Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A Caledonian Texas

I had the immense pleasure of visiting Texas in 2009. I stayed in Round Rock near Austin the State Capital and had a couple of weeks exploring the area taking in Georgetown, Waco (in particular the excellent wee Zoo there) and had a wee jaunt down to San Antonio which is famed for The Alamo.

What I found was incredibly friendly people proud of their Texan heritage and streets that seemed impervious to litter. I have always experienced a warm welcome when visiting the USA but one thing I didn’t expect on this trip was the wealth and depth of Scottish influence within the State.

The Lone Star State

I will only be able to scrape the surface here but some of the main facts I found had me surprised I never knew about it; perhaps schools in Scotland should be looking at informing pupils of more of the Scottish influences and contributions worldwide.

Austin is the State Capital, named after Steven F Austin (1793 – 1836) who on receiving a grant, originally given to his father, was able to bring 300 colonists to Texas. Over 40% of those original colonists were Scots.

The State Capitol building in Austin was financed by ten men from Scotland. Incidentally, I love the fact that given ‘everything in Texas is bigger and better’ the State Capitol building was built to be bigger than the national one in Washington DC.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston (1793 – 1886) an Ulster Scot led the call for Texan autonomy from Mexico and set about recruiting a force to support it.

His ancestry is said to go back to Houston, Renfrewshire.

 In December 1835 a group of Houston’s volunteers took the Southern Texas town of San Antonio. They set up at a former mission called the Alamo. When in March 1836 Texas declared independence Houston was commander of the armed forces.

The Mexican response was to send an army to besiege the Alamo. We know that there were 189 defenders and that almost one-third of those were Scots or of Scots heritage including Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie (of the Bowie knife fame), Richard W Ballantyne, Isaac Robertson, David L Wilson, and John McGregor (who played the bagpipes during the attack). Reports on the strength of the Mexican army can vary but is generally believed it was around 3,000 strong; after 4 days with the defenders wiped out 1,400 Mexicans were left.

Gratuitous pic of me at the Alamo - it was too busy to get in so 
at least I have an excuse to go back (as if I would ever need one)

Further Scottish/Texan connections include:

  • The oldest signatory of the Texas Declaration of Independence was Collin McKinney of Scottish descent. The county of Collin and town of McKinney are named after him.

  • There are 254 counties in Texas – more than 100 have Scottish connections with almost 40 towns having an affinity with Scotland including Dallas, Elgin, Edinburg, Highlands, Houston and Gordon.

  • Aberdeen Angus cattle were first exported to Texas in 1883.

  • The Texas Land & Cattle Company has its origins in Dundee.

  • The famous Chisholm Trail is attributed to Jesse Chisholm (part Scot/Cherokee). His grandfather, John Chisholm, arrived in Texas from Scotland in 1777; his son married the daughter of a Cherokee chief.

  • The Scottish Society of Texas was formed in 1963 representing 50 clans in Texas.

  • Texas Bluebonnet Tartan was recognized as the official State Tartan in 1989 – the bluebonnet is the State flower.

  • The Texan colloquialism Y’all is said to evolve from Scots Gaelic ‘sibh vile’ (se’vall) which means ‘you all’

This blog post can simply not do justice to the connections between Texas and Scotland but there are a surprising amount of websites to visit for much more information. Better yet, go visit!



  1. Great post, Geoff! There are many many connections to Scotland in our great country. No State is untouched by their brilliant and brave influence. We have National Tartan Day every April 6th in America to celebrate the Scots influence on our Declaration of Independence which was largely based the Declaration of Arbroath. (sorry. I'm not sure of that spelling) Not too many people know about the holiday, but every year is an opportunity to educate and find those 'gems' as you walk through the grocery in your kilt and see another 'kinsman' picking over the produce!

  2. Hi Brenda! Your spelling was bang on! Aye, the Tartan Day celebrations seem to take place (mainly or exclusively) in New York. Perhaps one day I'll be lucky enough to make it there.

  3. Mark McNaught here. Just saw your comments on NNS. I lived in Austin for 14 years, but was not aware at the time of the deep Scottish connections. Where are you based?

  4. Hi Mark!

    Thanks for the comment. I live in Kinghorn in Fife but was amazed at the friendliness of the Texans and the numerous Scottish connections whilst visiting there.

    Funnily enough I have sold quite a lot of my book via Hanselled Books to Texas too - they do seem to view Scotland with a certain fondness.