Heritage, Volume 04, Number 02, Fall 1986

Bastrop County. Typical of those early
years when the frontier exacted a heavy
toll, the story of Rousseau and ensuing
generations receives special attention in
the exhibit to illuminate the harshness of
pioneer life and provide a sense of the
continuity that intergenerational land
ownership can provide. Information on
Rousseau and his descendants was taken
from the Family Land Heritage Registry,
an annual TDA publication compiled
from the honorees' own accounts of family
histories. A diorama depicting an
artifact-filled porch further illustrates
a period when men carried guns for protection,
and women made butter in cedar
churns.
Only a few families have roots that extend
to the Republic and earlier. One of
these is the Swenson family, which owns
the sprawling Swenson Cattle Company
in Jones County. The land's founder,
Swante Magnus Swenson of Jonkopings,
Sweden, arrived in Texas in 1836 at age
20, with nothing more than his personal
belongings. From this meager beginning,
young Swenson became a prosperous
businessman, who brought the first Swedish
immigrants to Texas and numbered
Sam Houston among his friends. In 1882,
Swenson's sons initiated cattle ranching
under the name Swenson Brothers. A
striking photograph from this era captures
the social side of ranch life around the
turn of the century. Dressed in their Sun

Swenson Cattle Company, Jones County.
Courtesy Texas Department of Agriculture.

day best, cowboys and their ladies circle
up on a tarpaulin laid carefully beneath
the scorching West Texas sun. Ranch
hands, wives and girl friends, squinting
into the glare, look on as a fiddler raises
his bow and a guitar player gets ready
to play.
Dances such as this one or an occasional
trip to town sweetened the labors
of farm and ranch families and were a
necessary reprieve from the daily grind of
chores. But it was hard, dirty, and productive
work that yielded pride in the land,
its produce, and in themselves. Pride, justifiable
self-respect, is what promoted so
many growers to pose with the crops that
were living symbols of their lives and livelihoods.
Doyal Smith of the Depressionera
Ropesville Project, Hockley County,
in front of his grape arbor; Dale Roark of
Gillsville Ranch, Parker County, with his
record-breaking 104-pound watermelon;
Jose Rodriquez astride his horse before a
field of corn at the Jose Justo Rodriquez
Ranch, Atascosa County; men with their
thrashers and steam tractors, obstreperous
contraptions that brought the machine to
the farm. Caught in moments forever
connecting them to the land, the men reveal
something of the variety in the state's
people and agriculture.

Pride in livelihood was equaled among
farm and ranch families by the regard
they held for their homes, which might
progress from dugout or tent the first year
of settlement to cabin the next and later,
if the land yielded its plenty, to a twostory
house. The sampling of homes pictured
in the exhibit reflect a number of
styles common to the period from 1830 to
1900, including a southeast Texas dogtrot,
a squared-off Zapata County adobe,
and a small Hill Country limestone residence
typical of German colonists.
Around 1880, a home based on a single
square that could be adapted to individual
needs and means became popular.
Two good examples are shown, one a
solid middle-class two-story dwelling with
an upstairs porch and a wood shingle roof;
the other, a one-and-a-half story home
with a decorative front porch and detailed
windows meant to convey prosperity.
In both cases, the families are
photographed dressed up outside their
homes, an indication of the importance
attached to the event, and in one,
the family's horses, Bess and Dixie, are
included.
To bring the exhibit full-circle, a
video interview appropriately called
"The Circle", introduces a modem-day
Williamson County farm couple who give
closure to the past. Family Land Heritage
honorees Beverly Johnson and William W.
Gordon look back to their roots when
money was never borrowed "except for
the purchase of the land", and forward to
their future which they envision spending
on the farm. At the same time, they express
some uncertainty about preserving
the land for future generations at a time
when the family system is threatened by
foreclosures, bankruptcies, and voluntary
liquidations.
Any celebration of history inevitably
turns our minds toward the future. When
TDA was asked to co-sponsor the exhibit,
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim
Hightower said he wanted it to reflect
more than the past. "These photographs
must challenge us," he said, "to ensure
that families like these honored by this
exhibit are able to continue for another
150 years."
Valerie Crosswell is a writer for the
Information Services Office of the Texas
Department of Agriculture.
29

Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 04, Number 02, Fall 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45442/. Accessed December 18, 2014.