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Texan Toughness and Lone Star Memories: The Alamo and the Old West

A tourist need only be in Texas a few days and they’ll likely realise how important Texan history is to the construction of the state’s self-identity. I have alluded to this throughout the book, littering the pages with references to the Lone Star past. To be clear though, I am not an historian. While I am interested in how Texan history may have played a part in the development both of Texan punishment regimes and the Texan reputation for toughness, writing a history of the present has not been my goal. Indeed, Robert Perkinson (2010) has done an excellent job of that already. Instead, what I have sought to do thus far is to examine the ways in which Texan memories of punishment past can help us understand the Texan punishment present. To this aim I have considered the punishment stories told about and by Texas. In addition, I have explored the ways in which Lone Star punishment museums are situated within the wider Texan self-identity through the incorporation of well-known state symbols. Yet from these analyses something rather interesting has emerged. We have discovered that Texan self-identity—or Texanicity—is

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 H. Thurston, Prisons and Punishment in Texas,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-53308-1_12

viewed as something separate, quite clearly differentiating between cultural insiders and outsiders.

This conclusion is hardly novel. Massingill and Sohn (2007) have written about this phenomenon, explaining that Texans view their own attitudes toward harsh punishment as somewhat unique. A comment made by Michelle Lyons, a Public Information Officer for Texas Corrections illustrates this point. When asked about her role—which includes speaking with journalists—Lyons suggested that out-of-state reporters do not always understand the ‘mentality of the people’; ‘foreign journalists see an unemotional attachment they find inexplicable’ (Massingill and Sohn 2007, p. 95). In short, Texas as a separate and unique motif pervades all aspects of Texanicity, and the Texan approach to punishment, underpinned by the unique mentality of the people which many do not understand, is just one expression of that motif.

As this chapter will illustrate, many scholars argue that the perceived separateness derives from a distinctly Texan history. However, it is not just the historical reality which is significant here; it is also the cultural memory of that reality, the historical stories told in places and products such as museums, documentaries or high school history classes (Assmann and Czaplicka 1995; Clemons 2008, Chap. 2). Not unlike the punishment museums, it is through these cultural intersections that both Texans and outsiders learn about the Lone Star State’s history. In the following we will therefore examine the narratives at work within the top five visited historical sites in Texas. More specifically though, this chapter will make three related claims: firstly, that the Texan selfidentity draws strength from two dominant memories (the Alamo and the Old West); secondly, that these memories have (to varying degrees) punishment dimensions; and thirdly, that Texan historical memories are used to construct continuities between past and present, continuities which might help explain the Texan commitment to harsh punishment. In its entirety then, the chapter will argue that the image of a tough Texas is not only a construct found within Lone Star punishment museums; it is also a part of the very foundations upon which contemporary Texanicity is built.

 
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