Seals of Texas

By: Charles A. Spain, Jr.

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: April 25, 2017

In Spanish Texas, the Spanish insignia was used on documents applying to the "New Philippines." With the establishment of Mexican Independence, the Aztec symbol of an eagle holding a serpent in its mouth and standing on a nopal, or cactus, became a Mexican symbol. On the Mexican coat of arms, the eagle-serpent-nopal was encircled by wreaths of olive and oak. The separate seal of the state of Coahuila and Texas (1825 to 1835) showed the eagle on a nopal within an ellipse, crowned with the cap of liberty, and bore in Spanish the inscription "Supreme Government of the Free State of Coahuila and Texas." Stephen F. Austin used an official seal with the inscription "Government of Texas" in Spanish to authenticate the governmental acts of his colony at San Felipe de Austin.

During the period of the provisional government, Governor Henry Smith used his private seal on an official document because no seal of office had been provided. Some historians speculate that the seal Smith used was actually a button with an eight-petaled daisy design, but this cannot be confirmed by an examination of the original document at the Texas State Archives. On March 12, 1836, the general convention of the provisional government adopted a resolution offered by George C. Childress providing for "a single star of five points, either of gold or silver" as the "peculiar emblem" of the Republic of Texas. There is no known record that this emblem was ever used as an actual seal. The Constitution of the republic provided, "There shall be a seal of the republic, which shall be kept by the president, and used by him officially; it shall be called the great seal of the republic of Texas." A design for the national seal was not specified, however, so the constitution stated that the "president shall make use of his private seal until a seal of the republic shall be provided." David G. Burnet submitted to the First Congress his design for a seal: "a single star, with the letters 'Republic of Texas,' circular on said seal, which seal shall also be circular." President Sam Houston approved the design on December 10, 1836, and it was used for three years. A reproduction of this seal is used on publications of the Texas State Historical Association. After initial hopes for the quick annexation of Texas into the United States grew dim, the Third Congress modified the seal and introduced the design of a national arms in 1839: "a white star of five points, on an azure ground, encircled by an olive and live oak branches." The Congress specified that the "great seal of this Republic shall...bear the arms of this nation...and the letters 'Republic of Texas.'" The Texan Legation in Paris used a variation of this seal with the national arms encircled by "TEXIAN LEGATION PARIS." Though no one knows who first suggested the addition of the olive and live oak branches to the seal, the Mexican national seal was the likely source. Senator William H. Wharton introduced a bill in the Texas Senate on December 28, 1838, to modify both the Texas seal and flag. The bill was referred to a committee chaired by Senator Oliver Jones, and on January 25, 1839, President Mirabeau B. Lamar approved a substitute bill offered by Jones, which proposed the same design for the seal and flag originally presented in Wharton's bill. Peter Krag executed an official rendition of the seal as well as the national flag. Lamar approved Krag's art, which is attached to the act and currently in the custody of the Texas State Archives. Krag erroneously used either Spanish oak or post oak leaves in his seal art instead of live oak leaves, however, thus initiating more than a century of debate over the seal's correct design.

When Texas joined the Union, the Constitution of 1845 retained the seal, changing only the word Republic to State. The constitution declared, "There shall be a seal of the State, which shall be kept by the Governor and used by him officially. The said seal shall be a star of five points, encircled by an olive and live oak branches, and the words 'the State of Texas.'" The constitutions of 1861, 1866, and 1869 have similar language; the current state charter, the Constitution of 1876, adds only that the seal shall be kept "by the secretary of state, and used by him officially under the supervision of the governor."

On November 19, 1946, the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon informed all states that the United States Air Force wanted state national guard aircraft to have identifying insignia on the fuselage. The Texas Adjutant General's Department decided to use the state seal as the identifying insignia. The department's chief engineer, Col. Maybin H. Wilson, researched the design of the seal with the assistance of Werner W. Dornberger, an architectural engineering professor at the University of Texas; Bertha Brandt, assistant archivist of the state library; and Dorman Winfrey, archivist at UT. Wilson also relied on Louis W. Kemp and Carlos E. Castañeda's previous research on the state seal, done to assist Harold E. Jessen in designing the terrazzo Texas national and state seals located in the Capitol rotunda and south entrance. In 1956, Ing. Octavio A. Martínez, an architectural engineering student at UT, prepared an 18.75-inch watercolor of the seal. His design was faithful to the constitutional description and omitted erroneous details that had crept into the seal over the years, such as the addition of stars and diamonds in the bottom of the outer ring and the use of post oak leaves instead of live oak leaves. In 1960, Secretary of State Zollie Steakley accepted the Martínez design as a true and correct rendition of the state seal. But unfortunately, Martínez's original watercolor has been lost.

In 1960 the state adjutant general, Maj. Gen. K. L. Berry, and the executive director of the Texas Heritage Foundation, A. Garland Adair, commissioned Henry W. Schlattner, an architectural engineering student at the University of Texas, to paint six watercolors of the Martínez state seal. These were presented to Governor M. Price Daniel, Sr., the battleship Texas, the Texas Memorial Museum, the Texas Senate, the Texas House of Representatives, and Travis B. Bryan, Sr., a descendant of Moses Austin. The Texas legislature held a joint session on April 5, 1961, to receive the framed seals. Of these five watercolors, only the copy presented to the Texas Memorial Museum is known to exist.

