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Texas life in the late 19th century


Mexican immigrants in Texas
Mexican immigrants in Texas

After the Civil War, Texas grew rapidly. Between 1870 and 1900 the population of Texas increased from 19th in the country (818,579) to sixth (3,048,710). In the 1880s railroads opened new lands on the Great Plains and across Texas, and farmers flocked to those areas and planted staple crops—wheat, corn, and cotton—encouraged by new mechanical reapers, barbed wire (which helped control wandering cattle), and better farming techniques. One spur to growth was the end of Native American raids.

During the Civil War and Reconstruction, settlers on the poorly protected western frontier were harassed by Native Americans and were forced to leave the area. Although the U.S. government had begun in 1845 to build a string of forts from the Red River to the Río Grande, the forts had never been a satisfactory method of dealing with the Plains Native Americans. Comanche, Apache, and Kiowa raiding parties easily slipped between the forts to attack settlements.

In 1868 a reservation in the Indian Territory (now in Oklahoma) was set aside for the Comanche and the Kiowa, but they continued raiding across the border into Texas, and the Apache left reservations in New Mexico to raid into Texas. In the early 1870s, U.S. troops, which included the all-black 10th and 11th units known as Buffalo Soldiers, began a vigorous campaign to keep Native Americans on the land set aside for them. Federal forces also fought Native Americans with the assistance of the Texas Rangers.

The most effective weapons against Native Americans on the Plains were the decision to exterminate the buffalo by General William Tecumseh Sherman and the expansion of the railroad into the West. These actions destroyed Native American food supplies and forced them onto reservations.

It is estimated that almost ten million bison were killed between 1871 and 1880 for sport, for food to feed people laying tracks for the railroad, and for the animals’ hides.

The cattle industry also grew after the Civil War. Since the days of the Spanish missions, there had been cattle in Texas, but because of the long distance to markets, the cattle had little value, except for hides and tallow. Ranching had been neglected during the Civil War, and vast herds of wild cattle roamed southwestern Texas, where the famed longhorn breed originated. Before the Civil War, cowboys riding horses had rounded up the cattle and driven them from East Texas to Louisiana markets, but after railroads were built from Chicago to Kansas it was possible to send beef to the large Chicago market. The first major cattle drive all the way from Texas to Kansas took place in 1866. As the railroads pushed farther west, the cowboys drove their herds to the railroad terminal points, called cow towns. The cow towns Wichita, Dodge City, and Abilene became identified with cowboys and the cattle trails from Texas. Until railroads began arriving in Texas in the 1880s to make the drives unnecessary, thousands of Texas cattle were herded north each year on various trails, of which the best known was perhaps the Chisholm Trail from San Antonio to Abilene, Kansas.

Cotton, however, not cattle, was the most important influence on the economy of Texas. As the railroads pushed west, they opened new land for growing cotton, which could be shipped to Galveston, Houston, or transported to St. Louis and then into the international trade. In addition, the state gave lands to railroad companies to encourage the companies to lay more tracks. Those companies then sold the land cheaply to settlers who would later ship their farm goods on the trains. By 1890 Texas produced more than 33 percent of the cotton grown in the United States. The crop financed the growth of Texas cities, especially Dallas and Houston. "Texas" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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