Cattle, by Berta Heart Nance

I was reminded of this poem the other evening. The opening stanzas were used in the beginning of the great PBS Texas history program “Lone Star,” which was based on a book of that title.

by Berta Harte Nance (1883-1958)

Other states were carved or born
Texas grew from hide and horn.

Other states are long and wide,
Texas is a shaggy hide.

Dripping blood and crumpled hair;
Some fat giant flung it there,

Laid the head where valleys drain,
Stretched its rump along the plain.

Other soil is full of stones,
Texans plow up cattle-bones.

Herds are buried on the trail,
Underneath the powdered shale;

Herds that stiffened like the snow,
Where the icy northers go.

Other states have built their halls,
Humming tunes along the walls.

Texans watched the mortar stirred,
While they kept the lowing herd.

Stamped on Texan wall and roof
Gleams the sharp and crescent hoof.

High above the hum and stir
Jingle bridle rein and spur.

Other states were made or born,
Texas grew from hide and horn.

…by Berta Hart Nance

In many ways, the poem catches one of the great differences in how Texans see themselves as compared to the residents of other states. Texas started as an edge, where farming and grazing met buffalo hunting. After the Civil War, cattle made the state, at least until cotton and other crops regained their value. Rather than identifying with the Spanish or Mexicans, or the farmers of the period of 1836-1861, Texans adopted the longhorn and the rancher as their mental symbols.

There’s a lot of “how do we remember” tied up in Nance’s poem, if you step back and study it from a historian’s viewpoint. Chosen memories and identities are powerful things, and the continuing insistence that Texas is different from other places used to be a major reason for Texans’ culture and claims to place. Now, that folk lore and identity is being eroded by historians (because the TV Western view leaves some things out that ought to be included) and activists (because Anglo-Americans were bad and the Spanish were good [unless they were bad to the Native Americans].)

I’ve been watching the emphasis on the ranching history of the Panhandle being worn away and new ideas tried. I’m not certain how well “Bomb City” is going to weather changing cultural fads. Los Alamos, Albuquerque, other places deserve that nick-name a lot more than does Amarillo.

But it doesn’t change that “Texas grew from hide and horn.”



5 thoughts on “Cattle, by Berta Heart Nance

  1. Since I read TR Fehrenbach’s history of Texas “Lone Star”, I’ve always thought that he was on to something when he suggested that the unique Texas character came from the state of more or less constant war with the Comanche. From the time of the first Texan-American settlements, to the final defeat of the Quahadi Comanche, that was a solid fifty years of constant warfare. Any time, any place along a wide frontier (and even into the settled areas!) there was a good chance of sudden attack, siege, torture, murder, and kidnapping. It didn’t let up for half a century. That’s two, maybe three generations, deeply affected by the possibilities of a Comanche raid.
    Other places, other states – after the Revolution, of course – war with the local native tribes was sorted in a few years. (The colonial wars with the various tribes being an exception, although they were also sorted, eventually. I think the mark that they left had pretty much faded over time.)

  2. I wouldn’t say it’s just thre historians.
    The broad-based Progressive Movement that dominated American politics for the last century ranges from indifferent to hostile with respect to regional differences. And since the public school system is the church of Dewey’s “secular religion”…
    Idaho was settled in the wake of the ACW, mainly by three distinct groups:
    Yankee “bummers”, who came home from the war to find their former place in society gone; their apprenticeships, jobs, and sweethearts all filled in their absence.
    Former Confederates, who either weren’t covered by the general amnesty, or refused to “swallow thre dog”.
    Mormons; who had their own reasons for distrusting the federal government. (And who had their own beefs with people from Illinois and Missouri. )
    But a gold rush at the @$$end of nowhere can get greed and self-preservation to pull in harness. Out of this rather flammable mix came a number of distinctive folkways (the most obvious being that it’s unspeakably rude to ask someone about their past) and a distinctive accent (based on cadence and intonation, much more than pronunciation. The consonants are a bit of the soft side, but well within the norm. But since people associate agent with pronunciation, most people from the area don’t think they have an accent. Which makes it especially vulnerable to dilution and eradication.)
    Throw in folk memories of appointed territorial governors absconding with the public treasury, and communists launching a bloody armed insurrection, and you’ve got a heritage that simply isn’t going to be taught by anybody associated with the government.
    Add in waves of illegal aliens, and a tsunami of economic refugees from California/coastal Oregon/coastal Washington that may well outnumber the native-born, and the Idaho I grew up in, exists only in memories.

  3. The early Texans were hardy and stubborn people, battling weather, indians, and mavericks to make a home. In a nutshell, hoof and horn IS the Texas generations grew up with. I personally don’t ever see it going away, it is too deeply imbued in the Texas mentality and spirit.

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