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Spain established the first European claim to what is now Texas in 1519 when Cortez came to Mexico
, and Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda mapped the Texas coastline. A few shipwrecked Spaniards, like Alvar Nunez, Cabeza de Vaca, and explorers such as Coronado, occasionally probed the vast wilderness, but the first Spanish settlement in Texas – the Ysleta Mission near present-day El Paso – was not established until 1681. Until Mexican independence in 1821, other Spanish missions, forts and civil settlements gradually followed. After 1785, the red and yellow striped Spanish flag depicted a shield with a lion (Leon) and a castle (Castile) topped by a crown.
In an attempt to expand west of Louisiana, France in 1685, laid claim to eastern Texas near the Gulf Coast
Though claimed by Spain, the nearest Spanish settlements were hundreds of miles away. French nobleman Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, founded a colony called Fort St. Louis. But by 1690 shipwreck, disease, famine, hostile Indians, and internal strife ending in La Salle’s murder by one of his own company doomed the colony and France’s claim. The French flag – actually the royal ensign for ships and forts – featured Fleurs-de-lis on a white field.
Texas Under Mexico (1821-1836)
After Mexican independence, pioneers from the Hispanic south and the Anglo north flowed into Texas. A frontier region for both, Anglo Texans became Mexican citizens. Tensions arose between the divergent cultures. These came to a head when Mexican General Santa Anna scrapped the Mexican federal constitution and declared himself dictator. Texans revolted and won independence April 21, 1836 at San Jacinto near Houston. Mexico’s flag depicts an eagle, a snake, and cactus on green, white, and red bars.
Texas as a Republic (1836-1845)
Ten years of independence brought the Texas Republic epidemics, financial crises and continued clashes with Mexico. But enduring Texas imagery was born in this period: the American cowboy; Texas Rangers with their Colt six-shooters; the rugged individualism of Sam Houston. On December 29, 1845, Texas joined the United States. The red, white and blue flag with its lone star adopted by the Republic in 1839 became the state flag.
Texas in the Confederacy (1861-1865)
Though Governor Sam Houston urged Texans to stay aloof or re-establish a neutral republic when the Civil War broke out, he was driven from office. Texas took the side of the South suffering devastation and economic collapse like other Confederate states. The “Stars and Bars” shown here was the first Confederate flag flown in Texas and was the South’s national emblem, although a Confederate battle flag with stars on crossed bars is far better known today.
Texas in the USA (1845-1861, 1865-Present)
Texas became the 28th star on the U.S. flag when it joined the Union in 1845. On rejoining the Union after the Civil War and Reconstruction, the “Star Spangled Banner” resumed its place as the national flag of Texas. The Lone Star emblem from the days of the Republic of Texas remains the state flag.
The Six Flags of Texas
We weren’t always under the Lone Star.
Origins of the Six Flags Display
While it is nearly impossible to say when the very first display of the “Six Flags of Texas” took place, the popularization of the display can be clearly tied to the 1936 Centennial Celebration. From bluebonnets to ten-gallon hats to the six flags display, the Centennial’s dual theme of history and progress enshrined some of the most iconic Texas myths that continue to this day.
During the Centennial year, the six flags became a part Texas’s visual identity, being permanently installed in the State of Texas Building (now the Hall of State) at Fair Park in Dallas and in the floor of the Capitol Rotunda in Austin.
They were also an almost ever-present site on tickets, programs, and memorabilia created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Texas’s independence from Mexico.
The Bullock Museum tells the story of the nations that each of the six flags of Texas represents inside its galleries as a representation of the rich and complicated history of the Lone Star State.
Spain, 1519-1685 and 1690-1821
Texas was at the northernmost tip of Spain’s North American empire. During the first period of Spanish occupation, Texas was largely ignored, except for the explorations of a few conquistadors. It wasn’t until the late 17th century when France challenged their claims with an expedition led by La Salle that Spain began seriously settling Texas. Around 1810, during the height of Spanish occupation, only about 5,000 Spaniards lived in Texas, most of them small farmers or ranchers. Spain left a lasting legacy that is still noticeable today in language, place names, and one of the largest cities in the United States—San Antonio.
Spain had four significant flags during its occupation of North America. The royal banner of Castile and León (pictured), which presents two lions and two castles on a red and white background, is most frequently seen in displays of the Six Flags of Texas in spite of the fact that its usage in Spain ended three years prior to the Spanish claim of Texas.
With support from the King of France, Louis the XIV, in 1684 French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle sailed for the Americas with four hundred people and four ships. La Salle’s mission was to build a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Plagued by bad luck from the start, the failed expedition was a disaster for the French, but La Salle’s Texas colonization attempt spurred Spain to refocus their own colonization efforts to prevent Texas from becoming part of France’s Louisiana colony.
The flag most likely carried by La Salle during his expedition along the Texas coast had a white background covered by fleurs-de-lys which was a simplified version of the French royal flag.
After an 11-year war, Mexico overthrew Spanish colonial rule. Mexico’s sparsely populated northern frontier in Texas challenged long-held American Indian claims which led to tensions and attacks. It was also threatened by an expanding United States. To guard against losing Texas, Mexico authorized land agents (empresarios) to recruit settlers for new colonies in Texas, provided that the immigrants swore allegiance to Mexico. The arrangement was filled with conflict from the beginning. In 1836, Anglo-American and Tejano settlers banded together to overthrow Mexican rule.
Two years after winning their independence, Mexico adopted its first republican flag. Nearly identical to the current flag, it contains vertical green, white, and red stripes that represent the “Three Guarantees”—religion, independence, and union. It also shows an eagle with a serpent in its mouth standing on a cactus, iconography that represents Mexico’s Aztec heritage.
Republic of Texas, 1836-1845
Years of conflict between Texans and their Mexican government led to rebellion and revolution. During a tumultuous seven months between the fall of 1835 and spring of 1836, Texans declared, fought for, and won their independence from Mexico. The Republic of Texas emerged as a rowdy frontier nation with its own nine-year historical saga packed with political turmoil, continuing conflict with Mexico and American Indians, a failing economy, and uncertain status. The brief experiment of nationhood ended when Texas became the 28th state of the United States on December 29, 1845.
Three official flags flew over the Republic of Texas during its 9-year history. The third, adopted in 1839, is what we now know as the Lone Star Flag. Though basically consistent from its beginnings, the 1933 Texas Flag Act codified and standardized the flag’s design and colors, calling for “blood red, azure blue, and white” which represented bravery, loyalty, and purity. A 1993 follow-up further defined the design of the flag and stipulated that the red and blue colors should be the same as those of the U.S. flag—”Old Glory Red” and “Old Glory Blue.”