Since time immemorial—well, since 1867 anyway—Alaskans have boasted that their home is bigger than Texas. It was a feather our neighbors in the Lower 48 did not like having plucked from their Stetsons.
Texans did live under six flags while Alaskans flew but four. That, of course, presumes that our indigenous forebears did not raise national banners. Neither the Aztecs nor the Alaska Natives were asked permission for the invading foreigners to cross their borders, but that’s not part of this discussion.
Spain first occupied Texas and beyond in North America except for a brief period during which France assumed ownership. Gaining independence in 1836, Mexico proudly flew its own banner. That changed when the Texicans, defeated at the Alamo but tromping Santa Anna in 1836, won their independence in the battle of San Jacinto. Texas was annexed into the United States in 1845 and became the 28th State the next year. Texas joined the Confederacy in 1861 and for four years the Stars and Bars flew over their state capitol before the Star Spangled Banner returned.
Alaskans might think only the Russian Bear signified governance of the Great Land before it became a United States possession.
Actually, the Spaniards ventured north and briefly established a colony—as exhibited by towns named Valdez and Cordova. And, for a time, it was thought that a strip of land running north to south and containing the government center known as Eagle was on the Canadian side of the border, under the Union Jack of Britain.
In the early days of American possession, most people along the Yukon transportation corridor considered the northern portion of the continent to be one community. The Gold Rush in the last two decades of the Nineteenth Century changed that, however. Keeping track of those who crossed the border was secondary to the issue of collecting taxes. Northwest Mounted Police manned a border crossing at Eagle until U.S. Army surveyors discovered that the settlement there was actually a few miles into the Alaska side. The actual border line was finalized in 1912 by American Engineer Thomas Riggs and agreed to in a treaty between the two countries.
But the mistake involving a few hundred square miles does not affect the Alaska-Texas debate. Alaska is more than twice the size of her little sister state.
Until Alaska gained Statehood, Texans had the upper hand size-wise.
Wasilla legend Heinie Snider memorialized the debate in his “100 Stories of Alaska” book celebrating the Centennial of the Alaska purchase. He admitted that his segment “Topping Texas” is copied from an older version published in the Louisville Courier but felt it worthy. This writer agrees and freely acknowledges his source as Heinie’s book.
It reads: “In a few years I hope something like this will happen to me. I’ll be in the club car of a train heading for Florida. A long, tall, bowlegged fellow will come in and sit down by me.
“Pardner,” he’ll say, “where you from?”
“Kentucky,” I’ll say.
“Well, I’m from Texas,” he’ll say. “Greatest state in the Union. You can put Kentucky in just a little old corner of Texas, you know it. Land area of 263,644 square miles. Greatest state in the Union!”
Then a man sitting on the other side of me will pipe up. “Pardon me, Pardner,” he’ll say to the Texan. “I’m from little old Alaska. Biggest state in the Union, 586,400 square miles. One-fifth the size of the whole United States, twice the size of Texas. Greatest state in the Union.”
The Texan will blink at him and turn back to me. “As I was saying,” he’ll say, “you can’t mention a thing that Texas ain’t got. We got 400 miles of seacoast, you know it, and . . .”
“Pardon me, Pardner,” Alaska will say, “we got 4,750 miles of coast line. Our shores are washed by two oceans, one sea, straits, gulfs, and God knows how many bays. We got . . .”
“Now you take our mountains,” Tex will say. “There’s Capitan in the Guadalunes 9,020 feet high. That makes her about 5,000 feet higher than anything you got in Kentucky, and . . .”
“Why son,” Alaska will say, “that’s just a little old hill. If you want a he-mountain, why don’t you take old McKinley, 20,320 feet high. That makes her about 11,280 feet higher than anything you got in—what’s the name of that state again?”
“And,” Texas will say, “there’s the old Rio Grande. What a river!”
And Alaska will say, “There’s the old Yukon, 2,000 miles long, and you’ll never see the day you can jump across it like you can some rivers I can mention but won’t . . .”
By this time Texas will be foaming at the mouth and he’ll turn his back on Alaska and say, “And we got oil and gas, gold and silver, and mercury . . . and lead, and . . .”
“And,” Alaska will say,” we got oil, gold, silver, lead, copper, platinum, antimony, tungsten, coal, marble, glosum, sulphur, pitchblende, timber and fish and . . .”
“And,” Texas will say, “there ain’t anything we can’t grow. You ever see a Texas watermelon? Biggest thing you ever saw.”
“Yeah,” Alaska will say, “’bout half the size of a Matanuska Valley cabbage. Richest land in the world, that Matanuska Valley land. It’s . . .”
“But what we’re really noted for,” Texas will say, “is our men. Takes real men to live in Texas. You ever heard of them ‘blue northers’ that rip through the Panhandle?”
“Yeah,” Alaska will butt in again. “They’re just baby williwaws we send down for seasoning. When they get where they can break 100 miles an hour, they come back to Alaska to work out on some real men.”
After that, Alaska will leave. Then Texas will turn to me and say, “Them Alaskans. If they ain’t the biggest-mouthed, loudest bunch of braggarts I ever heard. Why we ever let ’em in the Union, I don’t know!”
Just as did the Alaska-Canada border, other things have changed. Mt. McKinley is now Denali, but in 1976 it was still named for the former president. Our mountain is a little higher than thought when the original writer penned his piece. And the subtraction difference is a little off, but that doesn’t change the debate any.
It still is a reminder of the greatness of the Great Land and how much about which we have to brag upon. So take that, Tex, and let us enjoy our bragging rights.
Lee Jordan has been an Alaskan since 1949, moved to Chugiak in 1962 and in 2016 moved back to Anchorage. An Alaska history buff, he enjoys writing about the place where he did not want to be sent, but came to love. He has written four books on Alaska history and has a blog at www.byleejordan.com. To reach Lee Jordan, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.