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
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
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.
The curious 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
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.
[See Texas Centennial
Markers » ]
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
More "Letters from Central Texas"