Our nation’s monuments reflect the people who made it their home, the struggles they endured, and the values that made it possible.
Every civilization erects monuments to the things its members wish to celebrate. It does us well to occasionally stop and reflect on the nature of these monuments and what they depict; they can reveal a great deal about the communities in which we immerse ourselves.
Texas is a different sort of place — while it’s now a state, it was once a nation for almost 10 years. A few other states also gave nationhood a go.
Vermont had a rather cantankerous past. It got its start as a group of rebellious New York counties with a reputation for tarring and feathering New York tax collectors. It operated as a republic for 14 years through 1791 though no nation recognized it. As the Revolutionary War started to turn against America, the state started to negotiate to rejoin the British empire as part of the Province of Quebec during the Haldimand Affair — but the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781 put an end to that.
The Republic of West Florida in present-day southwest Mississippi was a nation for just over two months until it was annexed by the U.S. in 1810. Hawaii had a republic for a few years after its monarchy was overthrown in 1893 with the help of some U.S. Marines.
And California was a republic for all of 25 days until it was handed over to a U.S. military governor for safekeeping amid the Mexican-American War in 1846.
My family moved from California to Texas in late 2011. Prior to that, I was a California state assemblyman for six years and was also in the California Army National Guard, retiring from reserve service as a lieutenant colonel in 2007.
Now as part of my work for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, I frequently visit the Texas Capitol and its grounds, only two blocks away from the office. Recently, coming back from testifying before a committee, I noticed that Texas’ monuments had a decidedly martial air — with rifles, swords, pistols, and even several cannons.
But it wasn’t until the bright last day of February when returning from a meeting with legislative staff and noticing an anti-Second Amendment rally on the steps of the Texas State Capitol that I got to thinking seriously about armed statues.
Recalling the state park around the California Capitol, I mused that if the statuary animated and it came to a scrape, the Texas Capitol’s monumental denizens would easily overpower California’s. So, as any history buff would do, I decided to test my memory and look up the statues around and in the capitols of America’s two most-populous states.
Sure enough, of 12 life-size monuments depicting people, things, or animals on California’s Capitol grounds, four were armed. Of 26 life-size depictions on the Texas state grounds, fully 19 were armed or were actual weapons — giving Texas almost a 5-to-1 advantage in this department.
States reflect the people who made them their home, the past and present, the conflicts fought within them, the geography, and other factors. Most American states are larger in size and population than many European nations.
In Texas’ case, many of its first American settlers came from Tennessee, and many of those Tennesseans traced their roots to the Scots-Irish settlers from the Ulster area in Northern Ireland. They were a feisty lot.
Texas fought 12 battles in its war for independence from Mexico. It won the first six, lost five in a row, including at the Alamo, and then won the last battle at San Jacinto. Texas then operated as an independent republic for almost a decade.
California’s struggle for independence from Mexico lasted all of 10 days and, after much scheming and maneuvering, resulted in the sole battle of Bear Flag Revolt at the Battle of Olómpali in which 20 militiamen of the California Republic defeated a force of 50 Mexican infantry backed up by 20 irregulars in what is now Marin County. The California republic lasted less than a month.
So, how would a battle to take California’s Capitol go?
Approaching from the west, the first signs of resistance would be offered by the California Peace Officers’ Memorial, with four officers equipped with handguns just across the street from the Capitol steps.
The advance up the steps would be uncontested, and as the living statues broke into the rotunda, where once a statue of Christopher Columbus accepting his commission from Queen Isabella might have given pause — Columbus had a fine sword — alas, the statue, donated in 1883, was removed in 2020 in the wake of the violence surrounding the death of George Floyd in police custody.
Outside the governor’s office, a large bronze grizzly bear might take a bite out of the attack — it was donated in 2009 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Moving through the Capitol into the 40 acres of the California State Capitol Park, Texas statues would encounter the greatest resistance. “El Soldado” of the California Mexican-American Veterans Memorial has a rifle, the soldiers in the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial can muster two rifles and a grenade, and the “Hiker” in the Spanish American War Memorial is also armed with a rifle. The battleship USS California has representation, but alas, it is only the ship’s bell rather than its dozen 14-inch guns.
After that quick rout, the attackers can accept California’s surrender in the World Peace Rose Garden at the end of the California State Capitol Park.
In contrast, an assault on the Texas Capitol would exact a terrible toll on any attacker, whether they be marble, granite, bronze, or iron.
Approaching the Capitol from the south, up Congress Avenue, the first sign of trouble comes from a lady with a cannon. Angelina Eberly was an Austin innkeeper who uncovered Sam Houston’s secret plot to remove the state archives from Austin to safekeeping in Washington-on-the-Brazos. Realizing that the loss of the archives would be bad for business, Eberly fired the cannon to rouse Austinites to the Texas Archive War. The archives were retrieved without further incident.
Moving past Eberly and her six-pounder, a tremendous cannonade ensues — from real cannons! The Texas Capitol grounds feature two 12-pounder brass cannons dating to 1864, a wrought iron 12-pounder cannon, and two 24-pounder howitzers dating from the Texas Revolution.
Then the small arms fire starts. No fewer than six monuments: Heroes of the Alamo, Terry’s Texas Rangers, Texas African American History, Tejano, Confederate Soldiers, and Hood’s Texas Brigade wield no less than 12 rifles, two pistols, a sword, a saber, a bayonet, and a large knife. Two more monuments, the Spanish American War and Gold Star Mothers, provide flanking fire from the west with two rifles. Meanwhile, the Goddess of Liberty coordinates the fight from atop the Capitol dome armed with a massive sword.
Whatever’s left of the attacker, once inside the Capitol, now faces an angry Sam Houston, armed with a sword, and Stephen F. Austin, carrying a rifle.
Breaking through to the north side of the Capitol, an entire Vietnam-era fire team could engage with a sniper rifle, two M-16s, an M79 grenade launcher, a light antitank weapon, three grenades, and bayonets.
And if the fusillade from the Vietnam Veterans Monument wasn’t enough, the 9-11 era Price of Liberty Memorial would offer a parting shot.
The monuments surrounding the Texas Capitol serve as a reminder that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
Or, put simply: Don’t mess with Texas.