What Does ‘Texas’ Mean? One Historian Is Challenging the ‘Friendly’ Legend We Learned in School
For a very long time, I thought the name Texas came directly from Caddo Native American word for "friend", tejas. After all, it's what my generation was taught in school, but it turns out that might be only half the story. Little did I know Texas could have a whole backstory that goes all the way back to Spain.
CHALLENGING THE HISTORY
I recently came across a Texas Standard article from 2019 detailing a theory by historian and archeologist Jorge Luis García Ruiz, who moved to San Antonio from Madrid and began digging into Texas' past after hearing the friendly origin of our state's name.
According to Ruiz, the popular story is that a friar by the name of Damián Massanet was stationed at a mission in East Texas in the 1600s, and that the native Caddo started calling him "teycha", meaning "friend" or "ally". When he wrote home about it, it's said, Massanet wrote the word as "tejas", which eventually morphed into Texas.
But Ruiz is challenging that old story.
YEW'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME
Ruiz says maps and documents by Spanish explorers demonstrate that they were using the word tejas to refer to areas of Texas well before Friar Massanet made friends with the natives.
So, if that's the case, where did the term really come from?
Ruiz says his studies led him to a 15th-century Spanish dictionary in which the words "tejo" and "teja" can be found, and that they refer to a type of yew tree.
According to his theory, Spanish explorers in what's now Texas spotted bald cypress trees that bore a striking resemblance to the familiar yews from back home in Europe, and decided to use the word "teja" to refer to this strange new place. (Maybe it made them feel more at home?)
IS HE BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE?
Ruiz's theory is interesting, but not as whimsical as the idea of our state being named for a word that translates to "friendly". Even Ruiz admits that his theory isn't likely to be widely accepted, and that the popular origin story is more "marketable".
What do you think? Would it bother you if Texas' name was rooted (no pun intended) in its natural beauty rather than the spirit of friendship? Tap the Chat button in our free app and let me know.
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