Texas is so wide (773 miles, east to west) that it stretches from bayous in the American Old South to deserts in the American Old West. So where does the Old West begin? Well, where would you like it to begin?
In the early days of the United States, when most folks lived along the Atlantic coast, anything on the far side of the Appalachians was considered the beginning of the west. In the 1800s, when folks were migrating from East to West, the beginning point of the west was always moving, always just beyond the latest settlement. Today, many Americans will tell you that the West begins at the mighty Mississipppi River, the largest river system in the United States. Not all Americans agree. Fort Worth, Texas, has a slogan “Where the West begins.” It is printed on the sides of Fort Worth police cars. When I was a kid, Abilene, Texas, called itself “The Key City of the West”, for reasons which will become clear in a moment.
There is yet another idea about where the West begins. Wallace Stegner, a writer, draws the line at the 100th meridian. His idea was endorsed by historian Bernard Devoto. Their reasons have to do with rainfall and population. It is doubtful that the 100th will replace the Mississippi in the minds of most Americans. But in Texas, the 100th has proven useful.
The 100th is the eastern boundary of the Texas Panhandle. And it is a convenient way of marking the beginning of West Texas. Of course, folks in Fort Worth won’t agree. Oh, one more thing: the 100th meridian passes about 10 miles west of Abilene, Texas, which is why it calls itself “Key City of the West.”