By 1991 almost twenty different versions of the state seal were in use on state letterheads and publications. In response to the concerns of several state agencies about this lack of uniformity, Secretary of State John Hannah, Jr., appointed the Texas State Seal Advisory Committee to formulate recommendations on the design of the state seal. The cochairs of this committee were Charles A. Spain, Jr. and Donna D. Darling. The committee researched the history of the state seal and recommended that the Texas Memorial Museum's 1960 watercolor by Henry W. Schlattner be used as a model. In addition, the committee developed standard black and white representations of the state seal and state arms, designed by committee member Juan Vega, for use by all state offices, departments, and agencies. The secretary of state adopted these in June 1992 as the official designs of the state seal and arms. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas had proposed a design for the reverse of the state seal that was adopted by the 1961 legislature in a concurrent resolution. The reverse was based on 1931 art designed by architect Henry C. Wedemeyer, who worked on a commission from the Daughters. Governor Daniel approved the concurrent resolution on August 26, 1961. The procedure was unusual because the legislature adopted the art itself as the reverse of the state seal, as opposed to the usual practice of adopting a description, or blazon, which is later rendered by an artist. The legislature's concurrent resolution adopting the seal's reverse also contained a description of the art. Unfortunately, the description in the concurrent resolution disagreed in some respects with the art, and the art itself suffered from minor inaccuracies. The 1991 legislature modified the description of the reverse of the state seal in a concurrent resolution approved by Governor Ann W. Richards on June 14, 1991. The 1991 modification was made to correct minor inaccuracies in the 1961 description and to adopt a description of the design rather than specific art. Alfred Znamierowski produced the art under the supervision of Whitney Smith, executive director of the Flag Research Center, and it was revised and completed by Douglas Young, a member of the Texas State Seal Advisory Committee. On the recommendation of the advisory committee, Secretary of State Hannah adopted this art as the official design for the reverse of the state seal in June 1992 for use by all state offices, departments, and agencies. The reverse of the state seal now appears in color on the terrazzo floor of a rotunda in the underground Capitol extension.

The 1993 legislature enacted the description of the reverse of the state seal as law: "The reverse of the state seal contains a shield, consisting of a depiction of the Alamo, the cannon of the Battle of Gonzales, and Vince's Bridge. The shield is encircled by live oak and olive branches, and the unfurled flags of the Kingdom of France, the Kingdom of Spain, the United Mexican States, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. Above the shield is emblazoned the motto, 'REMEMBER THE ALAMO,' and beneath it are the words, 'TEXAS ONE AND INDIVISIBLE,' with a white five-pointed star hanging over the shield, centered between the flags." The legislature also enacted the description of the state arms as law: "The state arms are a white star of five points, on an azure ground, encircled by olive and live oak branches." Because the state and its agencies were using numerous differing versions of the state seal, the 1993 law required the secretary of state to adopt and publish standard designs for the state seal, its reverse, and the state arms. In January 1994 the secretary readopted the June 1992 art as the standard designs for the state seal and state arms, effective February 14, 1994, and published the art in the Texas Register. The June 1992 art for the reverse of the state seal was readopted in May 1994 as the standard design for the seal's reverse, effective June 13, 1994, and published in the Texas Register. The 1993 law also changed any reference in law concerning the "Great Seal of Texas" to the "state seal" to correspond both with the language used in the constitution and with an 1846 Texas Supreme Court decision that defined the term "great seal" to mean the seal of a nation and not of a state. Since the June 1992 adoption of the standard design for the reverse of the state seal, historians have conducted research on the cannon of the battle of Gonzales that calls into question several of the long-standing beliefs about the cannon's design (see GONZALES "COME AND TAKE IT" CANNON).

Virtually all state offices, departments, agencies, and other political subdivisions have their own seal. With the exception of some municipalities and the Texas colleges and universities, these governmental seals almost always feature a slightly modified version of the state seal or a single star. The most notable exception is the seal of the General Land Office, which has had three designs. The first was used from 1838 to 1842 and had for its device a buffalo standing before a live oak tree, a small star, and the words "GENERAL LAND OFFICE-TEXAS." This first seal was apparently broken or lost during the Archives War of December 1842, and the Land Office ordered a replacement seal that had the Lone Star emblem of the republic (see FLAGS OF TEXAS) and "TEXAS" between the points of the star and "GENERAL LAND OFFICE" in the outer margin. This replacement proved unsatisfactory and was never used. The second seal was used from mid-1844 to March 25, 1986, and had a device consisting of a cotton plant, plow, scythe, shovel, sheaf of wheat, fence, meridian sun, and "GENERAL LAND OFFICE-REPUBLIC OF TEXAS." Soon after annexation a new die was cast that changed the words to "GENERAL LAND OFFICE-THE STATE OF TEXAS." The legislature recognized the validity of both the original buffalo seal and the state General Land Office seal on April 29, 1846, when the legislature legalized documents embossed with either seal. The current Land Office seal was introduced on March 25, 1986, in commemoration of the Texas Sesquicentennial. It replaced the agricultural theme of the second seal with a design representing the agency's land and resource management responsibilities. The seal consists of a bison in front of a fish-eye view of mountains, plateaus, prairies, bays, barrier islands, and the Gulf of Mexico, all surmounted by a Lone Star, and "1836-GENERAL LAND OFFICE-1836-THE STATE OF TEXAS."

Jesús F. de la Teja, "A Short History of the General Land Office Seals," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 90 (January 1987). Herbert and Virginia Gambrell, A Pictorial History of Texas (New York: Dutton, 1960). Charles A. Spain, Jr., "The Flags and Seals of Texas," South Texas Law Review 33 (February 1992).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Charles A. Spain, Jr., “Seals of Texas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 28, 2021,

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April 25, 2017

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