Texas. There are few places on earth, let alone in America, that can compete with it in terms of its mythic reputation. Legends hang on its people and places. Heroes arise from the pages of its history—cowboys and vaqueros, Buffalo Soldiers and Texas Rangers. The Alamo, the Astrodome, Spindletop, and the sixth floor of a building overlooking a Dallas street have all left their mark on the world. It is, as the state tourism motto declares, “Like a whole other country.”
There is a dark side to the mythology, though. Not all of these myths are true. And a good many of them are not particularly nice. As a native-born Texan who lived there before leaving for school in the Northeast, I can tell you that presenting yourself as ‘Texan’ sometimes results in less-than-friendly teasing.
It must just be because they’re jealous.
The sense of identity, of being ‘Texan,’ is also something that few of the other forty-nine states can match. I have only encountered the same level of devotion to one’s home in my friends from Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. The people from Minnesota and Wisconsin also tend to be very proud of their states, but in that nice and subdued Midwesterner way. Yet Texans stand out from all the rest in how their reputation for state loyalty precedes them.
Texans are brash about their home, though, and are happy to share their love for it with you. Allow me to be your guide to what is and what isn’t true about the state. Along the way, we will discuss some of the state’s greatest, most ‘gram-worthy experiences.
20 We All Ride Horses To Work (False)
This myth is just one facet of the “Texans are all cowboys/farmers/rednecks” stereotype that dogs the state. It is true that the state’s history is built on farming and the great cattle drives to the railheads in the north of the state. In fact, at Fort Worth’s Stockyards National Historical District, you can still see cowboys at work on a miniature, but historically accurate, cattle drive.
While the cowhands might trot into work, the rest of us use the same means of transportation as everyone else—trains, planes, and automobiles. Above is a picture of the Houston light rail system. Does that look like a horse to you?
19 Texas Is A Desert (False)
A certain relative of mine grew up in Ohio. When she moved to Texas in the 1980’s, she was expecting tumbleweeds and cacti straight out of a spaghetti Western. When the plane broke through the clouds on its final approach into Houston, revealing a forest of pine trees, she thought she had taken the wrong flight.
Texas has more climates and landscapes than some countries. From the coastal plains of Corpus Christi to the central Hill Country to the chaparral scrub past San Antonio, you can be sure to find what you’re looking for. And yes, we have a desert. The Chihuahuan Desert, to be exact.
18 Everything Is Bigger In Texas (True)
As the second-largest state by square mileage and population, Texans expect things to be bigger here. Since the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica, the availability of cheap land drew European settlers to Texas (or Tejas, as it was then called). A cost of living below the national average continues that legacy today.
The historic King Ranch is larger than the state of Rhode Island, encompassing almost a million acres. For the gastronomically adventurous, the Big Texan Ranch and Brewery has a seventy-two-ounce steak eating challenge.
Be warned, bigger is not always better. There’s a running joke that our mosquitoes are large enough to be our state bird. (They’re not; the honor goes to the lovely mockingbird).
17 BBQ Is A Big Deal (True)
With all that meat available from endless herds of longhorns grazing on the plains, it is no wonder that our barbecue game is strong. “Barbecue” likely derives from a native Carib word referring to a method for smoking meat. German and Czech immigrants to Texas brought their own traditions of cooking, particularly sausage-making, which blended with and developed alongside the culinary traditions of the Tejano community.
So, it’s pretty much perfect stuff.
Brisket and smoked sausages are a mainstay of Texas-style barbecue, either served as a meal themselves or as the stuffing of a sandwich. White bread or hamburger bun only, please. Don’t forget the pickle slices.
16 Texas Won Its Independence At The Alamo (False)
Texas had once been part of New Spain before becoming part of an independent Mexico. By 1836, “Texians” revolted against the rule of Mexico’s military dictator, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
In March of that year, two hundred Texian rebels, including both recent Anglo immigrants from the United States as well as native-born Spanish-speaking Tejanos, found themselves under siege at the Alamo, an abandoned Spanish mission, by a much larger Mexican army. All of them died in the subsequent assault.
In April, Texian General Sam Houston would win a decisive battle against Santa Anna at San Jacinto, which led to the Treaty of Velasco and Texan (or Texian) independence.
The Alamo is now a state shrine.
