AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Defined in seven natural regions by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, the state of Texas stretches over 268,597 square miles. It reaches as far west as to be within spitting distance of White Sands National Park in New Mexico, and as far north as the Rita Blanca National Grasslands.
Texas is large enough to house tropical beach destinations to the south and the frigid, awesome expanse of the Llano Estacado in the Panhandle, with an immense collection of wildlife, industry, and culture. Colloquially, a person in South Padre Island has a vastly different experience of Texas as a region and a home than a person in El Paso or Amarillo.
Texas’ regions are so varied, in fact, that some common discussions in the Panhandle include rumination on the state’s “big boxy part at the top,” and statewide there is confusion about why the Texas regions are what they are and why Texas has the shape that it does.
The shape of the Lone Star State
Texas’ unique shape, according to the Texas State Historical Association, was carved by the different governments that have ruled the region from the 1500s through the present day:
- Spain (1500s-1821)
- As noted by the Bullock Museum’s explanation of Texas’ six flags, the region including Texas was at the northernmost tip of Spain’s North American territory in the 16th century. Early on, that meant that the land including Texas stretched as far east as Florida and as far north as Canada.
- France (Late 1600s)
- French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle sailed for the Americas in 1684 with a mission to build a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi River, aiming to make Texas part of France’s Louisiana territory. However, his appearance in the area ran afoul of Spanish authorities and prompted their more focused attention on Texas. This led to new maps and settlements as both the French and Spanish worked to solidify their presence on the Gulf Coast and enforce more solid borders between their territories, and resulted in a tentative eastern border between Texas and Louisiana.
- Mexico (1821-1836)
- By the time Mexico gained its independence from Spain, the Texas territory was a part of the Provincias Internas, which functionally merged its land with the territories of New Mexico, California, and others into one huge unit. However, Mexico’s Constitution of 1824 merged the originally-defined Texas territory with Coahuila, into one state. This pulled the border of what was governed as ‘Texas’ back from the western coastline inward, and maps of the area saw the beginnings of the western border as defined by the Rio Grande.
- The Republic of Texas (1836-1845)
- Disputes over land grants, immigration law, slavery, governance, and other subjects over the years led to the Texas Revolution in 1835, which was followed by the establishment of the Republic of Texas in 1836. However, that required separating from Coahuila and establishing how much of that territory would be joining Texas. Texas claimed the Rio Grande as its southwestern border and drew its boundaries up through the middle of New Mexico and Colorado, but struggled to have that border recognized by powers like Mexico and the U.S. Officially, the non-disputed western border of Texas at this time started about halfway between what is now Abilene and Fort Worth.
- United States of America (1845-1861, 1865-present)
- During its initial annexation into the US in 1845, Texas’ territory was recognized as expanding west to mid-New Mexico and north as far as Wyoming. However, that led to disputes between Texas, the US, and the people living in the territory of New Mexico, which were settled by the Compromise of 1850.
- The Compromise of 1850 established the border of Texas as it is now known:
- The western boundary was settled east from El Paso on the 32nd parallel to the 103rd meridian, and then northward, creating the border between Texas and New Mexico.
- The northern border was aligned with the 36°30′ north latitude parallel. This was because the preexisting Missouri Compromise of 1820 had decreed that any state established north of that boundary would be a free state, so Texas would not have been allowed to be annexed as a slaveholding state without that line.
Is Texas part of the Plains, the West, or the South?
As illustrated by the National Geographic Society, the Texas Almanac, and the TPWD, both the U.S. as a whole and the state of Texas are often broken down into smaller regional chunks for study, categorization, and reference.
The U.S. is often broken into four or five major regions:
Texas is often broken down into either four major physical regions with numerous sub-regions, depending on factors like local opinion, necessity, and natural geography, including:
- Gulf Coastal Plains
- Pine Belt and “Pineywoods”
- Gulf Coast
- South Texas Plains
- North Central Plains
- Prairies and Lakes
- West Texas Rolling Plains
- Great Plains
- High Plains
- Edwards Plateau
- Hill Country
- Basin and Range Province
- Big Bend Country
The state of Texas not only covers over 268,000 square miles of land, but stands in the southmost and central area of the continental U.S. Texas stretches over coastal biomes, thick forests, rolling hills, and high deserts, and it stands as a border state between the southern and western regions of the U.S. Texas covers so much ground and so many different environments that its people experience different seasons, different allergies, and different timezones while still living together within the same border.
Is Texas part of the Plains? Is Texas part of the West? Is Texas part of the South? Because of its vast surface area and unique shape – yes. Depending on geographic location, local opinion, and purpose, Texas has been categorized as a part of every region of the U.S. aside from the Northeast.
Altogether, the Lone Star State has been shaped by centuries of natural biome formation, political maneuvers, and people. While it has a different face to every person who encounters it, how its categorized, or the place in history it occupies, from the “big boxy part at the top” to the rocky southern beaches, Texas is just that: Texas.