State of TEXAS: Appalachia’s Creation

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PHOTO: Texas Flag flies over the banks of the New River in Wythe County, Virginia, at the birthplace site of Stephen F. Austin, Father of Texas
PHOTO: Texas Flag flies over the banks of the New River in Wythe County, Virginia, at the birthplace site of Stephen F. Austin, Father of Texas

According to his own account, after losing re-election, the great Appalachian Congressman Davy Crockett angrily told his Tennessee constituents “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”

Making good on his promise, Crockett said goodbye to the Volunteer State in the fall of 1835 with three other men and headed into the vast wonderland of Texas.

His youngest child, Matilda, later wrote that she distinctly remembered the last time she saw her father, “He was dressed in his hunting suit, wearing a coonskin cap, and carried a fine rifle presented to him by friends in Philadelphia … He seemed very confident the morning he went away that he would soon have us all to join him in Texas.”

Born in what is now Greene County, Tennessee, Crockett was the son of Scots-Irish mountaineers who settled the rugged region of Western Carolina and East Tennessee, and they did so on purpose. In those days, the steep Appalachian Mountains that cut through the young nation honored rugged individualism and placed miles between its inhabitants and the ruling authorities back east.  Life in those mountains was hard and men were their own law — exactly as they would have it to be.

In his first campaign for Congress, Crockett found himself in a debate with his opponent, a learned and slick orator who was discussing issues concerning tariffs and the national bank. “Crockett knew little or nothing about either subject, but he was in no wise disconcerted. When it came his turn to speak, he made a few friendly remarks, then asked his all-male audience if they would like to wet their whistles. Their response was said to have been a spontaneous and cordial ‘Yes.’ It was Crockett who won the election,” writes Fred DeArmond.

Unfortunately for the mountain man turned politician, by the 1830s, even the once free and untamed Appalachian Mountains had begun to show the early signs of being tamed — or at the very least captured.  A reality that was only reinforced when the influx of new Tennesseeans selected a refined criminal-lawyer over Mr. Crockett as their representative to Congress.

What was a free spirited Scotsman left to do?

The same as his grandparents had done two generations earlier: Go west in search of that final frontier. That final holdout of individualism and in the mid-1830s Texas was that place.

In the days ahead, Crockett and a host of other men would find their way into Texas mythology when they gave their lives defending a remote mission that would come to be known simply as “The Alamo”.  The event marked a turning point in the Texas Revolution and served as a rallying cry that would soon lead to the creation of the Republic of Texas.

Among the men who fought alongside Crockett at the Battle of the Alamo, 17 were Virginians, 30 were from Tennessee, 17 from Kentucky and 14 were from the Carolinas.

However, the sons of Appalachia were busy paving the way for the Lonestar State long before Santa Anna and the war for Texas Independence.

Stephen F. Austin, the man who secured his title in history as the “Father of Texas” was born on the banks of the New River in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia in 1793.

According to local historians, Austin’s father and uncle were “excellent shot makers and miners, but they were not very good businessmen.”

Burdened by debt, the brothers are said to have looked westward, beyond the mountains of their home.

Nearly two decades later, the Austin’s relocated to the largely unsettled expanse of Texas.

Stephen’s father had hopes of colonizing the region in the days ahead, however, he died in 1821 having never realized his dream of settling the vast territory known as “Tejas.”

Persuaded by a letter from his mother, Wythe County, Virginia, native Stephen F. Austin set out to fulfill his father’s dream: settle Texas.

Under Austin’s leadership, the Texas colony grew from three-hundred to over 11,000 by 1832.

Soon the colonists found themselves in a state of war with the Mexican government and rushing to their aid were men of the mountains.

After the dust had finally settled and Texans went to the polls to elect their first President, Rockbridge County, Virginia, native and Tennessee lawyer Sam Houston beat out the New River Valley’s Stephen F. Austin for the office.

In the face of continuing hardship and increasingly authoritative governments in the east, a countless number of mountaineers would say goodbye to the Appalachians and follow in the footsteps of Crocket, Bowie, Austin and Houston.

“Gone to Texas” became a wellknown phrase throughout the mountains during the 1800s as farmers, miners and a host of other working men would simply paint “GTT” on the front doors of their abandonded homes and fenceposts to let everyone know they had “Gone to Texas”.

In his top selling book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, Colin Woodard traces the common culture, ethinc origin, dialect, artifacts and symbols of the various people groups that originally settled America and the Greater Appalachian influence stretches from Central Virginia to far-eastern New Mexico, engulfing West Texas, Texas Panhandle and central regions of the state.

If you’ve ever noticed similarities in the folks from Texas and Appalachia, it’s largely because they’re one in the same.

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