A Little Different in Texas: Inside the State’s Unique Southern Identity
There’s nothing that a Texan hates more than a false stereotype. No, locals don’t strictly wear cowboy boots and ride their horses around town—and they don’t just listen to country and folk genres. And, even though football is important, nobody lives in a real-life “Friday Night Lights” scenario.
However, there is one distinct truth about Texas: the state isn’t quite like the U.S.’s other 49. The Lone Star State is one of the most diverse and intriguing in terms of history, culture and economics. Despite the list of stereotypes leveled at Texans, some of them are founded in truth—and locals are proud of their heritage.
In Louisiana, Cajun and Creole food and music differentiate the region from other Southern states. Meanwhile, when people think of Georgia, they likely imagine Atlanta’s innovative music scene and love of peaches. Kentucky, on the other hand, is known for its rolling blue hills and bourbon tours.
But Texas is harder to pin down to a specific set of characteristics. Some, like the usage of ma’am and sir, make it a distinctly Southern state. Other elements, like its Wild West frontier, are more akin to the Southwest. Meanwhile, its massive urban and economic centers in Dallas, Austin and Houston aren’t just more prominent than others in the South but the entire nation.
So, what makes culture in Texas so different and hard to pin down? Let’s take a closer look.
A Cowboy Mentality
As mentioned above, one of the biggest differences in Texas is the state’s history as a Wild West frontier. The arid Western portions were once the domain of grizzled frontiersmen, including cowboys, deputies and gold miners.
This makes it the birthplace of more than a few unique American traditions, from the 10-gallon hat to poker. In the case of the latter, the card game has become popular worldwide. This is partly thanks to virtual formats that make playing easy and new platforms that offer free poker and beginner’s guides.
Aside from poker (in particular, Texas Hold’em), the Wild West also gave Texas its Lone Star mentality. In fact, in the years preceding the rise of the Wild West, which ran from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, Texas battled both Mexico and the U.S. to fight for its freedom. Before cowboys roamed the Southwest, many passed through the Lone Star Republic.
The Lone Star Republic
One aspect of being Texan is knowing just how long the state has battled for its freedom. Spanish colonists first arrived in the early 1500s, passing through before setting up permanent settlements in the late 1600s. At the time, the Spanish were mostly occupying territory to ensure the French, already organizing in Louisiana, wouldn’t move farther west.
Then came the Mexican push for independence in 1821. After a brief period of possession by Mexico, Texas seized independence in 1836. The country dubbed itself the Republic of Texas—but unfortunately, the U.S. quickly took an interest in the newly formed nation. After 10 years of war against the U.S., Texas was annexed as a state in 1845.
Today, locals fly the Lone Star flag, which is an ode to the 10 years the state was an independent republic.
An Emphasis on BIG
One of the first stereotypes someone will encounter about Texas is how large everything is, and this presumption holds up on multiple levels. Texas is the second-largest state behind Alaska, stretching over 268,000 square miles. For context, the state of California is around 263,000 square miles. Texas’s population is around 28.6 million, making it the second-most populous state (behind California).
Aside from being physically larger, Texans also take other aspects of local life to the extreme. The speed limit reaches up to 85 miles per hour in certain areas, while the state also leads the nation in cotton, oil and cattle products. Even the state’s capitol building stretches taller than the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
There’s no other Southern state or U.S. state in general that places such an emphasis on being the biggest. Some academics, like the professor of history at the University of North Texas, Richard McCaslin, believe this emphasis on over-the-top size stretches back to the state’s uncertain years fighting for independence.
At the time, locals had to be “bigger” in a physical and psychological sense—stronger, faster, wealthier and smarter—than encroaching forces.
Don’t Mess with Texas
Along with doubling the size of just about everything, from waffle irons to trucks, Texans are also known for their imposing moniker “Don’t mess with Texas.” Once again, this phrase seems to harken back to the years Texas fought against occupation by Mexico and annexation into the U.S. However, the term was actually an anti-litter message created in the 1980s.
What started as an anti-litter campaign (which proved highly successful) soon became synonymous with the state. In fact, the phrase is legally trademarked by the state Department of Transportation. However, few people know (or associate) the government with the phrase.
Today, it has come to symbolize the rugged and grueling years that the first Texans experienced when moving to the state from other regions. It also carries the pride many feel in simply being Texan, as the most vocal proponents of the state tend to have family lines stretching back decades—if not centuries. In other words, most people wouldn’t dream of moving away.
A Case for Austin
If Texas were a family, Austin would be its black sheep. The city is known for its booming music industry, which far outreaches the local taste for country tunes. Each year, the South by Southwest music festival brings together some of the world’s top artists.
Meanwhile, the city of Austin has a larger proportion of green space than Houston or Dallas.
So, what makes Austin a well-within-a-well of Texan culture? Many point to the city’s IT industry, which has welcomed professionals worldwide. With its own Silicon Valley (called “Silicon Hills”), the city stays at the forefront of a robust digital economy without losing its Lone Star roots.