A giant among states, vast Texas was once a sovereign nation. During 300 years of rule by Spain, it had sprawled like a sleeping giant, its riches undeveloped and its colonization limited to a few missions, supported by presidios (military posts). When Mexico became an independent country in 1821, Texas became a Mexican state and new settlers from the United States were welcomed. The large influx of Anglo-American colonists and African American slaves led to skirmishes with Mexican troops.
After a successful war of independence against Mexico, the Texans raised the Lone Star flag over their own republic in 1836. This government was officially recognized by the United States and by several European countries. Then in 1845 Texas accepted annexation by the United States and was admitted to the Union as the 28th state. Texas is second only to Alaska in area. It covers more territory than the total area of five Midwestern states--Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. There are 254 counties in Texas. Its largest county, Brewster, is about as big as Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Its smallest, Rockwall, is only 147 square miles (381 square kilometers) in area. For a time Texas had a peak mileage of more than 17,000 miles (27,358 kilometers) of main-track railroad, but the total has been declining ever since the 1930s. Cotton, first raised on the Blackland Prairies, has long been the most important crop of Texas. Much of it is now grown on the Great Plains, an achievement made possible by the discovery of a sandy, water-laden subsoil beneath the area's dry surface. On the Rio Grande irrigation has given rise to a great fruit-growing belt, while along the Nueces River vegetable crops are harvested in an 11-month growing season. Texas leads the nation in beef production, an industry that began to flourish in 1866, when cowboys first drove wild longhorns north to market. Today scientifically bred cattle are raised on the plains. "Black gold," or crude oil, was found in Texas in the 19th century, but it was the discovery of the gigantic east Texas oil field in 1930 that revolutionized the agrarian state. Although much of the wealth of modern Texas stems from its widespread petroleum-bearing formations, industry has become increasingly diversified since the end of World War II. The name Texas comes from a Caddo Indian word meaning "friends" or "allies." The Spanish explorers pronounced the word tejas and gave this name to the area. The nickname Lone Star State comes from the single star in the Texas flag, which was officially adopted by the Republic of Texas in 1839. The Texas and Hawaii flags are the only state emblems that originally flew over recognized independent countries. Survey of the Lone Star State Texas lies in the south-central region of the United States. Its southwestern and southern boundary is formed by the Rio Grande. Across the river are the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leуn, and Tamaulipas. On the southeast Texas borders on the Gulf of Mexico for 367 miles (591 kilometers). To the east are Louisiana and Arkansas, with the Sabine River forming the boundary with Louisiana for 180 miles (290 kilometers). To the north is Oklahoma, with the Red River providing the boundary line for 480 miles (772 kilometers). New Mexico is to the west. The Lone Star State is both longer and wider than any other state except Alaska. Its greatest length, from north to south, is 801 miles (1,289 kilometers)--a figure that includes the Panhandle, which extends north of the upper Red River for about 133 miles (214 kilometers). The state's greatest width is 773 miles (1,244 kilometers). Both of the overall distances are greater than the airline mileage between New York City and Chicago. The area of the state is 266,807 square miles (691,027 square kilometers), including 4,790 square miles (12,406 square kilometers) of inland water surface. Natural Regions Texas has a wide variety in its geology, minerals, soils, vegetation, and wildlife. Its elevation ranges from sea level along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to 8,751 feet (2,667 meters) at Guadalup The Gulf Coastal Plain covers southern and eastern Texas and includes about 40 percent of the state's area. Along the coast are many long barrier beaches, such as Padre Island, separated from the mainland by lagoons. Galveston is the largest of the bays. The plain extends 150 to 250 miles (240 to 400 kilometers) inland to a series of hills that sweep across Texas from Denison on the Red River to Del Rio on the Rio Grande. The western part of this line (between Austin and Del Rio) is called the Balcones Escarpment. The Gulf Coastal Plain may be divided into five distinct sections. They are: the Rio Grande plain, in the south; the coastal prairies, from the San Antonio River to the Sabine River; the Pine Belt, or Piney Woods, from the Louisiana line westward about 100 miles (160 kilometers); the