The strong Texas interest in flags is shown in public and private displays of the "Six Flags Over Texas," i.e., the flags of the six countries that have ruled over Texas: the Kingdom of France, the Kingdom of Spain, the Mexican Federal Republic, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. Spain has had four significant flags during its occupation of the New World. The royal banner of Castile and León, bearing two lions and two castles, was used as a state flag and ensign from around 1230 to around 1516. From 1516 to May 28, 1785, Spain used a state flag and ensign consisting of a modified red saltire on white to signify the house of Burgundy. A variant of the state flag and ensign 1580 to 1640 depicted the complete Spanish coat of arms on a white field. King Charles III established the familiar Spanish flag, with horizontal stripes of red-gold-red and the simple arms of Castile and León as the Spanish ensign, effective on May 28, 1785, and as the Spanish state flag on land, effective March 8, 1793. These flags were used until April 27, 1931.
The flag of France that was allegedly carried by René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was probably a plain white flag strewn with fleurs-de-lys. This flag (circa 1643 to October 31, 1790) was a simplified version of the French state flag and ensign that bore the entire arms of France on the field of fleurs-de-lys. Another French flag frequently displayed in Texas today contains three or more fleurs-de-lys on a blue field; this was the French state flag and ensign from about 1370 to about 1600.
In April 1823, Mexico adopted its first republican flag, which was used until 1863. This flag is similar to the current Mexican flag, with vertical stripes of green-white-red, representing the "Three Guarantees" of religion, independence, and union. Both flags show an eagle holding a serpent in its mouth and standing on a nopal, or cactus, but the current Mexican flag depicts a stylized Aztec eagle rather than the more natural eagle in the 1823 flag. The eagle and serpent represent the tradition that the Aztecs were to make their permanent settlement where they saw a snake being eaten by an eagle standing on a nopal growing from a rock in the middle of water. Legend has it that the Aztecs saw this omen at Lake Tenochtitlán, the site of the future Mexico City.
Texas has had three official national or state flags during its existence: the 1836 national standard, the 1836 national flag for the naval service, and the 1839 national flag, which became the state flag. Stephen F. Austin designed a proposed Texas flag that was never adopted, and some authorities also claim that Lorenzo de Zavala designed a Republic of Texas flag. Austin designed his flag in New Orleans between December 1835 and January 1836, while he was serving as a commissioner to the United States. The design apparently used sixteen green and white stripes, a red and white English jack in the canton, and a red and white star in the fly. This design was modified with assistance from other commissioners, Branch T. Archer and William H. Wharton. The changes apparently resulted in a flag with thirteen blue and white stripes, a red and white English jack in the canton, and a sun with the head of Washington surrounded by the words "Lux Libertatis" or "Light of Liberty" in the fly. The "Zavala flag" was allegedly adopted in Convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos. It is usually portrayed as a blue field with a white star of five points central and with the letters "TEXAS," one letter at each star point. This description of the flag, however, is inconsistent with the journal entries of the convention for March 3, 1836, and March 12, 1836, which do not indicate that the convention accepted Zavala's design. In addition, the actual configuration of the flag is unknown because the journal does not describe Zavala's proposal of March 11, 1836, though it does state that William B. Scates's motion to add a "Rainbow and star of five points above the western horizon; and a star of six points sinking below" was accepted. Finally, the journal reflects that Charles Stanfield Taylor, not Zavala, suggested that the letters "TEXAS" be placed around the star. Although several books claim that the "Zavala flag" is the first official Texas flag, the historical record does not support this assertion.
The first official flag, the "National Standard of Texas," was passed by the Congress of the republic and approved by President Sam Houston on December 10, 1836. It consisted of an azure ground with a large golden star central. This flag, known as David G. Burnet's flag, served as the national flag until January 25, 1839, and the war flag from January 25, 1839, to December 29, 1845. President Burnet proposed the national standard, as well as the 1836 national flag for the naval service, in a letter of October 11, 1836, to Congress. The second official flag was the 1836 national flag for the naval service, or war ensign. This was the same flag Burnet adopted for the navy at Harrisburg on April 9, 1836. It was similar to the United States flag and showed thirteen stripes and a blue canton with a single white star. It was passed by Congress and approved by Houston on December 10, 1836, and remained in use until January 25, 1839.
