Geography and Landforms:

Texas is the largest of the 48 contiguous states in the U.S. Because of this, it has a wide diversity of landforms. There are six main geographic areas in Texas: East Texas, the Gulf Coast, the Rio Grande Valley, the Blackland Prairies, the High Plains and West Texas.

East Texas includes the land between the Sabine and the Trinity Rivers, and is similar to areas of the Deep South of the US, including pine trees, Cyprus swamps, and the remnants of cotton plantations begun before the Civil War. More recently, however, the discovery of vast oil fields in this area has brought new industry to the area.

The Gulf Coast includes the major port cities in Texas including Houston, Galveston, Corpus Christi and Brownsville. Tourism is an important industry in this area.

The Rio Grande Valley and the long border between Mexico and Texas is predominantly plain, and contains large cattle ranches.

The Blackland Prairies represent some of the best farmland in Texas, and includes the important cities of Waco, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio.

To the West of the Balcones Escarpment lie the High Plains with its semiarid climate and extremes in weather. Major cities include Amarillo and Lubbock.

West Texas is also an area with a semiarid climate and contains the Davis Mountains and Guadalupe Peak, the state's highest point (8751 feet). Ranching is the primary industry in the area, with little land suitable for farming, and very small amounts of rainfall or water.


The first Europeans to visit Texas were from Spain. The Spanish governor of Jamaica gave Alonso Alvarez de Pineda four ships and 270 men, and ordered him to look for gold or other wealth. He and his crew were the first to explore the coast of Texas around 1519. Panfilo de Narvaez, also from Spain, came to the coast of Texas in 1528, having been blown off course in a storm. Four members of his party of exploration survived for nearly seven years in Texas, and it was their reports of the land and native people that led Spain to sponsor Francisco Vazquez de Coronado in his overland expedition through New Mexico and Texas. He reached the panhandle area of West Texas in 1541.

The next recorded contact by Europeans came in 1554 as a result of three Spanish ships wrecked off Padre Island. Perhaps 250 of the survivors were killed by hostile Indians, but a few escaped by boat and one on foot. Knowledge of the wrecks, laden with gold and silver, prompted salvage operations from Veracruz and Tampico in the late summer of that same year. Although early explorations yielded little of the reported mountains of gold that were rumored to exist in the New World, eventually, rich silver deposits were discovered in Northern Mexico in 1546, and settlers came to the area in greater and greater numbers to exploit these resources.

Aside from those coming to the area in search of riches, the other main reason for Europeans to come to the area was to bring the Christian religion to the native people. Spanish missionaries, specifically the Franciscans, began to establish mission communities in Texas in the late 16th century.

In the next 100 years, the Spanish began to be concerned about the increasing presence and influence of the French, who were also exploring in the region. French explorers like Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle were leading expeditions up and down the Mississippi River, and realized that if the Spanish closed off access to the mouth of that great river, an important trading pathway to French lands further north up to Canada would be jeopardized. Although the Spanish guarded their claim to the area that is now Texas, there was not widespread settlement there.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 brought the borders of the United States to Spanish-controlled Texas. In 1813 and 1819 American explorers made initial forays into Texas, and 1821, Moses Austin got a colonization grant from Spanish authorities in San Antonio. Although he did not live long enough to establish a settlement, his son, Stephen Austin brought 300 families across the borders, and started the first American settlement in Texas. At the same time, Mexico had earned its independence from Spain, and was now eager to encourage profitable colonies in Texas. Large numbers of Americans began to cross the border, and by 1830, Americans outnumbered Mexicans in the area.

Although Mexico had, at first, encouraged settlement, the Mexican government began to become concerned about the growing American influence. Politically unstable itself, the Mexican government made periodic attempts to stop American settlement. They also resisted a petition for Texas to become an independent state within the country of Mexico. However, in 1835, a revolution broke out in Texas, and American settlers drove out all Mexican troops, declared independence, and elected their own president. A Mexican army, led by Santa Ana, attempted to re-take Texas, but was eventually defeated by Texan troops under the leadership of Samuel Houston.

Initially, the people of Texas appealed to the United States to be annexed, but there was widespread opposition to the addition of another slave state to the Union, given the already tense political situation over the issue of slavery. Texas remained an independent country for ten years, with Sam Houston twice serving as President. Eventually, however, US Southerners pressed for the addition of Texas to the U.S., and in July, 1845, Texas was formally annexed. This action sparked war with Mexico.

