By Mike Cox, Texas Tales
Roy Holt lived in Texas all his life, served in World War I and possessed a solid education. But in his late 60s, a time of life when many men are content to let things be, he decided to write a booklet spotlighting folks who had said unfavorable things about the Lone Star State.
The result was “So — You Don’t Like Texas,” published by the author (1897-1985) in Copperas Cove in 1965. At this late date, there’s no way to know how well the book did, but at least 14 Texas libraries still hold copies.
Given that Holt grew up around Santa Anna in Coleman County, graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio and spent half a century as a school teacher or administrator in Santa Anna and later Copperas Cove, surely he held no grudge against Mother Texas. More than likely he saw his book as good-natured fun poking. And few who know anything about Texans could sustain an argument that residents of this state, at least dyed-in-the-wool true Texans (which is not to say someone who moved here from say, California) could not use an occasional regimen of ego deflation.
Holt started out with an anti-Texas quote that dates to the early days of the Republic. In 1841, a British subject named Charles Hooten wrote a book called “St. Louis’ Isle, or Texiana.” The world traveler observed:
“It has become almost a proverb in the United States, that when a runaway debtor is not to be found…or a murderer has contrived to elude justice, he has chalked upon his house door ‘G.T.T.’….Gone to Texas.”
Hooten then committed mass libel in further noting that the G.T.T. proverb had not developed “without…fact to support it.” Indeed, the Brit continued, “Scoundrelism, under one shape or another, constitutes the largest portion of the present population of Texas.”
Two decades later, a colonel in Her Majesty’s Cold Stream Guards came to Texas in 1863 to observe the war between North and South then in progress. He didn’t think much of Texas horsemen, reporting with clear disdain that they could not sit an English saddle nor jump a horse over a fence.
A Catholic priest, arriving in the 1840s from France to serve parishioners in Castroville, had no use for Houston. It was, he wrote, “a wretched little town composed of about 20 shops and a hundred huts, dispersed here and there among trunks of fallen trees. It is infected with Methodists and ants.”
One of the more famous non-Chamber of Commerce comments in regard to Texas came from Gen. Phil Sheridan, who in 1866 observed, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.” The general, speaking in Galveston a dozen years later, tried to talk his way out the slur by noting that he had been in a bad mood when he said it.
Another military man, Col. Richard I. Dodge, as a shavetail spent time at various Texas military posts prior to the Civil War. Looking back on those years, he wrote, “Every bush had its thorn; every animal, reptile, or insect had its horn, tooth, or sting; every male human his revolver; and each was ready to use his weapon…on any unfortunate sojourner, on the smallest, or even without the smallest, provocation.”
Not all discouragingly disparaging words about Texas have come from men. Holt found an early day account of two women talking about Texas men. First off, the older of the two ladies declared, Texas men were not educated. Second, and apparently to her mind even worse, “Deer, bear and turkey don’t mind being shot at by them. They seem to know they are entirely safe.” As if that were not insult enough, she went on to say that Texas men made lousy Indian fighters.
Speaking of combat, World War II brought hundreds of thousands of out-of-staters to Texas for military training. Needless to say, a lot of those involuntary visitors didn’t much cotton to Texas.
“Texas is beautiful,” one GI wrote, “but only to Texans.”
Another picky private, evidently with at least some knowledge of U.S. history, observed: “We must have lost the Mexican War, because we wound up with Texas!”
When Alaska became a state in 1959, Texas lost its long-held position as the nation’s largest state. Some soldier rubbed it in by suggesting that Alaska should divide itself into two states. That way, he declared, Texas would be only the third-largest state.
Space does not allow for an unabridged compendium of all the calumny piled on Texas over the years, but Englishmen and armed service members appear to have been the chief offenders.
Ah, but sarcasm is a two-edged officer’s saber. In the 1990s, a longtime Dallas seller of rare and used books, visiting London in the pre-terrorism days to look for inventory in England’s quaint antiquarian shops, was questioned by a British customs inspector shortly after arriving at Heathrow.
“And what brings you to the UK,” the official said after examining the Texan’s passport.
“The climate and the food,” the Big D bookman shot back.