The folks at the Texas Historical
Association (TSHA) have never been afraid to mess with Texas—Texas
history that is.
“Some say Teyas is the first recognizable appearance of
the word Texas,” said Ron Tyler, TSHA director. “Rather
than suggesting the traditional ‘friends’ meaning,
it may have been more of a warning—‘Tough Guys’ or ‘Don’t
Mess With Teyas.’”
The origin of the state name is often
thought to come from the Spanish pronunciation of the Caddo Indian
word Tejas. While no
of Indians called themselves Tejas, the word translated to mean “friend,” and
generally referred to the allied tribes of their confederacy.
TSHA published book “El Llano Estacado,” by John
Miller Morris, chronicles more than three centuries of history
and geography of the Southern High Plains. It offers a different
on the meaning of the word Tejas. The chronicles of Pedro de Castañeda,
a Spanish explorer and member of the Coronado expedition, suggest
the Teyas that the camp met were brave people. He wrote that Tejas
represented a warning of power.
In 1930, Texas took on a friendlier
meaning when the state Legislature adopted the word “Friendship” as
The Center for Studies in Texas History in
conjunction with its non-profit counterpart, the TSHA, for all
practical purposes are
synonymous. Unlike historical organizations in many other states,
the TSHA does
not administer a museum, library or archives. It conducts research,
publishes information about Texas and offers educational programs.
Today, the association’s
activities are organized into four major areas: publications,
research and information services, public programs and educational
“It is the oldest publisher in the state, having published
scholarly books for more than a century now,” Tyler said. “The
association currently has more than 90 books, many award-winning.”
books range in topics as diverse as the state itself, including
topics such as music, maps, photography, military, famous documents,
football, women and exploration.
May “Big Mama” Thornton contributed greatly to
the Texas blues tradition.
Photo: © Jerry Hausler. Blues Archive,
University of Mississippi Libraries.
It seems only fitting that when
the TSHA began the publication of a handbook on Texas history that
it would take 13 years to prepare,
and take more than 3,000 authors, editors and reviewers to complete.
The result was a six-volume multi-disciplinary encyclopedia of
Texas history, culture and geography that provides a ready reference
source for almost any historical question relating to Texas. TSHA
later published the “Portable Handbook of Texas,” offering
more historical information about Texas than can be found in any
other single volume. Much of this information can be accessed free
of charge via the association’s Web site, which receives
1.5 million hits per month.
The TSHA Web site also offers “Texas
Day by Day,” providing
an interesting fact about what happened that day in history.
newest book, “The Handbook of Texas Music,” documents
the stories of some of the most influential people and places in
music. The entries in the handbook were contributed by a wide range
of volunteers—musicians, teachers, musicologists, those
in various jobs in the music industry and music buffs—some
of whom have devoted a lifetime of study to their subject. In their
collaboration they have been able to create an encyclopedia and
biographical dictionary covering all aspects of Texas music with
articles and more than 125 images.
“Texas has been immensely important in the development of American
music,” said Dr. Roy Barkley, senior editor of the book. “The
handbook brings together the stories that give rise to this claim.
“The book includes music legends that will inspire generations to
come such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Janis Joplin and Selena,” Barkley
added. “There are the stories of blues guitarist Freddy King,
who was a major influence on Eric Clapton, and Dooley ‘Play
it Again, Sam’ Wilson who became part of cinematic history
when he sat at the piano and sang ‘As Time Goes By’ in
the famous scene from ‘Casablanca.’”
“The stories of Texas musicians are important barometers of the
political, social and cultural world around them,” said Dr.
George B. Ward, senior co-editor. “There are stories of musicians
such as Blind Lemon Jefferson. When he recorded ‘Matchbox
Blues’ in the 1920s, it would have been hard to imagine that
decades later the rock-and-roll pioneer Carl ‘Blue Suede
Shoes’ Perkins would record a version of the song, and that
in the 1960s the Beatles would do the same, inspired by the music
of a blind, black entertainer from rural Texas.
“Just like the people, there are places and events that
have had a major impact on music as well,” Ward added.
example from the handbook includes the Willie Nelson July Fourth
Picnic. In 1975, 90,000 people descended upon Liberty Hill in Williamson
County to hear Nelson and guests. The success of the concert prompted
the Texas Senate to proclaim July 4 Willie Nelson Day. Ironically,
the overcrowding problems of the previous picnics had also prompted
the Texas Legislature to pass the Texas Mass Gathering Act, and
Williamson County officials charged Nelson with violating that
law. Nelson overcame the minor setback and his picnic is now part
of Texas music history and an ongoing July Fourth tradition.
Nelson’s first Fourth of July Picnic, Dripping Springs, Texas,
Photo: Burton Wilson
aspect of the TSHA is its educational programs. Texas
part of the National History Day program, is an annual competition
in which students in grades 6-12 demonstrate their knowledge of
history through papers, performances, documentary presentations
and exhibits. Students winning at the regional and state levels
can compete against students from all over the United States at
National History Day in Washington, D.C.
Historians of Texas is the oldest of the TSHA educational programs, founded in
1939 by Walter Prescott Webb, Texas historian
and author. Students’ research can be published in the quarterly “Texas
Historian,” one of the few journals in the nation dedicated
to publishing students’ work.
“‘Texas Historian’ has given many students their
first opportunity at being published,” Tyler said. “Writers
like Janice Woods Windle, the author of ‘True Women,’ and
Prudence Mackintosh, Texas Monthly and UT Press writer, published
their first articles in the publication.”
The TSHA is part
of the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin.
To learn more about TSHA’s many publications
and programs visit the Texas
State Historical Association Web site.