What do we Texans have in common with a two-pound South African mongoose? In a word, vigilance.
When a meerkat colony is foraging or playing, there are always sentries posted, looking to the horizon for any sign of danger, ready to bark the alarm and take action. Cute and furry, but just as serious about their business as Texas Rangers.
That same vigilance is an ingrained trait of the Texan character, born of our cultural memory of the frontier.
Of course, just about everywhere in the United States was the frontier at one time and that meant isolation and Indian troubles. The difference is that it only lasted a short while in other places. Never more than ten years.
Not so in Texas. Here, in a perfect storm or chronology and geography, the frontier isolation and Indian fighting covered a full forty years. Two generations. The frontier literally paused in Texas, and during the Civil war it even moved backwards.
It didn't help that our primary aboriginal foes were the Comanches.
Most people don't know that the Comanches were not an ancient tribe, but had only existed since about the time Ben Franklin was born. They were an offshoot of the Shoshone, obsessed with horses, who had moved down to Texas from Wyoming. They were the outlaw bikers of the plains.
It took the fighting resources of the US Army to put an end the the Indian dangers of Texas frontier life, but that was not the end of the frontier experience. Texas had the privilege of adding a third ingredient to the mix: a hostile foreign power on its border.
Even after statehood, which ended the threat of Mexican invasion that always hovered over the republic, cross-border banditry was a problem.The culmination was Pancho Villa's raids during the Mexican Revolution.
By 1916/17 there were over 130,000 US troops on the Texas border with Mexico. Think about that. Its almost the same size as the Iraq invasion force. Lots of us had parents or grandparents who remembered that time.
Those frontier experiences left a deep imprint on our cultural memory that will never be erased. If you are culturally a Texan, frontier vigilance is part of your make-up. Nothing you can do about it. Its one of the reasons folks from other regions just don't get us sometimes. They don't share that cultural memory. They ain't got no meerkat in 'em.
Of course, in an age where a pre-modern tribe can fly airplanes into tall buildings, that ingrained vigilance seems more relevant than ever.
The frontier is everywhere now.
For more on frontier vigilance, take a look at Mr. Hilory Bedford's Texas Indian Troubles.