The Civil War in the US brought Texas under yet another flag: that of the Confederacy. After the Civil War, Texas was readmitted to the Union in 1870, after ratifying the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

The spread of railroads throughout Texas brought widespread farming to the area, but the discovery of oil in 1901 began a slow change to a more industrialized, urban economy for the state.


Texas leads the United States in its production of oil and natural gas. It is also a major producer of helium, salt, sulfur, sodium sulfate, clays, gypsum, cement, and talc. Texas manufactures an enormous variety of products, including chemicals and chemical products, petroleum, food and food products, transportation equipment, machinery, and primary and fabricated metals. In agriculture, Texas is also a national leader, specifically in the production of cotton, cattle and cottonseed. Texas has more farms, farmland, sheep and lambs than any other state in the U.S. Finally, Texas is an important state in the area of commercial fishing, particularly for shrimp and oysters.

The discovery of large oil deposits in Texas at the beginning of the twentieth century brought the beginning of a technological economy to the state. The energy boom of the 1970s brought immense wealth to the state. Falling oil prices in the 1980s and 90s, however, meant massive layoffs and a near-collapse of the real estate market in Texas. The population of Texas has continued to grow, however, and the state is now the second largest in population in the country.

First Inhabitants:

Evidence of human habitation in the area now known as Texas dates back roughly 11,000 years. Archaeologists have found this evidence by looking at several types of sites, including camp sites where people lived; quarries where people cut away stone to use as tools; kill-sites, with evidence of hunters and the remains of their prey, and cave painting sites. For example, a site in Val Verde County, Texas, contains the bones of a large number of bison, along with fragments from the weapons used to kill them and tools used to cut away the meat.This cave dates to nearly 10,000 years ago.

The earliest people who lived in Texas were there during the late stages of the Ice Age. Scientists can identify them by the kind of weapons they made for hunting. By around 6000 BC, there is evidence that people were shifting away from a life focused on hunting and gathering, to a more settled agricultural society. We know this from the discovery of tools used for grinding grain to be used for food. From around 1,000 BC, we find evidence of large numbers of people being buried in ritualized ways, by using burial mounds, which indicates a substantial growth in the population in the area. Sometime around 1,000 AD, there begins to be evidence of long-distance trade in the use of materials that are not native to the area, and must have been acquired through contact with groups of people living some distance away.

The "historical" period in Texas begins with the first visits to the area by Europeans, specifically the Spanish and the French. There is also evidence that tribal groups from other parts of North America, such as the Comanche and the Apache, also came to Texas. By the early 18th century, the influence of these groups had substantially changed life for the original inhabitants of the area.

Books Related To Texas

The Armadillo from Amarillo - Lynn Cherry
(978-0152019556) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-3, Lexile: 590, ESL level: 2
The Texan armadillo's wanderings lead him to an understanding of his earthly location after he meets a wise eagle.

The Case of the Measled Cowboy - John Erickson
(978-0780793521) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-8, Lexile: 750, ESL level: 3 - 4
Hank the cowdog takes care of his measled master and the ranch when he also becomes ill and a blizzard stops normal life at their Texas ranch.

The Crossing - Gary Paulsen
(978-0439786614) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-12, Lexile: 1150, ESL level: 4 - 5
Manny's mentally disturbed friend, an American Vietnam vet, helps him escape across the border into Texas in this gritty tale.

Delfino's Journey - Jo Harper
(978-0896724372) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, ESL level: 3 - 5
Delfino and his cousin cross the border into Texas to work, but after getting caught in a slave camp, find they must escape again.

A Good Long Way - Rene Saldana
(978-1558856073) , Fiction
Interest level: 7-12, Lexile: 780, ESL level: 4 - 5
Mexican American high schoolers cope with violent family and social situations in this coming-of-age novel for teens.

L is for Lonestar: A Texas Alphabet - Carol Crane
(978-1585360192) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about the state of Texas.

The Legend of the Bluebonnet - Tomie dePaola
(978-0698113596) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-4, Lexile: 740, ESL level: 2 - 3
This book is a retelling of an oral legend about how bluebonnets came to be the Texas state flower.

Messenger on the Battlefield - Melinda Rice
(978-1556227882) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-7, Lexile: 590, ESL level: 3
When Texas declares war against Mexico, a Mexican American family has a choice of allegiance: should they support their country of heritage or their new land?

Old Yeller - Fred Gipson
(978-0060935474) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-9, Lexile: 910, ESL level: 3 - 5
This classic tells the heart-wrenching tale of a boy and his dog on the Texas plains.

