After lunch, I walked back to the Capitol and spent about forty minutes looking at the interior, which I have included in my first post on Austin. Then, it was time to check out the Bob Bullock Museum of Texas History, which is about two blocks north of the Capitol, on Congress Street.
Bob Bullock was Texas’ State Comptroller, then Lieutenant Governor,in the 1980’s and ’90’s. He was a Democrat, but worked masterfully on both sides of the aisle. His overriding focus was on what was best for Texas. He passed on in 1999, and was the inspiration for the masterfully-developed museum which tells the full story of Texas history.
Photography is not allowed in the exhibit halls here, much like an art museum. I will share photos of the outside and the lobby, as we go along in this post.
This is the Texas Historical Commission Building, just south of the museum.
Above is the exterior of the museum, viewed from the east. The Lone Star is a symbol of unity.
The first exhibit one sees upon entrance is also an audio treasure. The importance of Texas to our musical heritage cannot be minimized. All the legends are represented, by region. From North Texas came Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughan, Jack Teagarden and Roy Orbison. East Texas sent Janis Joplin, George Jones, Kenny Rogers and Lyle Lovett. South Texas’ Freddy Fender, Kris Kristofferson, Chelo Silva and Selena have grabbed our hearts with songs of life on the hard side. The Hill Country’s Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Jerry Jeff Walker have immortalized their native region. West Texas’ Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and Bob Wills brought “Rockabilly” and Western Swing into the American musical panorama.
All of them, and hundreds of others, may be heard and enjoyed in this extraordinary hall. Once moving onward, I entered the hall of early Texas. The lives of the Comanches, Caddos, Kiowa, Lipan Apache and coastal Karankawa and Coahuiltecans are illustrated in great detail. The Karankawa were not cannibals, as the Spanish seemed to have portrayed them, but were tough warriors. The Caddos were the most technologically and agriculturally advanced of the Texas tribes, and dominated the eastern woodlands. They were also master traders, and had contacts in the Southwest, Ohio Valley and Mexico.
Next came the story of the early Spanish explorers and missionaries. Texas was not seen as altogether hospitable by the Spanish. They established their main presence in San Antonio and along the Rio Grande, as far as Del Rio and El Paso. These were the main centers of religious activity and of a military bulwark against french encroachment. The French explorer La Salle attempted a settlement at Matagorda Bay, which failed. After that, Spain paid more attention to Texas, despite its coastal swamps and searing deserts to the west. The result is the architectural treasure trove that remains in San Antonio and several smaller towns, to this day.
The War for Texas Independence is well represented here, as one goes upstairs to the second floor. The economics of the era, the ambition of Antonio de Santa Anna and the strong bond between white American settlers and Spanish-speaking Tejanos are all laid out in full detail. Audio presentations and brief films are here to explain events and dispel misconceptions about both sides. Slavery was a key component of white settlement in Texas, especially in the east. It was the economics of the cotton trade along the Rio Grande, however, which drove Tejanos to become both the main instigators of the independence movement and of Texas’ secession from the Union. Tejanos abhorred central government, because of their experience with Santa Anna. They did not take kindly to what they saw as Lincoln’s threat to their livelihoods as traders. Thus, the Tejanos of the Rio Grande Valley. led by Santos Benavides, a major cotton trader from Laredo, were the last Confederates to surrender in 1865. Indeed, Benavides’ troops actually defeated a Union force at Palomitas, east of Brownsville, nearly a month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
The rise of the cattle and oil industries is well covered, in displays on both the second and third floors. Less prominent, but still important, activities, such as the turpentine industry of east Texas, and the fisheries of the Gulf region, are also given good display here.
In the lobby, it is mentioned that a memorial to African-Americans in Texas is being developed here in Austin, and will be open later in 2012. Black people have suffered here, as elsewhere in the South, but also were brought into the economic life of west and south Texas more readily than in many places, even in the north. It was said that the Benavides brothers could have cared less whether cotton was harvested by slaves or by paid workers, so long as the trade thrived. Black men were also among the first Texas cowboys, after the Civil war ended.
Finally, the museum has a full audio and video hall on the topic of the Texas film industry. John Wayne, James Dean, Gene Autry and several others are given full due. It seems what really spurred the Western film industry was the Texas Centennial Exposition of 1936.
So, there’s a lot here in Bob Bullock Museum of Texas History. It’s yet another great place to spend an afternoon, or a day. (It took me four hours).