by Bum Phillips
Last year, I wrote a small piece about what it means to me to be a
Texan. My friends know it means about damned near everything. Anyway,
this fella asked me to reprint what I’d written and I didn’t have it.
So I set out to think about rewriting something. I considered writing
about all the great things I love about
things to list. I can’t even begin to do it justice.
Lemme let you in on my short list.
It starts with The Window at Big Bend, which in and of itself is
proof of God. It goes to Lake Sam Rayburn where my granddad taught me
more about life than fishing, and enough about fishing to last a
lifetime. I can talk about Tyler, and Longview, and Odessa and Cisco,
and Abilene and Poteet and every place in between.
Every little part ofTexas feels special. Every person who ever flew
the Lone Star thinks of Bandera or Victoria or Manor or wherever they
call “home” as the best little part of the best state.
So I got to thinking about it, and here’s what I really want to say.
Last year, I talked about all the great places and great heroes who
Dell and Michael DeBakey and my dad and LBJ and Denton Cooley. I
talked about everybody that came to mind. It took me sitting here
tonight reading this stack of emails and thinking about where I’ve
been and what I’ve done since the last time I wrote on this occasion
to remind me what it is about Texas that is really great.
You see, this last month or so I finally went to Europe for the first
time. I hadn’t ever been, and didn’t too much want to. But you know
all my damned friends are always talking about “the time they went to
Europe.” So, I finally went. It was a hell of a trip to be sure. All
they did when they saw me was say the same thing, before they’d ever
met me. “Hey cowboy, we love
But let me tell you what, they all came up with a smile on their
faces. You know why? They knew for damned sure that I was gonna be
nice to `em. They knew it `cause they knew I was from
knew something that hadn’t even hit me. They knew Texans, even though
they’d never met one.
That’s when it occurred to me. Do you know what is great aboutTexas?
Do you know why when my friend Beverly and I were trekking across
country to see 15 baseball games we got sick and had to come home
after 8? Do you know why every time I cross the border I say, “Lord,
please don’t let me die in_____”? Do you know why children in Japan
can look at a picture of the great State and know exactly what it is
about the same time they can tell a rhombus from a trapezoid?
I can tell you that right quick. You.
The same spirit that made 186 men cross that line in the sand in San
Antonio damned near 165 years ago is still in you today. Why else
would my friend send me William Barret Travis’ plea for help in an
email just a week ago, or why would Charles Stanfield ask me to
reprint a Texas Independence column from a year ago? What would make
my friend Elizabeth say, “I don’t know if I can marry a man who
coming to my house this weekend to celebrate a holiday for what used
to be a nation that is now a state?
Because the spirit that made that nation is the spirit that burned in
every person who founded this great place we call
passed it on through blood or sweat to every one of us.
You see, that spirit that madeTexas what it is is alive in all of
us. Even if we can’t stand next to a cannon to prove it, it’s our
responsibility to keep that fire burning. Every person who ever put
a “Native Texan” or an “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as fast
as I could” sticker on his car understands.
Anyone who ever hung a map ofTexas on their wall or flew a Lone Star
flag on their porch knows what I mean. My dad’s buddy Bill has an old
saying. He says that some people were forged of a hotter fire. Well,
that’s what it is to be Texan. To be forged of a hotter fire. To know
that part of Colorado was Texas. That part of New Mexico was Texas.
That part of Oklahoma was Texas. Yep. Talk all you want. Part of what
you got was what we gave you. To look at a picture of Idaho or
Istanbul and say, “What the hell is that?” when you know that anyone
in Idaho or Istanbul who sees a picture of Texas knows damned good
and well what it is. It isn’t the shape, it isn’t the state; it’s the
state of mind.
You’re what makesTexas. The fact that you would take 15 minutes out
of your day to read this, because that’s what Texas means to you,
that’s what makes Texas what it is. The fact that when you see the
guy in front of you litter you honk and think, “Sonofabitch.
Littering on MY highway.”
When was the last time you went to a person’s house in New York and
you saw a big map of New York on their wall? That was never. When did
you ever drive through Oklahoma and see their flag waving on four
businesses in a row? Can you even tell me what the flag in Louisiana
looks like? I damned sure can’t. But I bet my ass you can’t drive 20
minutes from your house and not see a business that has a big
flag as part of its logo. If you haven’t done business with someone
called AllTex something or Lone Star somebody or other, or Texas such
and such, you hadn’t lived here for too long.
When you ask a man from New York what he is, he’ll say a stockbroker,
or an accountant, or an ad exec. When you ask a woman from California
what she is, she’ll tell you her last name or her major. Hell, either
of `em might say “I’m a Republican,” or they might be a Democrat.
When you ask a Texan what they are, before they say, “I’m a
Methodist,” or “I’m a lawyer,” or “I’m a Smith,” they tell you
they’re a Texan.
I got nothing against all those other places, and Lord knows they’ve
probably got some fine folks, but in your gut you know it just like I
So tomorrow when you drive down the road and you see a person broken
down on the side of the road, stop and help. When you are in a bar in
California, buy a Californian a drink and tell him it’s for
Independence Day. Remind the person in the cube next to you that he
wouldn’t be here enjoying this if it weren’t for Sam Houston, and if
he or she doesn’t know the story, tell them.
When William Barret Travis wrote in 1836 that he would never
surrender and he would have Victory or Death, what he was really
saying was that he and his men were forged of a hotter fire. They
weren’t your average everyday men. Well, that is what it means to be
a Texan. It meant it then, and that’s why it means it today. It means
just what all those people north of the Red River accuse us of
thinking it means. It means there’s no mountain that we can’t climb.
It means that we can swim the Gulf in the winter. It means that Earl
Campbell ran harder and Houston is bigger and Dallas is richer and
Alpine is hotter and Stevie Ray was smoother and God vacations in
and the Good Lord is watching, we’re Texans by damned, and just like
in 1836, that counts for something.
So for today at least, when your chance comes around, go out and
prove it. It’s true because we believe it’s true. If you are sitting
wondering what the hell I’m talking about, this ain’t for you. But if
the first thing you are going to do when the Good Lord calls your
number is find the men who sat in that tiny mission in San Antonio
and shake their hands, then you’re the reason I wrote this night, and
this is for you.
So until next time you hear from me, God Bless and HappyTexas
To the People ofTexas and All Americans in the World:
Fellow citizens & compatriots;
I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa
Anna. I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24
hours & have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at
discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if
the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, &
our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender
or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism
& everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with
all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no
doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If
this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as
possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his
own honor & that of his country. VICTORY OR DEATH.
William Barret Travis
Lt. Col. comdt
P.S. The Lord is on our side.