Pedrito's World - Arturo Martinez
(978-0896726000) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-8, ESL level: 3 - 4
Pedrito has only known life in his small village until he starts school and has to start learning English.

Tantalize - Cynthia Leitich Smith
(978-0763640590) , Fiction
Interest level: 7-12, Lexile: 760, ESL level: 4 - 5
Quincie's love interest may turn out to be behind a series of Texas murders and a werewolf as well.

The Tequila Worm - Viola Canales
(978-0375840890) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-12, Lexile: 830, ESL level: 3 - 4
Sofia wins a scholarship to an Episcopal boarding school; she then realizes how important to her home is.

Famous Citizens:

Clyde Barrow
Born in Teleco, Texas and half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo, Clyde "Champion " Barrow assisted his partner, Bonnie Parker, in a nationwide crime spree that lasted from 1932 until their deaths in 1934. The two met in West Dallas, Texas in January 1930, and after Clyde's parole from burglary charges in 1932 they began a nationwide campaign of crime. Together the pair committed 13 murders, numerous kidnappings, and several burglaries and robberies. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies engaged in one of the largest manhunts the United States had seen up to that time, capturing national attention. With most of their accomplices already dead or captured, Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and killed instantly by a posse of lawmen on May 23, 1934.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
The 34th US President Dwight Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas. Before becoming President, Eisenhower commanded Allied Forces in North Africa during World War II, served as President of Columbia University, and then served as Supreme Commander of NATO forces in 1951.

Buddy Holly
Considered one of the fathers of rock 'n roll, Buddy Holly was born Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas. Holly was first noticed by Decca Records as part of an opening act for Bill Haley and the Comets. Eventually, Holly formed his own band The Crickets. His promising career was cut short when he was touring with Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper") and a small plane carrying the group crashed in Iowa, killing all aboard. This incident is widely believed to be the event referred to as "The Day the Music Died" in Don McLean's song American Pie.

Lyndon B. Johnson
The 36th US President, Lyndon Johnson was born in Stonewall, Texas. Prior to becoming President, Johnson had served in World War II, and served six terms in the House of Representatives. In 1948 he was elected to the Senate, and in 1953 became the youngest Minority Leader in history. When the Democrats gained control of the Senate, he became Majority leader. He served as Vice-President under John F. Kennedy, and then was elevated to the Presidency after the assassination of Kennedy. He successfully ran for President in the next election and is credited with initiating a program of social reforms he called the Great Society.

Sandra Day O'Connor
Born in El Paso, Texas, Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman appointed to the US Supreme Court. After practicing law, O'Connor was elected to the state Senate in Arizona. She also served on the Arizona Court of Appeals. She was encouraged to run for governor, but declined. President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1981.

Capital: Austin
Entered Union: December 29, 1845
Population: 26,956,958
Area 268,581
Bird Mockingbird
Flower Bluebonnet
Nickname: Lone Star State
Governor Greg Abbott

Places to Visit in Texas: (Click the links to learn more.)

National Museum of the Pacific War - Fredericksburg
The National Museum of the Pacific War is the only institution in the continental United States dedicated exclusively to telling the story of the Pacific Theater battles of World War II. The Center includes the George Bush Gallery, Admiral Nimitz Museum, Plaza of Presidents, Veterans' Walk of Honor, Japanese Garden of Peace, Pacific War Combat Zone, and the Center for Pacific War Studies.

Caverns of Sonora - Sonora
The Caverns of Sonora were first discovered in the 1920s, and opened to the public in the 1960s. A two hour tour takes you through about two miles of caves. Sonora is a natural cave that is one of the most active caves in the world, with more than 90% of the cave still forming. A National Natural Landmark, the caves are among the most beautiful show caves in the world.

Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza - Dallas
Permanent, educational exhibition on the life, death and legacy of President John F. Kennedy. Exhibits feature photographs, artifacts, 30-minute audio tour and six films. Located at the former Texas School Book Depository from which it is believed Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed Kennedy.

Space Center Houston - Houston
The Center provides an adventure into the past, present, and future of NASA's manned space flight program with interactive exhibits, IMAX films, and behind-the-scenes tram tours of the Johnson Space Center, home of America's astronauts. Original space hardware, such as a Mercury capsule, Gemini spacecraft, and Apollo 17 command module are displayed in simulated natural settings.

The Alamo - San Antonio
This 4.2 acre complex is an old mission where a small band of Texans held out for thirteen days against the centralist army of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Only a small number survived the siege; both western legends Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett lost their lives in the Battle of the Alamo.