15 Everyone Dresses Like A TV Cowboy (False)
Again, here we go with the cowboy/redneck/farmer stereotype. Of course, some people do dress like cowboys or cowgirls, either because they have actual farm work to do or because they choose to do so for the look. The boots you wear to wander around the county fair or rodeo (more on that later) are much nicer (and cleaner) than the ones you use to muck out the cow pen.
I’d rather not go into my personal experience with that one.
Western wear stores can certainly be found, even in a big city like Houston, because ten-gallon hats, button-down shirts, boleros, and of course, a custom-made pair of boots can be fashionable too.
14 There Is A Texas Accent (True)
The first thing everyone says to me once they find out I am from Texas is to ask me why I do not have an accent. The answer is that my parents are from the Midwest.
Of course, as soon as I let a “y’all” drop, these same people lose their minds. In some cases, the teasing turns mean. I learned the hard way not to say “y’all” once I moved to Boston for school.
There is, as far as I can tell, a Texas accent. It is stronger among people who live in the country. Even for city-slickers, no matter their background, Texans tend to talk more slowly than Yankees do.
13 Rodeos Are A Big Deal (True)
Growing up in Houston, March always meant the arrival of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which rides each year into town as a parade of cowboys and covered wagons. This celebration of Texas heritage and agricultural production, which sets up outside the historic Astrodome, puts its proceeds towards youth development and education.
Along with cowboy sports (read: bull-riding) and livestock displays, the Rodeo hosts a large carnival fairway and numerous concerts with A-list entertainers in genres that range from country to Latino to rock. You should definitely visit it or any of the smaller county fairs hosted around the state in the fall and enjoy a funnel cake.
12 Everyone Has An Oil Rig In Their Yard (False)
This one comes again from an out-of-stater who moved to Texas. While the petroleum industry is a major part of the state’s history and economy, most Texans do not have a rig pumping away on their property. We prefer to leave work at work.
Texans came to the rescue of Kuwait after Saddam Hussein left almost 700 oil wells burning during his retreat in the 1991 Gulf War. Each of these wells shot flames several hundred feet high with the force of a roaring jet engine. Red Adair, a Texas icon, pioneered techniques to extinguish oil well fires safely. Without the efforts of Texans and others on an international team, Kuwait’s oil would have burned for another century.
11 Only Country Music Is On The Radio (False)
Yes, country legend George Strait might tell us that “all [his] ex’s live in Texas,” and yes, George Strait might rank close to God in the eyes of Texans, but we do not just listen to country music. As we have been over before, though, Texas is proud of its ranching heritage; not everyone wears spurs or has the fastest draw in the West. Texans are also normal people living average everyday lives just like everyone.
10 The State Has Its Own Food (True)
Tex-Mex is Mexican traditional cooking adapted to the tastes of Anglo Texans, usually involving melted cheese. The Houston restaurant, Ninfa’s on Navigation, is claimed to be the birthplace of fajitas, invented by Mama Ninfa herself. As a rule, I never trust Tex-Mex (usually billed as “Mexican”) food outside of the Southwest.
If you are interested in trying some Tex-Mex food, Texas has you covered. With large immigrant communities and plenty of transplants from other states, Texas can furnish you with dishes from any part of the world that your hungry heart desires, be they from Vietnamese, Lebanese, Greek, or another cuisine.
9 Southern Hospitality (True)
Since coming to the North, I have discovered that the myth that Northerners always are rude is just as false as the myth that all Texans are ignorant cowpokes. There is, however, a definite difference in culture.
In Texas, people take their time to talk with you, even if they are only checking you out at the grocery store. It is a habit that has been hard for me to break, but people seem to appreciate it up North.
That tradition of Southern hospitality shines through at Buc-ee’s, a truck stop that is a traditional stop on our family trips.
8 Texans Are Intolerant (False)
This one comes along with the “All Texans are rednecks” stereotype, which also assumes that anyone who works the land is automatically a bigot.
Texas does have an ugly history of racial discrimination. Because of the legacy of Jim Crow in Texas, elections in some of the state’s counties are federally monitored to prevent voter suppression. Texas voter ID requirements have received numerous court challenges on the basis that they place undue burdens on low-income citizens.
