you're the type of motorist who doesn't mind stopping every few
miles to read a brief tidbit of history by the side of the road
you can put together a pretty fair sketchbook of Texas
history just from the historical markers scattered all over
For instance, you can follow Sam
Houston from where he first splashed across the Red River into
Texas to a number of places where he lived, fought, slept or speechified.
Want to know where he went in the 1860s to bathe his lingering wounds
from the Battle
of San Jacinto? There's a marker for that, at Sour
Lake in Hardin County.
With more than 15,000 markers in the state, all placed by the Texas
Historical Commission, there is a lot of history on those markers
that most people have never heard of, the reason being that most
people don't live where the marker is located and wouldn't otherwise
know that the community Fairy
in Hamilton County was named for Fairy Fort, "the petite daughter
of pioneer settlers Battle and Sallie Fort" or that a space alien
(allegedly) crashed his, hers or its spacecraft near Aurora
in 1897 and is (allegedly) buried in the Aurora
Some of the
markers, like that one, have a Ripley's "Believe It or Not" quality,
partly because research for the markers is a "bottom-up" process,
meaning that it usually starts with a local historian or historical
society. Oral history is usually identified as such. The marker
in the Aurora
Cemetery, for instance, doesn't say that a being from another
planet is buried there - only that the story is told. Ditto the
legend of the Marfa
Light in Presidio County.
has a list of "Undertold Markers" that commemorates dozens of significant
but otherwise forgotten events, sites or personages that don't always
get their historical due. These could be called the "Who knew?"
markers. The list includes a marker in Shelby County recognizing
the Choctaw tribe for its overlooked contributions to the state's
history to one in Taylor
for cartoonist Tex Avery, who created
Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and had a lot to do with Porky Pig, too.
traveler of a certain age who stops at some of these markers might
also experience a moment of "I thought everybody knew…" because
the marker might highlight an actual personal memory. We might not
think of ourselves as part of the historical record, but we are.
Bob Brinkman, coordinator of the historical markers program for
the commission, notes that the Cold War is turning 50, which makes
some Texas sites prime prospects for markers. The Atlas ICBM Launch
Facility in Taylor County, built in the heart of the Cold War in
1961, is the first 20th century addition to the commission's Texas
Forts Trails, he noted.
"I think people
are surprised when they find a marker commemorating something they
actually witnessed or something that was part of their life, like
the Texas International Pop Festival in Denton
County," Brinkman says. "It took place in 1969, just a couple
of weeks after Woodstock but it's a powerful memory for a lot of
The easiest way to discover some of this undiscovered or rediscovered
history is to simply get in your car, start driving and stop when
you come to a historical marker. A more systematic approach could
include a visit to the THC website (thc.state.tx.us) where the markers
can be searched by county or keyword.
There's also an app for that. Atomic Axis: The Texas Historical
Landmark App for iOS devices is available for $3.99 in the iTunes
© Clay Coppedge
January 5, 2015 Column
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