Post Oak Belt, west of the Pine Belt; and the Blackland Prairies, along the western edge of the Gulf Coastal Plain from the Red River to a point near San Antonio. e Peak in Culberson County. Within the state are four large natural regions. The Central Lowland covers the eastern edge of the Panhandle and the north-central part of the state. It extends southward to include Fort Worth, Abilene, and Colorado City. The eastern part of this region includes the Grand, or Fort Worth, Prairie, sandwiched between the East and West Cross Timbers belts. The remainder of the Central Lowland consists of rolling plains. The Great Plains extend over most of the Panhandle and west-central and central Texas. This vast tableland ranges in elevation from 2,500 to 4,700 feet (760 to 1,430 meters). In the Panhandle are the High Plains, or Llano Estacado (Staked Plain), a dry, flat, treeless area. To the east the central Texas section extends almost as far as Waco and Austin. The southeastern extension of the Great Plains is the Edwards Plateau. Across the lower Pecos River the plain continues westward as the Stockton Plateau. This section is sometimes called the Trans-Pecos. The Basin and Range Region covers the extreme western part of the state. It has a series of rugged mountain ranges and dry, sandy basins. In Hudspeth County is the Diablo Plateau, or Bolston, between the Guadalupe and Hueco mountains. In a southward loop of the Rio Grande is a rugged area that includes Big Bend National Park. The Chisos Mountains lie within the park. Thousands of acres in the upper Rio Grande valley near El Paso are irrigated from Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico. Most of the rivers of Texas flow in a southeasterly direction into the Gulf of Mexico. From the state's eastern border to its western border, the largest of these rivers are the Sabine, Neches, Trinity, Brazos, Colorado (of Texas), Guadalupe, San Antonio, Nueces, and Rio Grande with its chief branch, the Pecos. The northern edge of the state lies in the Mississippi River basin. Within this section are the Canadian River, which flows across the Panhandle, and the Red River, on the Texas-Oklahoma border. Climate Texas has three main types of climate. A narrow strip along the coast has a marine climate tempered by winds from the Gulf of Mexico. Here temperatures are fairly uniform, with pleasant summers and mild winters. The Gulf coast area, from Brownsville northward, can experience severe ocean-borne storms, including destructive hurricanes. The mountain climate of western Texas brings dry, clear days with dramatic dips in temperature at nightfall. The rest of the state has a continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. Quick temperature changes are common in this area. The warmest part of the state is the lower Rio Grande valley, which has an average annual temperature of 74° F (23° C). The coldest is the northwest Panhandle, with a 54° F (12° C) average. Average annual precipitation (rain and melted snow) varies from 58 inches (147 centimeters) in the extreme eastern part of the state to less than 10 inches (25 centimeters) near El Paso. In most parts of the state, the greatest amount of rainfall occurs between April and July and is especially heavy during May. Snowfall is generally limited to the northern plains area, where it averages about 15 inches (38 centimeters) annually. Natural Resources Texas has a rich supply of natural resources. The eastern part of the state is a productive farming region with fertile soil and ample rainfall. Where western Texas can be irrigated, it has huge grazing areas and valuable cropland. Almost 10 percent of the state is forested. The largest amount of timber is in eastern Texas, where the forest area extends over 43 counties. The chief commercial trees are several varieties of pine and oak, elm, hickory, magnolia, sweet gum, black gum, and tupelo. The mineral resources, led by petroleum, are the most valuable in the nation. The major commercial advantages of the state are its excellent ports for trade with Central and South America. The Gulf coast yields valuable catches of shrimp. The chief conservation problem is the maintenance of an adequate water supply, particularly in western Texas and in the large urban and industrial centers. Since 1930 many dams have been built to provide flood control, power, and irrigation. Today about one fourth of the reservoirs they formed have a storage capacity of more than 100,000 acre-feet each. The largest is Toledo Bend, on the Sabine River. Next in size are Amistad, on the Rio Grande, and Sam Rayburn, on the Angelina. Other large projects include Lake Texoma, formed by Denison Dam, on the Red River and Falcon Reservoir, on the Rio Grande. Amistad and Falcon benefit both the United States and Mexico. The Texas Water Commission administers water rights and control. There are also many separate river authorities and water districts. Timber conserv