On the other hand, Houston might be the most diverse city in the country. We may be stubborn as mules, but that’s where the resemblance ends.
7 Texans Are Uneducated (False)
If you cannot tell yet, most of the false myths stem from that one mean stereotype of the Texan as racist country bumpkin. My freshman year of college, I had to work hard to hide my slight Texas accent to avoid the assumption that I was an idiot.
Texan universities are world-famous. This is, after all, a state that sent human beings to the moon. #literallyrocketscience. The University of Texas system, the A&M State schools, the public University of Houston, and the private Rice University (pictured above) are all renowned in their own respects.
In case you were wondering where my non-alumna allegiances lie, Hook ‘em Horns!
6 Austin Is Weird (True)
Austin, the state capital, is a little blue island in the red sea of Texas politics. As home to the crown jewel of the University of Texas system, UT-Austin, the Hill Country city has all the fun and funk you can expect of a college town. In fact, the city has unofficially adopted “Keep Austin Weird” as a motto to encourage visitors to shop local.
Austin is host to the annual SXSW music festival. Year-round, visitors can tour the state capitol, built out of Texan pink granite, which is actually taller than the United States Capitol. For those who love the night life, downtown’s Sixth Street offers plenty of fun.
5 The Stars At Night Are Big And Bright (True)
“The stars at night are big and bright,” the old song promises, “...deep in the heart of Texas.” Texans are always looking up, whether to better see the next ridge just over the horizon or calculate the trajectory of the Space Shuttle’s reentry.
In the far west of Texas, in the wilderness of the Guadalupe Mountains which loom over the Chihuahua deserts, is one of the darkest night skies in the Lower Forty-Eight. Because of the isolation and lack of light pollution, the University of Texas at Austin operates the McDonald Observatory on a mountain peak here. The McDonald offers nighttime stargazing programs that will leave the whole family staring up in awe.
4 Everyone Wants To Secede (False)
I think this stereotype builds off of the “All Texans are intolerant” story. Texans are very proud of the state’s nine-year stint as an independent nation, the Republic of Texas, following the Treaty of Velasco and the end of the Texas Revolution. Following annexation in 1845, Texas became the twenty-eighth state.
There are a few fringe groups who advocate reestablishing the Republic of Texas, but I have only heard Texas secession discussed as the butt of a joke. If you come to see the wildflowers, like these Indian paintbrushes and bluebonnets, you won’t suddenly end up stranded without your passport in a foreign country.
3 Everyone Drives A Pickup Truck (False)
Yes, pickup trucks are common. If you could zoom in on that photo of Dallas, you would undoubtedly see dozens of Ford F-150s and other models. For anyone who works a trade or farms, pickup trucks are a useful tool. For everyone who does not, this is another way of embracing a “cowboy chic” look.
But not every Texan drives a pickup truck. For anyone who has fought for a parking space outside of the Houston Symphony, a smaller car has its appeal. For taking incredible road trips across the state’s vast spaces, you may also prefer something with more space for comfort or better fuel economy for when gas stations dwindle away in the western desert.
2 The Wildlife Can Be Scary (True)
“Never put your hand anywhere you can’t see” is one of the best lessons my parents ever taught me, followed closely by “Don’t walk through the long grass” and “Wear your rubber boots so the rattlesnakes can’t bite through to the skin.”
For venomous snakes, we have rattlers, coral snakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and others. For poisonous spiders, we have both the brown recluse and the black widow. Alligators prowl the swamps. Ocelots, bob cats, and mountain lions hide in the brush. Jaguars may be returning to the Rio Grande Valley.
I think only Australia may beat Texas for the number of dangerous animals you have to look out for. So be smart, wear your boots and watch where you walk.
1 It’s Beautiful (True)
This one may not be a widely-spread myth, though I hope it is, but it certainly is the truth. Texas has a mystic, mythical beauty. That beauty is in turn magnified by the state’s mystique and mythic status. That beauty, I think, comes from the incredible diversity of the state.
For geography, it has deserts, high plains, mountains, rolling hills, thick forests, and endless beaches. The state’s history and culture is woven from many threads, only adding to its luster.
All I can say is that you should visit Texas. The place gets in the blood. Once you see purple dusk fall over the desert floor from your perch at the top of the Davis Mountains, you’ll understand.