Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

Want learn about Texas history? Begin at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin and then travel around the state.

The Best Places to Learn About Texas History

Texas has a rich history; it's the only US state that was once a separate republic and many great tales are still told of the cowboy days, cattle drives, and early beginnings of the oil industry. Today Texas has many large, cosmopolitan cities as well as tiny, out-of-the-way towns, and each place has some bit of interesting local history. Here are some of the best places to learn about Texas history.

The quintessential Texas history site is the Alamo, of course. Located in downtown San Antonio today, the Alamo was a far-flung Spanish mission when the well-known battle for Texas freedom occurred there in 1836; all the defenders were killed but became martyrs for the cause of Texas independence. The Alamo is now an oasis in the center of a modern city; since 1905 the Daughters of the Republic of Texas have lovingly cared for the preservation of the Alamo and its grounds, and their care shows. The grounds are exquisitely landscaped, preserving native Texas plants, and there are fountains and other water elements. The main shrine is quiet and cool, with plaques honoring the defenders and flags representing all the states from which they came. There's a room with relics from Bowie and Crockett, and a "no photographs" policy keeps the shrine sacred. Other interesting buildings at the site include the Long Barracks, which houses a museum with historical artifacts and also shows a film, and the extensive gift shop, where visitors can buy Alamo souvenirs. There's a remarkable monument to the defenders in front of the Alamo, and the historic Menger Hotel also borders on Alamo Plaza.

The Alamo is the most famous Texas mission, but there are four other early Spanish missions along the San Antonio River south of the Alamo. There's a visitor center at Mission San Jose that points out the role of the missions among the early settlers, their defensive nature, and the farming and ranching endeavors carried out. Mission San Jose, with its beautiful and mysterious Rose Window, still holds several Masses each Sunday; "Mariachi Mass" is celebrated there each Sunday at noon. The other missions, Concepcion, Espada, and San Juan, are more isolated, especially SanJuan and Espada, and give more of a feel for what they must have been like in the early days. All the missions have quiet benches, grottos, and other outdoor sites for native Texans to reflect on their heritage.

San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site is located on 1200 acres in LaPorte, south of IH-10 east of Houston. This is the place where General Sam Houston's Texian troops defeated General Santa Anna's Mexican army, and Texas independence was won on this day, April 21, 1836. Visitors can tour the battlegrounds, go up to the top of the more than 600 feet tall San Jacinto Monument, admire the reflecting pool, or learn about Texas history in the San Jacinto Museum of History by viewing artifacts or watching "Texas Forever! The Battle of San Jacinto," a 35-minute film on the battle. The Battleship Texas is also in the park; it's a naval ship that served in both World War I and II and visitors can scramble all over the ship. The park is a great place for picnics, and many commemorative events are held there each year to show respect for Texas soldiers; military reenactments are often held.

The city of Beaumont has several historical museums that shed light on the early beginnings of the oil industry. The Texas Energy Museum on Main St. tells the story of the Spindletop oil gusher of 1901 in an interesting, humorous manner through the use of robotic mannequins dressed in period costumes. Gladys City is a recreated Spindletop boomtown near Lamar University in Beaumont; it contains many small period shops, saloons, and offices as well as the Lucas Gusher Monument, a wooden oil derrick that spouts water at times. The East Texas Oil Museum, located on the campus of Kilgore College in Kilgore, also recreates Boomtown, USA, a 1930s town founded around the discovery of a huge oil field in that area. The Gaston Museum in Joinerville has exhibits and events that commemorate the early oil industry in Texas and often holds events.

Another aspect of Texas history is the large ranching industry that thrived during the 19th century. The King Ranch in Kingsville is a National Historic Landmark, and historical tours are given there. The ranch is huge, encompassing an area larger than Rhode Island, and is still one of the largest ranches in the world. There's a museum with films on the ranch's history and accomplishments and artifacts such as guns, saddles, flags, and cars. Fort Worth, an important stop on the early cattle drives, has a historic stockyards district with the feel of an old-time cowboy town. Longhorns still rumble down the brick streets around the stockyards twice a day, rodeos are held each weekend, and there are museums honoring cowboys and cowgirls.

Hurricanes hit the Texas coast with regularity each year, and in 1900 there was a devastating storm. Since residents of Galveston didn't have much warning to leave the island, escape was cut off and more than 6,000 people died from drowning in the 15 feet storm surge. The Galveston County Historical Museum has exhibits on the storm, how the seawall was built to prevent another similar disaster, and the 1947 explosion in nearby Texas City. The Pier 21 Theater shows a film entitled "The Great Storm" that shows how Galveston went from being the most important port in Texas to utter devastation after the hurricane. Another film shown there, "The Pirate Island of Jean LaFitte," explores pirate history in the Gulf of Mexico during the early1800s.

The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin puts Texas history all together for the visitor who wants a broad overview. Exhibits on Texas land, the early explorers and Native Americans who resided there, the Spanish settlements and early colonization of Texas, and the oil industry are just some of the areas the museum explores. There's an area called "Destination: Texas History" where visitors can search a database of more than 500 museums and historical sites in Texas; if a visitor wants to learn more about a certain aspect of Texas history, he can print out a list of all the places in Texas where this topic is covered. The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum is a good first step for anyone who wants to learn more about Texas history.

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