The Lone Star Flag was adopted by the Texas Congress in 1839: "[T]he national flag of Texas shall consist of a blue perpendicular stripe of the width of one third of the whole length of the flag, with a white star of five points in the centre thereof, and two horizontal stripes of equal breadth, the upper stripe white, the lower red, of the length of two thirds of the whole length of the flag." Senator William H. Wharton introduced a bill on December 28, 1838, containing the flag's design, and the bill was referred to a committee consisting of Senator Oliver Jones and two unnamed senators. This committee reported a substitute bill embodying the flag design introduced by Wharton, and the substitute bill was passed by the Congress on January 21, 1839 and approved by President Mirabeau B. Lamar on January 25, 1839. Official art for the Lone Star Flag was drawn by Peter Krag and approved by President Lamar. The actual designer of the Lone Star Flag is unknown, but it could have been Wharton. The Lone Star Flag was the legal national and state flag from January 25, 1839, to September 1, 1879, and the de facto state flag from September 1, 1879, to August 31, 1933. The Lone Star Flag was also the legal national ensign from January 25, 1839, to December 29, 1845. The Sixteenth Legislature promulgated the Revised Civil Statutes of 1879 and provided that "all civil statutes, of a general nature, in force when the Revised Statutes take effect, and which are not included herein, or which are not hereby expressly continued in force, are hereby repealed." Since the 1879 revised statutes neither included legislation concerning the flag nor expressly continued in force the 1839 flag law, the 1839 law was repealed. Texas therefore had no legal flag from the date of the repeal, September 1, 1879, to the effective date of the 1933 flag act, August 31, 1933. The Mexican National Museum of Artillery has two revolutionary Lone Star flags, one dating from 1836 and the other from 1835 to 1837. Both of these flags display the red stripe over the white stripe, but otherwise resemble the 1839 national flag.
The 1933 description of the flag was extremely detailed and included precise instructions for the design and location of the Lone Star. The colors of the stripes, blood red, azure blue, and white, were said to impart the "lessons of the Flag: bravery, loyalty, and purity." Despite these specifications, there was no standard reference to define what constituted "blood red" and "azure blue," and few Texas flags were manufactured in the official proportions (hoist to fly) of two to three. In 1993 the legislature revised the description of the flag: "The state flag consists of a rectangle with a width to length ratio of two to three containing: (1) a blue vertical stripe one-third the entire length of the flag wide, and two equal horizontal stripes, the upper stripe white, the lower red, each two-thirds the entire length of the flag long; and (2) a white, regular five-pointed star in the center of the blue stripe, oriented so that one point faces upward, and of such a size that the diameter of a circle passing through the five points of the star is equal to three-fourths the width of the blue stripe." The 1993 law stipulates that the red and blue colors of the state flag are the same colors used in the United States flag, the so-called "Old Glory Red" and "Old Glory Blue." The red and blue colors are specifically defined by the Standard Color Reference of America, a standard textile-industry reference work. The 1993 law specifies that the finial for the state flag should be a lone star or a spearhead, and gives the governor the authority to adopt a governor's flag. The 1993 law also contains a complete revision of the Texas Flag Code, which was first adopted in 1933.
In addition to the three national and state flags, Texas has recognized five other official flags: the 1835 flag for registered civil vessels and vessels sailing under letters of marque and reprisal, the 1839 pilot flag, the 1839 revenue service flag, the 1839 coasting trader flag, and the 1985 county sesquicentennial flag. The flag for registered civil vessels and vessels sailing under letters of marque and reprisal was an ensign adopted by the provisional government on November 29, 1835. It consisted of the Mexican flag with "1824" replacing the eagle and signifying loyalty to the Mexican federal Constitution of 1824. This flag disappeared from use after the adoption of the 1836 national standard and the 1836 national flag for the naval service. The revenue service, pilot, and coasting trader flags were auxiliary naval flags authorized by the 1839 act that gave specifications for the Lone Star Flag. Official art for these flags was drawn by Peter Krag. The revenue service flag consisted of a white star on a blue square surrounded by white and red borders, the pilot flag consisted of a white star on a blue stripe with a white stripe above and a red stripe below, and the coasting trader flag consisted of a white star on a vertical blue stripe with swallowtail white and red horizontal stripes. These flags were probably used from January 25, 1839, to December 29, 1845. The pilot flag has been portrayed erroneously at times as the Texas national flag at sea, civil ensign, or merchant flag.
Certainly the most unusual Texas flag is the official county flag for the Texas sesquicentennial, celebrated in 1986. This flag was designed by Mrs. Joydelle G. Wolfram for Falls County and subsequently recognized by the legislature on February 28, 1985, for use by counties. It shows the county's name, date of formation, and a large white star on a royal blue field, surrounded by two white arcs and 254 gold, red, blue, and green stars. The use of this flag is optional.
