Book Review:
Excellent history of Texas

Unsettled Land: From Revolution to Republic, The Struggle for Texas

Sam Haynes, 2022

I've almost finished reading an outstanding history of Texas, Unsettled Land: From Revolution to Republic, The Struggle for Texas by Sam Haynes, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Haynes writes exceptionally well and he has quite a story to tell.  From the early 1800's and especially after 1820, Texas was shaped by violent conflicts between and among multiple groups that included settlers from the US, mostly from the South, the Mexican government which was itself divided, a number of Indian tribes that fought each other as well as settlers, and Britain, France and Spain, each of which sought to establish or maintain a colonial beachhead in Mexico and Texas. All parties feared and hated the Comanches,  the greatest and cruelest warriors of the Texas plains. For many decades, the Comanches periodically raided and slaughtered all other groups, and they were as hated by other Indian tribes as by settlers from the US and the Mexican government. Texas settlers, no angels themselves, gradually adopted Comanche ways and tactics, which included the ruthless treatment of all groups who opposed them. During the Texas/ Comanche war of the early 1840's settlers and some of their Indian allies engaged in ritual cannibalism.  Texans used racist sentiments to achieve solidarity among themselves, and they were fierce defenders of slavery from the earliest days of their entry into Texas. Mexico's attempts rot eliminate slavery in Texas were fiercely resisted by slaveholders. 

 

From the 1820s until 1845, the US was reluctant to acquire Texas because of fear of war with Mexico and because of widespread unwillingness to add another slave state to the US. One of the many fascinating characters in this story is Sam Houston, cautious by nature and an advocate of  peace with the many Indian tribes, especially the Cherokees.  However, he was pressured by militant settlers to pursue war with Mexico and eject Indian tribes from Texas, including the peaceable Cherokees. Texas had its own Trail of Tears in the late 1830's and early 1840's.  Stephen Austin, a born aristocrat, was also an advocate of peace with Mexico, a land speculator of the first order. Other famous Texans come off poorly in Haynes' history. 

 

It is impossible to ignore the characteristics of early Texas that continue to this day: lawless, brazen, racist and violent in a social milieu where both Comanches and Mexico frequently perpetrated atrocities without pity or mercy on anyone of any age, Texans glorified violence as the foundation of their Republic,  but after the burlesque and absurdities of the Republic of Texas were savvy enough to seek annexation by the US.  Houston was smart enough to figure out how to make it happen. If the child is father of the man, after reading Hayes' history it is obvious that this state is capable of just about anything, In its early days, it attracted the land hungry and adventurers who craved the opportunity for military glory.  For more than 50 years in the early 1800's, Texas was a  war of all on all,  with shifting alliances among tribes, settlers and the Mexican government, and with founders who dreamed of expansion into Mexico and the West, whatever the cost.  

-- Dee Wilson

 

deewilson13@aol.com