Post by Alana Cash
The shape of
Texas is elegant, massive, intriguing and unique. It is the most easily recognizable of any state and is known worldwide simply by silhouette. This peculiar and pronounced shape, a source of pride, is created by a mixture of natural and manmade borders that were established over several decades in the 19th century.
The first natural border is the only one that has never been disputed. It’s the
Gulf of Mexico that creates a beautiful crescent leading to the shark-fin southern tip of Texas.
The second and third natural borders were set out in the Adams-Onís Transcontinental Treaty between Spain and the US settling disputes over the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 (a tricky act by Napoleon that defied/defiled prior treaties between Spain and France).
Texas was part of Mexican Spanish territory, and its eastern border ventured into what is now the State of Louisiana. It was the Adams-Onís Treaty that established the eastern boundary of Texas at the Sabine River and the northern border (not including the Panhandle) at the Red River – the river side belonging to the US Oklahoma Territory, thus establishing water rights.
As for the southern border, that took a revolution.
Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, Spanish Texas had about 3500 citizens. Unimaginable, but true. The Mexican government decided to settle Texas more fully as a security measure against encroachment by the US and developed the empressario system – granting lands to families who would encourage immigration from the US, Europe, and other colonies. The empressarios would govern the new settlements. A few years later, Mexican citizens were allowed to claim land in Texas. Then foreign speculators showed up.
There were some rules. Immigrants were limited to claim a league of land (approximately 3 square miles) and a labor of 177 acres, double if they raised cattle, and no limit if they were empressarios).** They had to learn to speak Spanish and, more problematic, practice Catholicism. There were no property taxes.
In 1830, the Mexican government removed the exemption from property taxes and increased tariffs on exports to the
US. By the time, Santa Ana called for Texas citizens to disarm the militias, immigrants in Texas outnumbered Mexican citizens by about 4 to 1. Time for a revolution.
The Texas Revolution (1835-1836) began with the Battle of Gonzalez and ended with the Battle of San Jacinto (with
Santa Ana’s victory at the Battle of the Alamo in between). The claimed its border with Republic of Texas Mexico as the Rio Grande – starting in what is now Colorado and running to the . Gulf Coast Santa Ana signed the two Treaties of Velasco, but the Mexican government didn’t ratify them and continued to claim all land south of the in Nueces River Texas.
The Mexican-American War, which occurred right after
Texas became a US state 1845, settled the border as the Rio Grande for good. Well, not exactly for good because the course of the Rio Grande changes occasionally in places so the border doesn’t follow the river exactly. But close enough on a small map.
Now, about those straight-line borders in the west and around the Panhandle.
At the point of statehood, the western border of
Texas reached halfway into New Mexico, and the Panhandle, growing ever narrower, reached up through Colorado into Wyoming and included all of what would later become the Dust Bowl.
However, wars and land disputes cost money, and the Texas Revolution caused a huge shortfall in the treasury of the
which only got worse as the Mexican Army continued raids over the Republic of Texas Rio Grande. After years of increasing debt, the Republic petitioned to become a state, partly to gain access to a military that would protect its borders.
As a matter of financial convenience, shortly after gaining statehood,
Texas sold western lands to the US government for $10 million in federal bonds. Unlike the wavy, organic borders created by rivers and the Gulf, the federal surveyors created straight-line borders around the Panhandle and with New Mexico. Texas demanded to keep El Paso and that explains the wide stretch to the west.
In summary, counterclockwise starting south, these are the borders of
- Manmade borders at the Panhandle and with New Mexico
Pop quiz on Friday.
**There are historians who list variances of this, but this data is from