The Confederate States of America had three principal flag designs during its existence. The first, known as the Stars and Bars, was chosen by the provisional government as the national flag and ensign and was raised over the Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 4, 1861. Its specifications were "a red field with a white space extending horizontally through the center, and equal in width to one-third the width of the flag. The red space above and below to be the same as the white. The union blue extending down through the white space and stopping at the lower red space. In the center of the union a circle of white stars corresponding to the number with the States in the Confederacy." The Stars and Bars was never officially adopted by legislation, but served as the Confederate flag for more than two years. Many of the Stars and Bars flags flown in Texas during this period featured unions with a single star surrounded by a circle of stars. Because of the flag's similarity to the United States flag, it was unsatisfactory for use as a battle flag or regimental flag. The most commonly known Confederate battle flag was the flag used by the Army of Northern Virginia. It was a square having a red ground with a blue saltire bordered with white and emblazoned with white five-pointed stars corresponding in number to that of the Confederate States. Texan and other Confederate soldiers fought under a wide variety of battle flags because the Confederate Army never adopted a single battle flag for use by all troops. In 1906 the United Confederate Veterans designated the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia the standard battle flag for use by Confederate veterans related organizations. This decision has unintentionally encouraged the popular misconception that a standard battle flag existed.
The design of the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia was also used in the second national flag of the Confederacy, the Stainless Banner. This flag flew from May 1, 1863, to March 4, 1865, and consisted of a white field with the battle flag in the canton. The Confederate Navy shortened the length of the Stainless Banner and authorized its use as the national ensign on May 26, 1863. The Stainless Banner was revised on March 4, 1865, in part because naval officers objected that the flag looked both like a flag of truce and the British White Ensign. The revision added a vertical red stripe to the flag's fly. The Confederate Navy apparently did not authorize the revised Stainless Banner's use as the national ensign. The third national flag was short-lived, as the Confederacy surrendered the month after it was adopted. Another Confederate flag that is sometimes displayed in Texas today is a rectangular version of the square battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. This flag was the Confederate naval jack as it appeared after May 26, 1863, and was similar to the battle flag issued to the Army of Tennessee in 1864. The Confederate naval jack was used in the design for the reverse of the Texas state seal from August 26, 1961, to June 14, 1991 (seeSEALS OF TEXAS).
The last of the "Six Flags" to fly over Texas is the flag of the United States. Texas entered the Union on December 29, 1845, as the twenty-eighth state. The twenty-seven-star United States flag was first raised in Texas on February 19, 1846, when the state government was organized in Austin. The twenty-eight-star United States flag flew only from July 4, 1846, to July 3, 1847, after which Iowa's admission to the Union necessitated the addition of another star. In 1915 the legislature declared Texas Independence Day, March 2, as Texas Flag Day. In 1933 the legislature passed a law establishing rules for the proper display of the flag and providing for a pledge to the flag: "Honor the Texas Flag of 1836; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one and indivisible." The pledge erroneously referred to the 1836 national flag, known as David G. Burnet's flag, instead of the Lone Star Flag. Senator Searcy Bracewell introduced a bill to correct this error in 1951, but the legislature did not delete the words "of 1836" until 1965. In 1989 the legislature celebrated the sesquicentennial of the Lone Star Flag by incorrectly recognizing Dr. Charles B. Stewart as the flag's designer and also incorrectly recognizing Thomas Barnett, Sterling C. Robertson, Thomas J. Gazley, and Richard Ellis, Lorenzo de Zavala, and William B. Scates, the 1836 flag committee, as the 1839 committee that approved the design for the Lone Star Flag. The legislature corrected these mistakes in 1992 by acknowledging that the actual designer of the Lone Star Flag is unknown and by recognizing Senator Wharton and Senator Jones for their efforts in adopting the flag.
Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., Flags of the Confederacy: An Illustrated History (Memphis, Tennessee: St. Lukes Press, 1988). George Pierce Garrison, "Another Texas Flag," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 3 (January 1900). Museo Nacional de Historia, Banderas: Catálogo de la Colección de Banderas (Mexico City: Secretaría de Gobernación, 1990). Whitney Smith, The Flag Book of the United States (New York: Morrow, 1975). Whitney Smith, Flags through the Ages and across the World (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975). Charles A. Spain, Jr., "The Flags and Seals of Texas," South Texas Law Review 33 (February 1992). Alan K. Sumrall, Battle Flags of Texans in the Confederacy (Austin: Eakin Press, 1994).
Politics and Government
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Charles A. Spain, Jr.,
“Flags of Texas,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed September 26, 2021,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.