Last Updated 09 Apr 2020

Settling the Rio Grande Valley

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Settling the Rio Grande Valley The Rio Grande Valley consists of the southern most part of Texas, along the Texas/Mexico border. The population growth in this area was very slow until the 1900's, when it began to skyrocket. From 1920 to 1930, the population in the Valley more than doubled. One of the main factors for this population increase was the railroad construction. The St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico railroads all were completed in 1904. This furthered the expansion of the already popular method of irrigation farming in this area.

The railroad system allowed for commercial production of different fruits and vegetables. Irrigation farming became extremely popular in this area and citrus orchards began popping up in this area. The farmers even discovered a tree that would thrive in the Valley climate. Irrigation farming became so successful that an amendment was added to the Texas constitution encouraging irrigation and drainage districts. Though it was becoming very popular, irrigation farming was far more expensive than the dry farming done in West Texas.

It was almost impossible for small farmers to compete with the corporate farms and wealthy land owners. The large, corporate farms required extensive staff and therefore increased the population. The railroads continued to encourage population growth into the 20's and 30's by running excursion trains. These trains transported people, free of charge, from North Texas cities into South Texas. The passengers would often times buy land in South Texas and a single excursion could generate up to one million dollars in land sales. The economy continued to thrive and population continued to grow.

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Since most of the Valley consisted of large, corporate farms; the farmers relied on low paid laborers and the farms had their own cotton gins, stores, and employee housing. This created a wide gap between the wealthy and the poor, this gap was wider and more apparent than in other areas of the state because there were less small farmers to buffer the gap. Many of the low-wage laborers were African- American or Mexican-American. With that said, not only did rifts between classes become more evident, but also the racial tension became heavier.

Earlier, “tradition and a relatively static social and political order” made people more sympathetic with the Tejanos. But during the twentieth century, these wealthy land owners were far more unsympathetic to the Tejano traditions and culture than in earlier years. This made discrimination more rampant and people became more outspoken with their bigotry. There are many documented events, like the Brownsville Affair to shed light on the extreme racism. In 1906, a documented fight broke out between a black soldier at Fort Brown and a local merchant.

Since the soldiers arrived at Ft. Brown, the black soldiers were subject to extreme hatred and racism. With this particular incident, shots were fired and a white man was killed. This just goes to show the intense division between the classes and the hatred that was shown between the two groups. The railroads, the newly popular irrigation system, and the high land sales all contributed to the population growth, but because the corporate farms dominated the area, racial tension was very prevalent.

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