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Is the Texas flag design stolen from the Chilean national flag? Curious Texas investigates

Dec 12, 2020


Texas flag made by Johnin

It’s easy to see why the Texas and Chilean flags are often confused with one another. The two flags are nearly identical, the only difference being the location of their lone white star.

It’s easy to see why the Texas and Chilean flags are often confused with one another.

The two flags are nearly identical, the only difference being the location of their lone white star. The blue field where the star rests on the Chilean flag is square-shaped, but the blue section on the Texas flag extends to the bottom to form a rectangle.

This uncanny resemblance caught the attention of Brian Lee, who asked Curious Texas: Who designed the state flag and was it actually copied from Chile's flag?

His question was shared with Curious Texas, an ongoing project from The Dallas Morning Newsthat invites readers to join in our reporting process. The idea is simple: You have questions, and our journalists are trained to track down answers.

You can send us your Curious Texas questions by texting “DMN” to 214-817-3868. Follow the prompts and introduce yourself to us, share your story or questions, and we’ll text you with information as we report the story.

Non-Texans and Texans alike have used the two flags interchangeably on multiple occasions.

Paul McCartney walked out on stage waving the Chilean flag at Austin City Limits festival 2018. And in 2017, Atascosa County officials in south central Texas mailed absentee voters packets with the wrong flag printed on them.

Twitter users have also mistakenly used the Chilean flag emoji to express state pride.

The incorrect flag emoji is used so frequently that Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, proposed a light-hearted resolution urging Texans against it, The News reported in February 2017.

Similar to the Texas flag, the Chilean flag is known as "La Estrella Solitaria," which is Spanish for the "Lone Star." But the colors on both flags have different meanings. The red on the Chilean flag symbolizes the blood spilled during the country's fight for independence, the blue is for the sky and the white is for the snow of the Andes Mountains. In contrast, the Texas colors are red for bravery, blue for loyalty and white for purity, according to Texas' flag statute.

But is Texas a flag copycat? The short answer is no.

Although the Chilean flag was adopted in 1817, nearly two decades before the then-national flag was approved by the Texas Congress and President Mirabeau B. Lamar, connecting them would be “overblown,” said Charles A. Spain of Houston.

Spain is a self-made expert in vexillology, the study of flags. He is the current secretary-general of the International Federation of Vexillological Associations, a group of organizations dedicated to the study of flags, and also an officer of a similar Texas-based association. He said he spent five years researching Texas flags and their origin.

“You need to put yourself back in the world of the 19th century,” Spain said. “Flags were expensive to make. You couldn’t just photocopy them like you can in the modern day.”

Spain names the French, Mexican and U.S. flags as the likeliest influences for the Lone Star State’s flag. He added that it can be viewed as an homage to U.S. flag. Flags at the time often featured simple tricolor designs, which were easier to make than hand-sewing details onto flags.

Robert Maberry, another Texas vexillologist and award-winning author of Texas Flags, also agrees that Texas did not copy Chile’s design.

“There’s absolutely no contact between Texas and Chile that I’ve ever come across in my research,” Maberry said.

When it comes to the Lone Star design, Maberry believes there is more U.S. influence than Mexican. After the Texas revolution, the overwhelmingly Anglo residents abandoned incorporating Mexican symbolism, he said. They wanted a flag independent, yet reminiscent of their U.S. background.

The 13 stars on the original U.S. flag represented the country’s original colonies. For Texans, using a single star on their flag aptly summarized their status as a new nation.

But who designed the Texas flag?

The original designer of the Texas flag is frequently debated.

Pat Spackey, a Dallas native, is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Charles B. Stewart, a prominent figure of Texas’ early years. Stewart signed Texas’ Declaration of Independence, was the Texas Republic’s first secretary of state and is often credited as having designed the state flag.

“This is embarrassing,” Spackey said glancing around the room. “I have Texas flag memorabilia all over the house.”

Spackey’s impressive collection of nearly 50 items includes three Texas flags that were flown over the Capitol building, Texas flag windchimes and a Texas flag patio table.

According to family lore, Stewart was the only experienced draftsman in a committee of three men appointed by President Mirabeau B. Lamar to develop a flag to symbolize Texan independence, The News reported in 2003. Their proof of his unique role is the family patriarch's early drawing of the flag.

The original sketch of colored pencil on vellum has been passed down for generations, Spackey said.

Some Texas historians say Stewart can’t be called the sole creative mind behind the state flag design.

The inconsistencies in the Texas flag's origin story is what sparked Spain's interest in vexillology 30 years ago. He's published multiple pieces disputing Stewart's influences on the flag.

“I was unable to find any written document in Stewart’s handwriting, any letter from Stewart or to Stewart, that said Stewart designed the flag,” Spain said. “Nowhere in his obituary does it say he designed the flag.”

Spain has cast doubt on the veracity of the vellum piece passed down in Spackey's family. Instead, Spain said, he believes the sketched flag to be a tracing of Texas artist Peter Krag's work. Maberry, the author of Texas Flags, said Krag was commissioned by the state government to paint the flag's design for $10 as a visual for Congress.

"One or the other was traced from the other, or it's the wildest coincidence since 1,000 monkeys typing together wrote Hamlet," Spain told The News in 2003.

Both the Krag art and the Stewart sketch are housed in the Texas State Archives.

“I think if you found a letter from Stewart saying, ‘I designed the flag,’ that’d be great, but so far no such evidence exists,” Spain said. “I’d be the first person who’d be thrilled to find that letter from someone who’s credible.”

Spackey said she doesn’t know how such evidence would surface if it hasn’t by now. She’s content to rely on her family history passed down from generation to generation.

“We know what the real fact is,” she said. “We have the documentation. We have the family heritage.”