Texas and the Deep South
by Randy Hill
[Note from Ye Editor: Every now and then a message will appear on the Message Board that we feel should have more exposure. Such is the case with the comments left by Randy Hill about Texas. He agreed to let us post his comments in a feature article, so enjoy. This man is ardent--Texas IS a Southern state, friends. Pay attention to Randy’s argument which is made in response to the following statement made by Matt Heermans.
Matt wrote: “I can understand that the eastern bias causes a lot of you to remain ignorant about Texas. No one here claims to be ‘old West’--that’s Arizona or somewhere. It's true that far West Texas is a whole different deal--El Paso, etc. If y’all don't know, the ‘West’ was simply a pioneering time after the Civil War. Since the eastern half of the state was cotton and plantations, I don't see where you can say that Texas is not Southern. It's certainly not as if I have to prove my Southerness to y’all, but it shocks me when someone from the East says that we Texans are not Southern. It is especially strange when basically all parts of our lives are embedded with distinct Southernness just as I'm sure yours is . . . I have traveled, and if Kentucky and Tennessee are considered ‘Southern,’ then Texas would definitely be the ‘deep south’ . . . You should check out a study of Southern identification by a guy named Reed. He has compiled a report by traveling to all of the states that the US government has labeled ‘The South,’ including ridiculous stretches like Delaware and Maryland. You will find that just as many Texans consider themselves to be Southerners as any of the other Deep South states, between 80 and 90 percent. Not trying to be rude in this e-mail but, the only people who doubt Texas's Southernness are a select few people from states east of Louisiana, cause we Texans certainly don't and neither do the descendants of the 100,000+ soldiers that fought for the Confederacy.”]
As a fourth generation Texan of Deep South ancestry (mostly Mississippi, but lots of Alabama as well) I strongly agree with Matt on this subject, and I consider myself both a Texan AND Southerner, and don't see any contradiction.
Of course, other Texans might say different . . . so in that regard, I think it would depend on which Texan you ask. In East Texas (a region which destroys that "old western" movie image of the state), it has been my experience that natives consider themselves every bit as Southern as any resident of Mississippi or Alabama. Moving west it fades somewhat in intensity until one gets out to El Paso, where there is really nothing Southern about it. (And I doubt many in that vicinity would see themselves as such.)
John Shelton Reed--whom Matt mentioned in his letter--is probably the premier Southern culture expert in the country and has published numerous studies on the South. When asked that enduring question "Is Texas part of the South?" he replied along the lines of "Which South?" (Dr. Reed, if you should read this, I hope I am quoting you correctly!)
In any event, his counter-query is a good one. The South of "moonlight and magnolias"? East Texas might well qualify . . . and I would argue emphatically it DOES, but not the vast majority of the state.
The South of country music? Unquestionably yes. Where Kudzu grows? Again, only East Texas. By dialect? Yes, for sure. (This is a topic unto itself as the famed Texas drawl, for all its proud automomy in legend, is, linguistically speaking, only one of many sub-dialects of what is broadly known as Southern speech.) Religion and food habits? Mostly yes. And etc.
Personally, I thought two of his most interesting studies concerned the percentage of business listings with the term "Southern" in it as compared to "American.” The core of this area was where one might expect (in the traditionally Deep South states) staying strong in the eastern third of Texas, yet fading out the farther west one went into the state.
The other--and most recent--was measuring "Southerness" by where people SAID they lived in the South. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas and North Carolina repondents answered affirmatively over 90% of the time. Texas came in with 86%, while Kentucky and Virginia went around 82%. Some 68% of Oklahomans said they were in the South, and that was the extent of those states answering yes a majority of the time. Maryland, Missouri, West Virginia, and Delaware (states which to some varying and limited degree have loose claims to being Southern) answered no most of the time, with the expected smallest percent being in Delaware (only around 15%).
Concerning Texas in particular, Reed noted that there was the expected east/west gradient, BUT the surprising thing was that even most West Texans considered themselves as living in the South.
A good measure? Who knows? Point being, it is probably a good idea to list exactly what objective characteristics we are talking about when referring to the South as a cultural entity.
But for the moment, lets go to the one that is the primary basis of why I tend to get irritated when I hear residents of certain Deep South states (which, as mentioned earlier, might even be distant cousins!) speak as if they have the exclusive right to define what is or is not Southern--especially when it pertains to the exclusion of Texas. To wit: If "Southerness" could be measured by the performance of Texas troops on the battlefields of 1861-1865, then the Lone Star State would be the "most Southern" of all.
It is true that, of the Dixie states, Texas came out of the War as the least affected (a fact which in itself contributed to its later "difference"). No MAJOR battles took place on Texas soil and, the vindictiveness and hardships of Reconstruction not withstanding, the state came out of it all relatively prosperous via the "cattle boom."
But if the PHYSICAL soil of Texas emerged relatively unscathed, her Sons did not. Let me make this perfectly clear: NO soldiers, in ANY other state, gave such an account of themselves as did the Texans in battle. Don't take my word for it, take General Lee's when he said (paraphrased, but I stand by the accuracy), "None have brought greater honor to their state than have the Texans." Or: "I rely on my Texans in all tight spots and I fear I have called upon them too often . . . they have fought grandly, nobly . . . and I need more of them." It is true that Lee field commanded only the Army of Northern Virginia (of which the famed Texas Brigade was part), and certainly he had words of praise for the troops from all the Southern states, yet subordinates who survived the struggle and later wrote memoirs on the subject (see aide Charles Veneble's remarks for example) leave little doubt the general held the Texans in special esteem (no small thing considering Lee's devotion to his own state of Virginia).
