RAMPANT INDIVIDUALISM IN THE
REPUBLIC OF TEXAS
WILLIAM RANSOM HOGAN
The Republic of Texas gave exuberant expression to the spirit
described by Walt Whitman as "the American contempt for
statutes and ceremonies, the boundless impatience of restraint."
This temper characterized many American frontiers, yet for
more than a century pronounced individualism has marked Texas
as a region apart, even in the West. Phrases such as "those
traditional and genuine individualists, the Texans" constantly
recur in the writings of respected moderns.
The exact beginnings of a trait attributive to a region must
remain among the insolvable problems of history. Perhaps
it germinated in connection with the uniqueness of the estab-
lishment of the Republic of Texas and the maintenance of its
independence. Certainly the frontier commonwealth attracted
a group of unconformable leaders, headed by coruscating Sam
Houston, and the whole country reflected-and still reflects-
their characteristics. If a key to the nature of William Barret
Travis, who led his men to patriotic suicide at the Alamo, is to
be found anywhere, it appears in his diary in the entry for
March 9, 1834: "Started to Mill Creek waters all swimming
& prairie so boggy-could not go- The first time I ever turned
back in my life." It is also true that the Texas reputation
for toughness in the 1830's and 1840's, whether deserved or
not, repelled timid prospective immigrants. And many were
rejected in the usual process of frontier selectivity. As one
recently arrived man wrote in 1839: "This country is full of
enterprising and persevering people the timid and the lazy
generaly return to the States."- In 1846 a visitor found an
economic basis for Texas independence, and concluded that "the
'William B. Travis, Diary, 1833-1834 (typed copy), 67, Starr Papers.
Unless otherwise indicated, all MSS. cited in this study are in the University
of Texas Library Archives.
2James Nicholson to Mrs. James Nicholson, June 6, 1839, Nicholson
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 44, July 1940 - April, 1941. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth146052/. Accessed July 30, 2015.