Texas Living

Keeping Texas Folklore Alive

By Peter Simek 5.28.18

Texas’ history is filled with larger-than-life characters — swaggering figures of American lore like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, whose lives feel pulled straight from romantic adventure stories. So it’s no surprise that the state enjoys a rich and multifaceted tradition of folklore.

Origin Stories

Texas folklore goes back to the time of the Spanish exploration and the Native American tribes that once wandered the state’s plains. As settlers from the British Isles, Mexico, Africa, Central Europe, Cajun Louisiana, and elsewhere came to Texas, they brought with them stories and songs that have blended together to make up the tapestry of Texas folklore.

The experience of settling the Texas frontier also generated its own folk traditions. Cowboy songs, Western tall tales, and mythical figures based on Texas’ adventurers and outlaws have been incorporated into the state’s folk traditions.

Tall Tales

Keepers of the Tales

Some of the most famous characters include Pecos Bill, the tornado-wrestling cowboy, and Bigfoot Wallace, the Texas Ranger and hero of the Texas Revolution. These stories have been preserved in more than 100 volumes of Texas folklore, recorded and published by the Texas Folklore Society.

The Texas Folklore Society was founded in 1909 in Dallas at a time when many of the traditions and tales of Texas’ founding were dying out with the early settlers. John Lomax, one of the society’s founders, grew up near the Chisholm Trail, and as a boy, he heard the cowboys who rode the trail sing their songs. After he graduated from Granbury College, he began to travel the state documenting and recording cowboys and folk singers.

Lomax became a pioneering folklorist, and it is because of his work that many of the songs and sounds of Texas’ early music are preserved, including the lyrics to “Home on the Range” and the work of Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter.

Today’s Folklorists

But folklore, by its very definition, is a living, breathing, oral tradition, and it continues to be passed down in Texas through community traditions.

Some of the most prominent examples of Texas folk tradition still alive today include the improvisational pastorelas plays performed in Mexican communities along the Rio Grande Valley and the largescale outdoor musicals performed each summer in Albany and Palo Duro Canyon that relate Texas histories. These productions offer an intimate connection to the stories that continue to shape Texas’ culture and identity.

Looking for more Texas history? Learn about the East Texas Music Highway, where the Texas blues were born.

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