Disability History in Texas From Isolation to Participation a history of Disability in Texas, 1835 – 1999

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Disability History in Texas

From Isolation to Participation... A History of Disability in Texas, 1835 – 1999

This is the text-only version. The full version of this document, with photographs, is available for download from the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities website.

The TGCPD celebrates 50 years (1949 - 1999) by publishing this history. April 9, 1999

Disability History and Texas Counties

The history of the Lone Star State can, in part, be read in the names of its counties. Native American tribes who roamed early Texas are memorialized in the names of Comanche, Cherokee and Wichita counties. The heroes of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution were honored in the naming of Travis, Crockett, Bonham, and Fannin counties, among others. County names like El Paso, Zapata, and Gonzales remind us of our state's rich Hispanic heritage.

It should come as no surprise, given the many contributions that Texans with disabilities made to our state, that their legacy should also be reflected in the names of Texas counties. Eight Texas counties bear the names of Texas leaders who had some form of disability. The achievements of these Texans remind us all of the productive roles that people with disabilities have played in our state's long and colorful history.
Deaf Smith County - Named for Erastus "Deaf" Smith, a scout during the Texas Revolution. Considered to be "the Bravest of the Brave" by Colonel William Travis, Smith destroyed Vince's Bridge during the Battle of San Jacinto, which prevented the retreat of the Mexican army and helped pave the way for Texas independence.
Ector County - Named for Confederate General Matthew Duncan Ector, who had a below-the-knee amputation of his left leg at the Battle of Chickamauga in the Civil War. General Ector returned to Texas after the war and was elected to serve on the Texas Court of Appeals.

Erath County - Named for state Senator George Bernard Erath, a former Texas Ranger and surveyor who surveyed the towns of Waco and Stephenville. Although Senator Erath was blinded late in life, he dictated his memoirs, which still serve as a valuable resource for early Texas history.

Grayson County - Named for Peter Wagener Grayson, the first Attorney General of the Republic of Texas. Grayson, a person with mental illness, was a candidate for President of the Republic of Texas in 1838.
Hood County - Named for Confederate General John Bell Hood, commander of the famed Texas Brigade. Hood lost the use of his left arm at the Battle of Gettysburg, and had his right leg amputated later in the Civil War. Nevertheless, Hood commanded the Army of the Tennessee in the battles of Atlanta and Nashville. Fort Hood is also named after him.
Jones County - Named for Anson Jones, last president of the Republic of Texas. Jones led the way for Texas to be annexed to the United States in 1845. Jones was injured in 1849 and lost the use of his left arm. He may also have experienced depression that caused him to commit suicide in 1858.
Ward County - Named for Thomas William "Peg-Leg" Ward, who served as mayor of Austin and Commissioner of the General Land Office. Ward lost a leg to a cannonball during the Texas Revolution, and lost his right arm in 1841 when a cannon misfired at a San Jacinto Day celebration.
Williamson County - Named for state Senator Robert McAlpin Williamson, prominent early Texas lawyer and legislator. Senator Williamson's right leg was drawn back at the knee due to a childhood illness. He wore a wooden leg below his right knee, giving him the nickname of "Three-Legged Willie". He was a delegate to the Texas Constitutional Convention, participated in the Battle of San Jacinto, and served in the Senate in both the Republic and the state of Texas.


In celebration of our fiftieth anniversary, the Governor's Committee presents this history of our state's understanding of and response to disabilities over the years. We hope this reflection on our past will assist us all in shaping our future for the goal of full participation of Texans with disabilities. As with any "first" attempt at such a historical review, we hold this piece out merely as a beginning, with hopes that interested individuals will supply missing information. We will maintain this piece on our web site, and update it periodically. We apologize if there are inaccuracies, as every effort has been made to insure the correctness of the information. Please feel free to bring any errors to our attention.

As we researched for this booklet, one dilemma we encountered is that disabilities exist today that were not recognized or identified in early Texas, such as learning disabilities, diabetes and AIDS, to name but a few. We have tried to view a disability by the definition in the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to apply it as best we could according to the research findings.

Another marked difference across the years is the way we describe disabilities. Today, the term "disability" has replaced "handicap" and words prevalent in early Texas such as idiot, insane, deaf and dumb, have likewise changed. In order to depict the language of the times we used the vernacular correct to the time period but placed these words in italics. We do not use such language today. Many disability organizations now emphasize positive words like "ability" "mobility" and "enable" rather than depicting specific disabilities. Like all cultures, the members evolve in the labels they choose for themselves.

So come travel with us on a journey through time; from buggies to jets, from inkwells to the Internet, from mostly rural to predominately urbanized Texas. You'll see the transformation of our state's attitude toward and responses to disabilities; from residential schools to public school participation, from custodial care to community integration, from service recipients to self advocates, tremendous change has occurred. In short, we moved from isolation to participation.

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