Austin is the capital of Texas and the seat of Travis County. As a center of government, it’s no surprise that the folks are passionate about their politics. However, the presence of the University of Texas has lent a decidedly liberal focus to the city.
Environmentalists and civil liberties activists are the rule rather than the exception, and the Democrats and Libertarians are just as well represented as the Republicans. Indeed, Austin’s blue-state leanings have led to it being dubbed “the blueberry in the tomato soup” by a number of Texas conservatives. Many Austinites, embracing the eclectic, alternative culture of their city, have adopted the unofficial slogan “Keep Austin Weird.”
The city of Austin actually began as a tiny settlement called Waterloo, established at the gentle bend in the Colorado River sometime in the 1830s. When the new Republic of Texas was formed in 1836, the founding fathers debated fiercely over the next course of action. President Sam Houston advocated joining the U.S., while Vice-President Mirabeau B. Lamar wanted Texas to remain an independent nation. When Lamar became President of Texas in 1838, he suggested making Waterloo the capital city, despite the fact it was located on the western edge of the settled territory and threatened by attacks from the Penateka Comanche. Lamar’s vision of Texas was a territory extending all the way to the Pacific, and he hoped placing the capital that far west would encourage expansion.
Dallas, the third-largest city in Texas, is the seat of Dallas County and the cultural and economic center of the 12-county Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area known colloquially as the “Metroplex.” A cosmopolitan city, Dallas has a reputation as the well-dressed cousin of Houston and San Antonio. Cowboy hats aren’t all that uncommon, but they’re hardly the norm.
Dallas began as a trading post on the Upper Trinity River, established in 1841 by John Neely Bryan (just five years after the Republic of Texas broke off from Mexico and became an independent country). The city was named for one of Bryan’s friends, but to this day no one knows for certain who that was. Dallas might have remained just another small frontier town if not for the foresight of the city leaders. They paid the Houston and Central Texas Railroad to shift its north-south route through Dallas. They attempted to negotiate a similar deal with the Texas and Pacific Railroad’s east-west route, but Texas and Pacific turned down the offer. In the end, the Dallas leaders tricked the railroad by attaching a rider to a state law, stipulating that the tracks had to run through Browder Springs (which, as it turned out, was just south of Main Street). With the intersection of major north-south and east-west railroad routes, Dallas’ future as a commercial center was ensured.
El Paso City
El Paso, the sixth largest city in Texas and the seat of El Paso County, is located at the western tip of Texas on the northern bank of the Rio Grande. Across the river, in Mexico, lies El Paso’s sister city, Ciudad Juárez. The cultures and economies of these two cities are seamlessly linked, and together they form one of the largest international metropolis areas along the U.S.-Mexican border (second only to San Diego-Tijuana). El Paso is a major port of entry to the U.S. from Mexico, and a starting point for American tourism to Mexico.
In 1598, the area was first claimed for Spain by Juan de Oñate, who dubbed it El Paso del Rio del Norte (“Northern River Pass”). The establishment of several missions led to the growth and development south of the Rio Grande, but it wasn’t until 1827 that a settlement was established to the north, near the ranch of Juan Maria Ponce de Leon. In the wake of the Texas Revolution of 1836, the land north of the Rio Grande was ceded to Sam Houston for the Republic of Texas. The city of El Paso was incorporated in 1873, but didn’t really begin to experience growth until the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1881. In 1888, the Mexican government renamed El Paso del Rio del Norte to Ciudad Juárez to honor of statesman Benito Juárez. However, the city remained El Paso on the U.S. side of the river.
Fort Worth City
Also known as “Cowtown,” Fort Worth is the seat of Tarrant County in Texas. Together with its neighboring city Dallas, Fort Worth forms the DFW/Metroplex area. However, where Dallas prides itself on being cosmopolitan and sophisticated, Fort Worth proudly displays its cowboy roots for all to see.
Fort Worth was never actually a fort, but rather a military camp established in 1849 and named for General William Jenkins Worth. Situated at a fork in the Trinity River, the camp was there to protect settlers from Native American attacks. Once Fort Worth became a stop along the Chisholm Trail, it began to grow quickly. Saloons and gambling dens sprang up in “Hell’s Half Acre,” the name given to Fort Worth’s red light district.
San Antonio City
San Antonio is the second-largest city in Texas (after Houston) and the seat of Bexar County. Situated on the San Antonio River, this progressive city has managed to achieve a cosmopolitan air, even while retaining its sense of tradition and history. The result is a mingling of Southern, Tejano, German, and Wild West cultures. The city has a military tradition that extends back to 1718, when Don Martin de Alarcon constructed a military fort to protect the fledgling settlement. Today, San Antonio is home to several military installations, including Fort Sam Houston, Lackland and Randolph Air Force Bases, and Brooks City-Base.
The city actually began as the Mission San Antonio de Valero, founded in 1718 by Friar Antonio de San Buenaventura Olivares and named for Saint Anthony of Padua. The original purpose of the mission was to convert the native peoples living in Texas. However, the constant attacks from the Comanche and Apache led to a withdrawal of the clergy in 1794. The Spanish cavalry arrived from Mexico to occupy the mission in 1803, changing its name to Mission del Alamo del Parras.