By John Thomas DuPree
When I was growing up the 1970’s and 1980’s, a Friday night ritual at our house was to watch the T.V. series Dallas. I watched as the series depicted to the world what life was like in Texas. My mother soon turned me on to the movie Giant. Giant was a 1950’s version of Dallas. It painted a similar picture of life in Texas. Later Walker Texas Ranger came to the screen. These shows and movies had a similar thread. J.R. Ewing, Jock Ewing, Jordan “Bick” Benedict, Jet Rink and Cordell Walker were all strong men who wore cowboy hats and boots. All of the men depicted lived on large ranches, and with the exception of Cordell Walker, all of them were in the oil business. These men had style. They commanded the attention of everyone simply by the act of walking into the room. This is the image that Hollywood sold the rest of the world. But it wasn’t just Hollywood that was selling this image of Texans, many real life Texans put a saddle on that image and rode it to fame and glory. Bob Wills, George Strait, Walt Garrison, T Boon Pickens, Bum Philips, Kinky Friedman, LBJ, George W. Bush, and Clayton Williams are just a few good examples of real life Texans who fed into the stereo type of what it’s like to be a Texan.
The only problem was that I have lived in Texas all my life, and I don’t know anyone like these men. The Texans I observed were hard working everyday sort of people. The only time cowboy hats were observed was at a honky-tonk or country concert, during rodeo season, or on the head of DPS deputy or Texas Ranger. From time to time, one might get a glimpse of a real cowboy on horseback working the ranch, but their hats were stained with sweat and their boots were worn. While I do know a few people who work in the oil industry and a few people who work on cattle ranches, most Texans I know do not. Normally, if you see some dude walking around in a clean Stetson and shiny boots driving a pickup truck without an ounce of mud on the fenders, it is usually pretty good bet that this “cowboy” is all show. He probably has never ridden a horse and the only thing he knows about the oil business is that you should change your oil every 3,000 miles. We refer these people as drug store cowboys and it’s what we mean when we use the phrase “all hat and no cattle.”
So if this image is not representative of a typical Texan, what is so special about being a Texan? For better or worse, people are shaped by the land and the communities they live in. A person growing up in Texas will have experiences that will have a profound influence on the way a person thinks. The people of Texas have their own distinct culture which is unlike any other that I have ever experienced. It is that culture and environment that shapes the real Texan persona.
The first thing that a visitor from another state will notice as they step off the plane in Texas in the middle of August is that it is hot. When I say hot, I don’t mean warm. I don’t mean unpleasant or uncomfortable. I mean hotter than hell. Temperatures over 100 are common place. Before air-conditioning became common place, it took an especially tough breed of people to endure the kind of heat that we have here in the Lone Star State. But the heat isn’t the only adverse weather conditions that toughen up the people of Texas. While drought is a common condition in much of Texas, flooding is not uncommon here either. Hurricanes often pound the coastal areas while tornadoes wreck havoc out in west Texas. As a result, Texans are familiar with adversity. You can generally count on Texans to rebound quickly from trouble. It’s just what we do. In addition, because most Texans have experienced a natural disaster of one kind or another at some point in their lives, they are quick to lend a helping hand to their fellow Texans when disaster strikes somewhere else in the state. It’s why Texans are generally a very generous people.
Not only is the weather often adverse, the land itself is often very unforgiving. In order to build civilizations on this land, Texans had to blast through mountainous regions, dig up heavy rocks and boulders underneath the soil, and develop new methods to farm dry sandy soil. As a result, Texans are generally a very hard working breed. Even as advances in technology such as air conditioning and irrigation has made life easier, many Texans have that same work ethic that their enabled their ancestors to bring civilization to this hard to tame land.
Another environmental factor that has a heavy influence on the Texan persona is the magnitude of the size of the State. When looking at a map of Texas, one thing becomes apparent. Texas is big. The trip from Texarkana to El Paso is 816 miles and will take around 12 hours if you don’t stop to take in all the sights along the way. Likewise, driving from the Panhandle of Texas to the southern tip will also take about 12 hours. This size creates a certain sense of nationalism within the State. It is what we refer to as Texas pride. This characteristic is what gives people the perception that Texan’s are braggadocios.
One other thing you will notice is that Texas is a very diverse State. In the Southern part of the State, the culture is heavily influenced by Hispanic culture. Going further north, the Czech and German Heritage becomes more dominant. There are strong Cajun influences as one gets closer to the Louisiana border. Many cultures mix and mingle as cultures intermarry and people move from one part of the state to the other. This mixture occurs at varying degrees throughout the State. Because of the size of the state and the eclectic mix of cultures, Texas has distinct regions that have unique influences on the people that live in those regions. This diversity results in a competitive rivalry between different regions or even cities or towns. For example, Dallas and Houston have been at each other’s throats for years. Students and alumni from Texas A&M and the University of Texas have been quailing for years about which school is better These rivalry’s create a certain since of patriotism regarding one’s home town or one’s school. Texans tend to be very quick to brag on the merits of their home town or their school. These rivalries make Texans a very competitive people. When outsiders observe this behavior, they may think that Texans are braggadocios, but for the most part, the brags have at least some merit.
I confess that I am a huge fan of Dallas, Giant and the other works of fiction that depict Texans as larger than life caricatures of a stereo type that just isn’t that prevalent in reality. Perhaps these stereo images come from an earlier time in Texas when men like Robert Kleberg and Glen McCarthy were the real life actors in the drama of Texas. I am an even bigger fan of the real life the persona of the real life Texan that I live and work with everyday.