Department

Don't Mess with Colorado

How do Coloradans hate Texans? One man—born in Colorado, now living in Texas—counts the ways.

By
December 2008

Winter and summer, we Texans haul our money up to Colorado and spend it. We splurge on lift tickets and hunting licenses and condos. We leave big tips. Only California sends more tourists your way.

And how do Coloradans thank us? With those little decals showing a silhouette of Texas crossed by a red bar. With bumper stickers that read, "Texans go home." If Texans did go home, says former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm, "it would raise the IQ of both states."

Almost every state has issues with another state. Oregon and Washington are sick of interlopers from California. New York and New Jersey have squabbled for years over pollution, garbage, and possession of Ellis Island. At this moment Alabama, Florida, and Georgia are fighting over water.

But this Colorado­-Texas thing is not just another interstate dustup, and I think I'm in a position to explain. I vote in Texas, and I carry a Texas driver's license. But I was born in Colorado and grew up there. Texas is just where I happen to live. Colorado is home. I like to say I hold dual citizenship.

My dad was born in Fort Worth in 1912 and moved to Denver eight years later. He never cared much for Texas or Texans, and his distaste was a source of constant needling between him and his Galveston-born mother, my grandmother. Gram viewed her years in Colorado as bitter exile. Nothing in Colorado was ever as good as in Texas. The people weren't as friendly. Even her Texas chicken-fried steak didn't taste the same at altitude. Texas was always better, bigger. No it wasn't, Dad told her: If you ironed out the mountains, Colorado would be bigger than Texas. No it wouldn't, Gram said.

The problem with Texans, Dad told me, is that they buy up the best fishing and hunting spots, places he had used freely for years. And they hang up No Fishing, No Hunting, No Trespassing signs.

Dad, of course, wasn't the only Coloradan who had a beef with Texas. When I was growing up, I would listen on Friday nights as his poker buddies groused about Texans. One of them, the state fishing commissioner, loved to stick it to Texans when they were caught fishing over the limit, or bagging deer out of season or from the side of the road, which, I gathered, they did—and maybe still do—all the time.

Pretty soon, as a mere adolescent, even I hated Texans.

Now, decades later, I live in Dallas. Since we moved, we visit Colorado as often as possible. I don't see as many "Texans go home" bumper stickers as I used to in the 1950s, but sometimes when I sign in at a motel the clerk will pause and look up. "Oh, Texas." And—is this just my imagination?—natives seem to glance at our license plates. We Texas drivers apparently have a reputation, just as they did when I was growing up in Colorado.

I am not the only Texan that senses this scrutiny. Richard Carnes, a transplanted Texan who writes a column for the Daily News in Vail tells me about a gentleman from Texas who complained in a letter to the editor. The man was in Vail scouting property for a summer home. He stopped off in a coffee house to sip a latte and found himself sitting next to a table of locals. "A Texan just moved in next door," one of them said.

Well, there goes the neighborhood.

The man from Texas sat there, nursing his latte in silence, while the Coloradans poured out their grievances: Texans drive too fast. They're noisy. They brag. They travel in packs, despoiling the land like grasshoppers or grackles. They're déclassé.

A few years after Carnes moved to Vail, writer and filmmaker Mark Snow moved his family from Fort Worth to Woodland Park. Shortly after the move, he went to get his Colorado driver's license. During the written test and the eye test and all the other tests, the DMV guy kept ribbing him about Texas.

"Well, it sure is hot down there," the guy said. "You sure got a lot of mosquitoes," he added for good measure. Finally, the man handed Snow his new Colorado driver's license. "Welcome," the DMV clerk said, "to the United States of America."

It was insulting, but there was more than a grain of truth in it. When the Republic of Texas was formed in 1836, it claimed a swath of Colorado. Naturally, it was the most scenic swath, perfect for future skiing and summer condos. In 1845, when Texas became a state, it gave up its claims.

Texas' territorial ambitions flared up briefly during the Civil War, when Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley marched a couple hundred Texans up the Rio Grande with the intention of capturing Colorado's gold mines for the Confederacy. Volunteer forces from Colorado rushed to New Mexico and turned the Texans back at the Battle of Glorieta, known as the "Gettysburg of the West." Coloradans still speak of this engagement with considerable satisfaction.

It dims that satisfaction somewhat that the commander of the Colorado volunteers was Colonel John M. Chivington, the infamous perpetrator of the Sand Creek Massacre, in which a band of peaceful Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne Indians was murdered. Still, says Denver historian Tom Noel, "No matter how you feel about him, remember this: Chivington was the last person to stop Texans from invading Colorado."

But we Texans keep on coming. Every now and then there's an oil boom or a natural gas boom or some other kind of boom in Texas. When that happens, we all head to Colorado to ski and to buy up land. "You couldn't kick them out because they owned the place," says Huntley Paton, former publisher of the Dallas Business Journal, who grew up in Denver.

Skiers in the Wolf Creek area certainly would love to kick out Texas gazillionaire B.J. "Red" McCombs. But McCombs owns 287.5 acres at Alberta Park, and controls access to trails on which locals have skied for decades. In 2006, McCombs shut down access after a falling-out with his partners, who own the local ski area.

Some South Park residents are ready to give the boot to Texas businessman Jeff Hawn. In May, when his neighbor's buffalo roamed a little too freely, pooping on Hawn's pasture and wrecking the dish antenna at his luxury home, Hawn declared open season. Hunters shot 32 of the animals, violating ancient custom and Colorado range law, which extends protection to wandering livestock.

Our sins, clearly, are myriad. As you should, you continue to mock us. Deep inside, we Texans love it. We love to be singled out; we regard ourselves as a singular people. Yes, we're loud and vulgar and rich (though not nearly as loud and vulgar and rich as we used to be), and we like to think we stand out in a crowd.

But when I come back to Colorado, as soon as I crest Raton Pass, though I don't switch license plates I instantly switch identities. Once again I am a native Coloradan. I am home. And then I, too, can experience the distinct pleasure of hating Texans.