El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: 66
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The Fight Against Brush
In the early 189os, larger ranches like the King
Ranch, which could afford to hire large numbers of
workers, made a concerted effort to fight the growing
problem of encroaching brushlands (Lea 1957). Early
ranchers remembered a time when the wide, open
plains held tall, thick grass, with the few brush thick-
ets found primarily along the Rio Grande and a few
arroyos in the region. As a consequence of overgraz-
ing and of the fact that the cattle spread the thorny
bushes (particularly mesquite) wherever they went,
these brush thickets became a serious problem which
In early 1900, the King Ranch employed a strategy
which would prove most useful in the Lower Rio
Grande Valley. They hired transient Mexican laborers
to chop brush and grub roots with axes, picks, and
grubbing hoes. The ranch paid five dollars for each
acre cleaned, fifty cents for every cord of firewood cut,
and varying prices for cut posts which could be used
in fences or corrals. The ranch also provided weekly
rations to its workers: seven pounds of flour, one
pound of coffee, two pounds of beans, one pound of
rice, a pound and a half of bacon, and one quart of
molasses. By 1915, the ranch had cleared about 17,000
acres, mostly in its headquarters area (Lea 1957).
Around the turn of the century, large numbers of
midwestern farmers began moving to The Valley to
farm, rather than to ranch. One reason was that farm-
ing produced more income per acre than did cattle
raising. Some ranches needed about fifteen to twenty
acres per animal, clearly not an economical use of
the land compared to a farming operation. Additional
problems challenged ranchers but did not affect farm-
ers. Following World War I, the nation suffered a seri-
ous decline in the cattle market, reaching its bottom
in 1925. In that year, about ninety-five percent of west-
crn cattle loan companies went into liquidation and
thousands of stockmen lost their ranches (Lea I957).
Irrigation and Farming in South Texas:
Impact on Ranching
Beginning in the early 1900s, the discovery of arte-
sian wells, new irrigation techniques, dry land farm-
ing, and better railroad service brought about an in-
crease in cultivated lands-particularly in the Lower
Rio Grande Valley, where mesquite jungles were being
transformed into plowed fields. Between 1905 and 1910,
on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, special
excursion trains took prospective Anglo homeseekers
and farmers to explore the "Magic Valley" and other
irrigable areas of South Texas. These settlers bought
land, settled into communities planned by ranchers
or land developers, planted profitable cash crops, and
sought out Mexican day laborers (Lea 1957 and Monte-
Land which sold for $4 an acre in 1905 sold for $22
an acre in 1910, the year in which the first bale of cot-
ton was harvested at Mercedes, Texas; the first oranges
and grapefruit were picked in the region in commer-
cial quantities; and the U.S. dollar replaced the Mexi-
can peso as the currency in general circulation there.
In 1907, the three-year-old railroad between Browns-
ville and Corpus Christi hauled about soo carloads of
farm products from the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and
by 1925, that number increased to 35,362 rail cars (Lea
1957). In short, between 1900 and 1930, South Texas
experienced an agricultural revolution.
Between 1910 and 1930, farms in Cameron County
quadrupled in number, from 709 to 2936; in Hidalgo
County farms grew five-fold in number, from 677
to 4327. Populations in Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy,
and Nueces Counties doubled between 1900 and 1920
(from 79,934 to 159,842) and again by 1930, to 322,845.
On the other hand, the number of cattle in Starr,
Hidalgo, and Cameron Counties fell by almost fifty
percent between 1910o and 1920, a drop from 174,513
head to 99,597 head (Montejano 1987).
Along the Rio Grande, towns once sustained by
ranching became farming communities, and new towns
such as Bishop, Driscoll, Robstown, and Raymond-
ville sprang up in South Texas, particularly along the
66 El Rancho in South Texas
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Graham, Joe S. El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750, book, 1994; Denton, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28328/m1/78/?q=el%20rancho: accessed September 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.