The general aside, military historians have CONSISTENTLY rated "The Texas Brigade" as the very best combat unit on EITHER side. So renowned was their fighting reputation that in a later day and age they would be referred to as "the shock troops" of the Army of Northern Virginia.
So far as Texan performance in other theatres of War, although no other state unit ever achieved the public fame of Lee's own Lone Star outfit (although Terry's 8th Texas Cavalry came close), it is easy to check historical sources which confirm that, wherever they were, the Texans were uncommonly good fighters.
I might add that I personally have nothing to gain by citing Texas and Texans’ role in the Confederacy as just one irrefutable reason for having earned its Southern star, for the simple reason that, although a proud native of the state, my own people did not migrate here until after the struggle, and all my own Confederate ancestors were in Mississippi units.
Of course, a good case can be made that there might exist a better definition of "The South" today than the boundaries of the Old Confederacy. Yet, the phrase "The South" is a proud one and did not orginate with Mississippi (my ancestral home) or Georgia, etc. The formation of the Confederacy cemented that term, and "Dixie" was once the national anthem of the Lone Star state .
It calls to mind a STATE of mind which Texans share into as much as any of y'all. Our own proud autonomy only accentuates it.
I will end this particular topic by saying if residents of certain states want to separate themselves from an assocation from Texas I have no problem with THAT. Call yourselves the "Southeast" or maybe even the "Deep South" or "Old South," but you ain't got no standing to exclude us from THE South.
Point being, Texas doesn't HAVE to prove its Southern credentials--it earned them 150 years ago. Ask General Lee!
[In a later message, Randy continued his argument.]
Texas is also often considered "Southwestern" and that is a puzzler in the sense that it depends on what one MEANS by the "Southwest.” Certainly Texas is southwestern, but then again -- only personal opinion -- I find that residents of New Mexico and Arizona (the true Southwest states) do not consider Texas part of the SW, and with good reason. Likewise, I don't consider Texas southwestern in the same vein as those two states either. In other words, Texas is southwestern in the sense it is both Southern and Western, whereas nothing about New Mexico or Arizona can be considered Southern at all. Texas might better be described as "western South"--but for the fact that phrase doesn't roll very easily off the tongue!
The truth is, a lot of the popular image of Texas among Americans who have never visited the state is formed by those old westerns (which in reality were filmed in Arizona and Southern California). Taken at face value, that is certainly good reason to think of Texas as the "Wild West" rather than "Old South.” And don't get me wrong, the cowboy and steer icon is there for real, but on the other hand, so is cotton farming. But yet--western style dress not withstanding--lots of ol' boys who go around in boots and cowboy hats have no more experience with a ranch than that accrued by eating the popular dressing by the same name. And I say that in no note of criticism.
It has been my experience that, when discussing family roots and the like, the way of life that many of us Texans grew up hearing our older relations tell of, was more like that portrayed in the movie "Places in the Heart" (with Sally Fields and Danny Glover) than "Lonesome Dove." At least from my own research and knowledge (admitttedly subjective), far more of us trace family formation and pursuits to that associated with the American South than the individualistic mythic West. I mean, tenant farming and cotton fields, fundamentalist religion (the Southern Baptist church is easily the largest protestant denomination in the state), story telling and the idea of the extended family, etc.
And on a lighter note, how can "Southerness" be denied to ANY state where "y'all" is practically the "state word"?
One final relevant, yet somewhat funny, observation, concerns those humorous lists we have all run across online at one time or another. To wit: "25 Tips for Northerners moving to the South.” Ever notice that when the heading reads "25 Tips for Northerners moving to Texas" the particulars read almost the same way? A coincidence?
Anyway, to wind it up (finally!), on the whole, I would say that Texas IS most definitely a Southern state--just not a TYPICAL Southern state.
Then, in Reply to: Re: Where is the Deep South? Posted by Don Drane, Randy wrote:
. . . Most Texans vacillate between claiming to be "Old West" and "Mexican Territory.” We true deep Southerners have never claimed to be anything other than that, consistently, through the ages. Perhaps that's the reason one often sees Texas excluded from definitions of True South or Deep South . . .
. . . A lot of that Old West thing is overdone (for instance, the old movies which I mentioned), and most studies I have ever seen show that, when given a choice, many more Texans claim to be part of the South, and consider themselves Southerners, rather than part of the West and Westerners.
I don't deny at all that Texas--taken as a whole--is unique. (A Whole 'Nother Country, as the slogan goes.) But like Matt, I argue emphatically that East Texas is "The Deep South." Even Mississippi writer, the late Willie Morris, who was otherwise somewhat reluctant to classify Texas as a true Southern state, made an exception with East Texas, even going so far as to label parts of it "more Southern" than his native one. And THAT ain't light stuff!
But seriously, I'd urge anyone to vist that section of the Lone Star State before being quick to exclude it from the boundaries of the Deep South. With its thick pine forests (as large an area as the entire state of Kentucky), native growing magnolias, ante-bellum plantations, history and culture, I doubt you would find it any different from home (wherever in the Deep South "home" might be).
And hey, out that way, BBQ is pork--an area where, admittedly, Texas differences with her Old Confederate sisters may be rock-solid!
BIO: Randy Hill is a fourth generation Texan of Deep Dixie ancestry, and he bleeds Confederate Gray with Lone Stars. He lives in Wichita Falls, Texas, holds a BA degree with a major in political science and a minor in journalism. He's a public school teacher (asking that such not be held against him).
Randy's interests include all things Texan and Southern, his kids, hunting, fishing, camping, cold beer, and severe weather. He dabbles in writing--with file folders full of scribblings too sophomoric to submit for publication--and is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
He also believes passionately that a Southern birthright is a gift from God.
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