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Are Texans special?

Randolph B. Campbell, Regents Professor of HistoryTexas Independence Day, March 2, marks the day that Texas declared itself a republic. That was 177 years ago. Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell, above, Regents Professor of history and Lone Star Professor of Texas History, explains what happened next.

Who were the Texans, and why did they settle in the territory?

Texas, defined at the time as the region between the Sabine, Red and Nueces rivers, attracted so many settlers from the United States during the 1820s that it became an Anglo region of Mexico.  Arriving primarily from the Old South states stretching from Virginia to Louisiana, the “Texians,” as they are often called, came seeking opportunity on the rich lands that Mexico made available at extremely low prices in Texas. They defined opportunity primarily in terms of producing cotton with slave labor.

By the mid-1830s, the Anglo population amounted to approximately 30,000, dramatically outnumbering the 4,000 or so residents of Mexican descent (generally called “Tejanos”) and even the 14,500 Indians who lived in the province. The population also included about 5,000 African-Americans who labored essentially as slaves.

What led to the Texas Revolution and the Texas Declaration of Independence?

Texas Centennial celebration on campus, 1934The Texas Revolution resulted from a special complex of combustible conditions and a spark that ignited them.

The first combustible was put in place when Anglo-Americans populated a Mexican province.  Concentrated in a limited area close to their homeland, they maintained a distinct ethnic and cultural identity and in general had little or no loyalty to Mexico.

A second combustible was added when leaders in Texas, Texians and Tejanos alike, came to think that the central government in Mexico City did not recognize their problems or support their interests.

The spark that touched off these combustibles came when Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna as President of Mexico centralized the nation’s government and sent troops to force the people of Texas to subject themselves to the new system and accept military occupation.

Facing a great reduction in local control, Texians, with the support of a significant portion of Tejanos, rebelled; first by calling for restoration of the federal system Santa Anna had abolished and then by armed resistance.

The final step came with a convention that assembled at Washington-on-the-Brazos and declared independence on March 2, 1836. Right, the Texas Independence Centennial pageant on campus.

Gen. Sam Houston, circa 1840sAre there myths about Texas Independence?

There is a fairly well known story that Sam Houston’s army won the Battle of San Jacinto because the attack came in the afternoon when the Mexican forces were resting and caught totally by surprise. It is true that some of Santa Anna’s troops who arrived as reinforcements on the morning of the battle were resting, but Mexican sentries saw Houston’s army advancing and sounded the alarm. Right, Sam Houston, circa 1840s.

When the Texas forces were about 60 yards away, the Mexican troops fired one concerted volley from behind their breastworks of military baggage and equipment, but Houston’s soldiers then charged and broke though the Mexican position, opening the way for a total victory.

The Texan victory did not depend on surprising a resting enemy.

Why should students study history?

History is the documented memory of the past that is essential to the identity of any individual, group, or nation. People cannot fully understand where they are at any point in their lives without knowing how they came to that place.

Texans tend to view themselves as special people, an assumption that stems to a large extent from the way Texas won independence in a successful revolution, an event comparable in many ways to the revolt that created the United States.

Whether Texas is somehow a special place in the world and Texans a special people can be debated endlessly and the answers help determine how we view our government and the way we treat each other. History is a key to this vital debate. 

(Photos courtesy of The Portal to Texas History, UNT Libraries; Campbell photo by Jonathan Reynolds.)

Posted on: Thu 28 February 2013

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