and beyond, and some of them scattered across the High Plains and central plateaus of Texas. Now, the land was taking its modern form. The lushness and the great waterholes that had supported mastodon and elephant had long vanished. Across the plains the rain fell less and less, in a marked progression from east to west. The violent, harsh contrasts between timbered country in the east, savannah in the south, and endless prairie to the west appeared. The dense growths of the limestone plateaus became arid, cedar-sprinkled hills. The land lay far south, and there were rivers of palms on its southern fringe—but it was also in the center of the great North American continental landmass, where icy winds could sweep down from the Pole. Such regions are always varied, and subject to violent natural change.


Warm, moist breezes blew out of the Gulf; they moved inland over leagues of endless, bending grass until they turned hot and searing. Arctic winds at times howled off the roof of the world, roared across the High Plains and whistled over the decaying limestone formations of the central plateaus, plunging into the dry savannahs beyond. In spring, warm and cold winds met and warred, with brilliant electricity, ice rains, and dark funnels that dipped and tore the ground. Nature was always hard, and frequently at war with itself.

Over the whole land the sun burned, not the distant, friendly orb that filtered light through European forests, but a violent, brassy engine that browned the earth and made the hillsides shimmer with heat. The moon hung low and silver-cold beyond the ephemeral night clouds against a back-blaze of stars. On each successively higher prairie or plateau the land stretched out, fairly level, further than any living eye could see. There were few boundaries anywhere, and then sharp ones: where the trees ended and the land became an ocean of soughing grass; where the high mesa turned to blue-mountained, dusty desert; where the rolling, grassy, mesquite-studded savannah etched up into the flinty Balcones Scarp. The regions were wider than modern European nations; the subregions larger than Atlantic seaboard states. Over it all the wind blew, now south, now north. Endless land, and eternal wind—it made all animal life restless, long-visioned, volatile, and free.

The Amerinds who entered this harsh, changeable country may have seen no beauty in it, nor learned to love it, until a generation had been born there. The tribes who scattered through it in the Amerind Archaic Age were not notably successful. They were tough and hardy, but they were on foot. They were in open country, armed with flint knives, stone axes, and flint spears; for some thousands of years they did not have the bow and arrow. Bison dotted the plains, but even this modern buffalo, a fraction of the size of the ancient, Pleistocene bison, was a formidable beast to attack on foot, at arm’s length. More important, it was impossible for the tribes to follow the buffalo on their great migrations north and south over the arid plains. The hill country, where the ancient limestone formations frayed out above the Balcones Escarpment in spectacular scenery, supported deer and bear and smaller game. But there was not enough of this, nor sufficient easily killed animal flesh upon the grassy savannahs to the south, for Texas tribes to live off the fat of the land. There was, simply, very little fat, and the campsites of the early Amerinds have revealed mortars and pestles, seeds, and the remnants of roots among their small bones, as well as cracked human femurs. Broken and sucked human marrow bones have been discovered preserved in the ancient muck of the coastal prairies in great quantity—proof that where the Old Americans had been able to live well on mastodon and elephant meat, the aborigines who displaced them came to depend on other foods. In modern times all Texas tribes except one—the late-coming Comanches—practiced at least some form of ritual cannibalism, a grisly, ceremonial residue of a harsh past.

The land was too big, too harsh, too restless in climate for man to dominate, or even carve a stable niche for himself, with the tools the archaic Indians possessed.

This era, which paleontologists call Archaic, lasted for some thousands of years across all America. The invention of the bow, about the time of Christ, did not make life much easier, except that now birds, and more small game, were added to the Amerind diet. The great change, which ushered in the Neo-American Age, was the Agricultural Revolution. In America, as everywhere on earth, this was the greatest social and economic revolution mankind ever experienced, beside which the Industrial Revolution was a mere change of phase.


Several thousand years before Christ lived—certainly long before 2500 b.c., for radiocarbon-dated seeds have been discovered in New Mexico as of that date—the Amerinds of Middle or South America discovered how to domesticate maize, or Indian corn. Just as all mammalian life is dependent, in the final analysis, upon water and grass, all human civilization is based on the controlled growth of some cereal grain, whether rice, or wheat, or corn. No civilization could exist without cities—the words are synonymous—and no stable populations could live without a dependable food supply. When the Amerinds of Middle America learned how to grow corn, and along with this development to domesticate a few animals, the basis for a genuine American civilization was firmly laid.

True city-based civilizations began to rise in Middle America, in the same latitudes and in no way inferior to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Babylon, and Ur of the Chaldees. Their centers were in Middle America and the slopes of the Andes, and in time they sent dim reflections to the ends of both American continents. There was no single Amerind civilization, but a series of connected cultures, which, in the hands of different peoples, rose, flourished, withered, and were restored. The Aztecs of the Valley of Mexico, and the Incas of Peru, were merely the conquerors and stabilizers of what was already a very ancient culture, and both took command within recent pre-Columbian times.


On Sale
Apr 7, 2000
Page Count
792 pages
Da Capo Press

T. R. Fehrenbach

About the Author

The late T. R. Fehrenbach, a native Texan, authored several books, including Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico and Comanches: The Destruction of a People, both available from Da Capo.

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