1. “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.” Davy Crockett said this angrily after losing his Tennessee bid for the U.S. Congress.
I think he really said, “Y’all can go to hell,” but grammatical purity likely corrupted the original transcription.
2. Mary Lasswell, who grew up in Brownsville and wrote the famous book "I’ll Take Texas" said:
“I am forced to conclude that God made Texas on his day off, for pure entertainment, just to prove that all that diversity could be crammed into one section of earth by a really top hand.”
3. “If a man’s from Texas, he’ll tell you. If not, why embarrass him by asking.” John Gunther is credited with this. Many people think Gunther was a big gruff Texas oil man. He wasn’t. He was a famous journalist who published the quote in his incredible, best-selling book "Inside U.S.A."
4. Speaking to the size of Texas, Wallace O. Chariton, said:
“In the covered wagon days, if a baby was born in Texarkana while the family was crossing into the Lone Star State, by the time they reached El Paso, the baby would be in the third grade.”
Please don’t do the math on this and write to tell me that at ten miles a day this would only take three months. We don’t need math purists debating Texas hyperbole.
5. Conrad Hilton bought his very first hotel in Cisco, and so really launched his empire in Texas. He said:
“There’s a vastness here and I believe that the people who are born here breathe that vastness into their soul. They dream big dreams and think big thoughts, because there is nothing to hem them in.”
6. Where does this attitude come from? Larry McMurtry thinks it comes from the influence of the old Texas frontier. McMurtry said:
"What my whole body of work says... is that Texans spent so long getting past the frontier experience because that experience is so overwhelmingly powerful. Imagine yourself as a small hopeful immigrant family, alone on the Staked Plains, with the Comanche and the Kiowa still on the loose. The power of such experience will not sift out of the descendants of that venturer in one generation and produce Middletown. Elements of that primal venturing will surely inform several generations.”
In more accessible language, McMurtry also famously said: “Only a rank degenerate would drive 1,500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken fried steak.”
7. James Michener, who wrote the 1985 blockbuster, TEXAS, explained the state as follows:
"What you Northerners never appreciate… is that Texas is so big that you can live your life within its limits and never give a damn about what anyone in Boston or San Francisco thinks... A writer can build a perfectly satisfactory reputation in Texas and he doesn't give a damn about what critics in Kalamazoo think. His universe is big enough to gratify any ambition. Same with businessmen. Same with newspapers. Same with everything."
8. George W. Bush reflected poignantly about his years in West Texas:
“Those were comfortable, carefree years. The word I’d use now is idyllic. On Friday nights, we cheered on the Bulldogs of Midland High. On Sunday mornings, we went to church. Nobody locked their doors. Years later, when I would speak about the American Dream, it was Midland I had in mind.”
9. Here’s perhaps my favorite quote of all. It is by John Steinbeck, from his memoir "Travels With Charley: In Search of America."
"I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion. And this is true to the extent that people either passionately love Texas or passionately hate it and, as in other religions, few people dare to inspect it for fear of losing their bearings in mystery or paradox. But I think there will be little quarrel with my feeling that Texas is one thing. For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study and the passionate possession of all Texans."
10, And we must hear from Molly Ivins, too: “I think provincialism is an endemic characteristic with mankind. I think everyone everywhere is provincial. But it is particularly striking with Texans, and we tend to be very Tex-centric.”
It is the summative meaning of all these quotes that gives power to our most popular modern slogan: “Don’t Mess with Texas.”
W. F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. And at Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell Ice Cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.