GLENN: Six Flags over Texas is the name of one of the most popular theme park companies in the country. Its name is derived from the flags of the various sovereign nations whose flags at one time flown over Texas. The nations are Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States.
When most people think of the history of Texas, they only really think of the Alamo. But Texas history began hundreds of years prior to that pivotal event in San Antonio.
Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca had been exploring north Florida with about 300 men, his expedition badly battered by hurricanes and attacks from Indians.
And with his numbers depleted, de Vaca and his men built makeshift boats and rafts to replace the ship they had lost in storms, out of trees that grew near what now would be called Tampa. Then they set sail again. The intent was to link up with their countrymen in Mexico. But along the way, they encountered more hurricanes.
GLENN: The explorers washed up on the shore of what is now Galveston Island, Texas, 1528.
De Vaca and his men were the first white men to set foot in what would become the Lone Star State. Hit with so many devastating hurricanes in such a short time, de Vaca must have been thinking, "In 500 years or so, someone would have to do something about these frequent, intense global warming-caused weather events. Don't you think?"
There were only about 80 people that survived with de Vaca. And by the time he discovered Texas, the group was starving, diseased and had no water to drink. Initially, he was welcomed to the state with a typical Texas hospitality by the natives. Their hospitality wore thin as the Indians began to catch the diseases the visitors brought with them, and they began to die in large numbers. By the time de Vaca left. Texas on foot to find his fellow Spaniards in Mexico, only three of his men had survived that had made the journey with him. Soon after, Spanish explorer Coronado followed in search for gold, claiming this region for Spain.
By now, the French were interested in it as well, and they arrived in 1687. Even though Spain was in full control of and colonizing Mexico, it mostly abandoned Texas for about a century and a half. Perhaps due to the lack of air-conditioning in the hot, humid region, when the Spanish realized that the French had attempted unsuccessfully to colonize part of Texas, they renewed their interest in the area, and that was the year 1690.
This went on with a lot of sweat and toil and stinky people, until about 1820, when a wealthy American businessman, Moses Austin, originally from Virginia, now living in Missouri, he had recently lost his mining fortune. And he used the Spanish citizenship he acquired while mining in Spanish Louisiana and petitioned the Spanish government for permission to colonize Texas with 300 American families. Permission was granted. However, before he could make the journey, Moses Austin contracted pneumonia and died. So the task fell to his son, who was not necessarily really interested in the undertaking of, "Hey, let's go to a place even more hot and humid than Louisiana." But he agreed to take it on since it was his father's last wish.
Stephen F. Austin eventually fell in love with the land and his father's vision. From father's of Texas...
VOICE: I've been accused of having magnificent schemes for Texas, and I confess that I have them. It is depopulated. I wish to people it. The population that is there is backward. I wish it to be advanced by the introduction of industrious farmers and liberal Republicans. I want the savage Indians subdued, the frontier protected, the lands cultivated. I wish to take from my native land and from every other country the best that they have and transplant it in my adoptive land. Stephen F. Austin.
GLENN: Stephen F. Austin was only 24 years old when he took upon himself this monumental task. When Austin reached Texas, it was 1821. And the Spanish had been overthrown. The territory was now Mexico. But Mexico was at first excited to see the Anglo-Americans coming to colonize Texas. For one thing, it meant that there was a group of people who could deal with the natives in the area so they wouldn't have to. So Austin reapplied to the Mexican government to immigrate 300 American families. His request was granted. And in 1825, Austin brought the American immigrants into Texas. But by 1829, it was Mexico that was having a problem with the border. The Americans had continued to pour into Texas, and the 8-year-old Mexican government was becoming alarmed. They sent one of their trusted generals to Texas to assess the situation developing there.
VOICE: He comes back and reports, "Either we take steps to keep these Americans out, or we lose Texas forever."
VOICE: General Tehran's report prompted Mexico to enact the hated law of April 6th, 1830.
VOICE: Among the important provisions of the law were a ban on further Anglo-American immigration, which of course strikes a mortal blow at the whole empresario system. Also, a law abolishing slavery in Texas and various other laws aimed at strengthening relationships between Texas and Mexico and weakening American influence.
GLENN: Well, the racist -- because that's the only reason why you would want to keep people out of your country, were very alarmed, and they decided to crack down. The crack down by Mexico, which I don't know if they were thinking about building a wall or a fence, but it strained relations. And they became incredibly intense, the tensions between Mexico and Texas.
VOICE: In the wake of this law of April 1830, many American colonists in Texas are alarmed. What it means is that they're cut off from friends and relatives back in the United States who now can't join them in Texas. They had intended, of course, to grow with the land, with this new province, but now it seems that they have been relegated to a second class status.
VOICE: Land speculators, including Stephen Austin, became increasingly nervous. They petitioned for redress in the Mexican government. But this only added to the suspicions of the Mexicans. Finally, it was decided by the central government in Mexico that Texas must be garrisoned.
GLENN: The die had been cast. In a matter of just a few years, things had turned very quickly adversarial between the Texans and the Mexicans.
It's interesting to note here that even though Spain conquered the Aztecs in the region now known as Mexico all the way back to 1521 and Mexico didn't gain its independence from Spain until 300 years later, in 1821, the popular belief among so many people is that the long-time owner of that area that included Texas was Mexico. However, that's just not true.
The region was Spanish for 300 years. It's why Mexicans speak Spanish. 300 years with Spain, compared to just 15 years for Mexicans. And that's before Texas gained its independence. That struggle for Texas independence is the focus of our next episode.