Giants of Texas History
Texas has produced many notable figures. Click the links below to learn about:
Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was a French explorer who discovered the Ohio River and descended the Mississippi, claiming for France all of the lands drained by that river, a vast territory that he named "Louisiana." In 1683, La Salle landed a colony in Matagorda Bay in present-day Texas, and explored the Rio Grande as far west as the Pecos River. Although La Salle's expedition and colony ended in tragedy, his actions had far-reaching consequences for the future of Texas.
Stephen F. Austin was the founder of Anglo-American Texas. Austin's hard work, dedication, and diplomacy enabled the Texas colonies to grow from lonely frontier outposts to an independent republic in just fifteen years.
Sam Houston was one of the most illustrious men of Texas history. He was President of the Republic of Texas, governor of two states (Tennessee and Texas), and served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. As commander-in-chief during the Texas Revolution, he defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto. His personal life was no less tumultuous.
Lorenzo de Zavala, for whom the building which houses the Texas State Library and Archives is named, was the first vice-president of the Republic of Texas. A crusader for democratic ideals in his native Mexico, Zavala brought legislative, executive, and diplomatic experience to the fledgling Republic.
Thomas Jefferson Rusk was secretary of war of the Republic of Texas and played a key role at San Jacinto and in the subsequent defense of Texas in the uncertain years following independence. He later served as chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic, and, along with Sam Houston, went to the U.S. Senate after Texas became a state.
Mayor of San Antonio, Juan Seguín took up arms against Santa Anna. He was a defender of the Alamo and led his fellow Tejanos in battle at San Jacinto. But Seguín's hopes that Anglos and Tejanos would join together in building the Republic of Texas went unfulfilled. Six years later, he would flee Texas in fear of his life, then to take up arms again -- this time, on the side of Mexico.
José Antonio Navarro was the most influential Tejano of his generation. He championed Texas independence from Mexico, then fought for the rights of Tejanos as citizens of the Republic of Texas and the United States.
The second president of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau B. Lamar inherited a country that was broke, under constant Indian attack, and without international recognition. He had the vision to lay the groundwork for public schools, great universities, and a capitol city. But Lamar's dream of a Texas empire that stretched to the Pacific Ocean led the Republic down the road to disaster.
Anson Jones rose from country doctor to serving as the last president of the Republic of Texas. His work as secretary of state under Sam Houston earned him the title "Architect of Annexation." But his actual contribution to Texas statehood is more complex, and his life far more troubled, than the nickname would indicate.
The right to participate in civic life was hard-won for African-American Texans. Despite violence and intimidation after emancipation, African-Americans George Ruby, Matt Gaines, and William Burton won election and served effectively in the Texas Senate.
Note: For more complete information on 19th century African-American politicians of Texas, visit our Forever Free exhibit.
The Texas Railroad Commission, because it regulates the supply and price of oil and natural gas in Texas, has historically been one of the most important regulatory bodies in the United States. Governor James Hogg crusaded to establish the commission, and in 1891 John H. Reagan became its first chair.