Texas Almanac, 1992-1993 Page: 46
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Iron Horses and Cotton Bolls
Cotton and railroads rolled across Central Texas in
tandem following Reconstruction.
Cotton was growing wild in Texas when the Spanish
first explored the area in the 16th century. Spanish mis-
sionaries cultivated the plant, and in 1745, the missions
in San Antonio were producing several thousand
pounds annually. The first hybrid, improved cotton was
introduced into Texas by one of Stephen F. Austin's Old
Three Hundred, Col. Jared Groce. For his pioneering
work, Groce is called the father of the Texas cotton
In 1846, Texas exported about 27,000 bales of cotton,
and cotton farming spread slowly across the eastern
third of the state. In 1853, exporter Francis Moreau of
New Braunfels shipped nine bales of locally grown cot-
ton to New Orleans via Indianola. Cotton was being cul-
tivated in Castroville in 1854. The cotton gin owner
there sold the seed to farmers in order to promote busi-
Cotton farming increased after the Civil War and
began to spread rapidly through the river valleys of
Central Texas. Soon textile mills were operating in the
area. By 1868, the Bastrop Manufacturing Company, the
oldest textile mill in the state, had 1,100 spindles produc-
ing 1,000 yards of cloth per day. The Waco Manufactur-
ing Company had 1,000 spindles, with an 800-yard
capacity. The water-powered cotton mill at New
Braunfels employed girls and children, working long
hours for low wages. Although he never heated the mill,
the owner bragged, he did not shut down for cold weath-
er more than three or four days each winter. In 1878, a
woolen mill at New Braunfels, said to be the most profit-
able textile mill in the state, netted $81,000.
The first commercial cottonseed-oil mill in Texas
was built in High Hill, Fayette County, in 1867. At that
time, cottonseed oil was primarily burned in lamps for
light, although some was used in the manufacture of
soap and paints and for lubrication. Not until 1879 was a
method developed to refine cottonseed oil so it could be
used in foods, and there was little growth in the indus-
try until the turn of the century.
Cotton was too bulky to ship as lint, and many small
neighborhood cotton gins sprang up around the Central
Texas cotton-growing regions. But even after it was
stripped of seeds and baled, cotton was awkward to
handle. Cotton compresses reduced the size of the bale
by about half, making it easier to handle. Before the
Civil War, however, the only compress in Texas was in
Galveston. Shortly after the railroads came, cotton
compresses were built in every important railroad ship-
Railroads had inched into the edges of Central Tex-
as lust before the Civil War. The Houston and Texas
Central (H&TC), laying rails to the northwest out of
Houston, reached Millican, Brazos County, in 1860. Con-
struction halted there until the war was over. The rails
reached the town of Bryan in 1867. Bryan had been in
existence since 1855, and an official townsite was do-
nated by Joel Bryan in 1865 as the railroad was
approaching. The county seat was moved to Bryan
from Boonville, several miles east, the following year in
anticipation of the railroad's arrival.
The H&TC advanced to Hearne in 1868. Two years
later, it had stretched to Groesbeck and beyond. The
H&TC also began building in 1870 from Brenham to-
ward Austin, reaching the capital city in 1871.
To persuade the railroads to build through their
towns, officials offered incentives, often consisting of a
donation of land for the right of way through the county
plus a cash bonus. There were also liberal land grants
from the state, usually 16 sections per mile of track con-
structed. About 41 railroad companies received state
land grants before the Legislature discovered in 1881
that it had promised to give away more land than was
available. Lawmakers repealed the land grant act the
following year. More than 32 million acres of land, an
area slightly larger than the state of New York, were
given away to encourage railroad building in Texas.
Before railroads were built, farm families had little
incentive to grow more food crops than they could use
themselves. The freight charges for shipping products
by wagon equalled or exceeded the market prices of the
commodities. Families grew their own wheat, which
was ground into flour at small local mills. After the rail-
roads came, flour shipped in from large commercial
flour mills in the north was cheaper, so local wheat
growing declined. Cotton farming increased as freight
rates declined, helping to change the character of Cen-
tral Texas agriculture from subsistence farming to a
commercial agricultural system. The popular cash crop
was planted everywhere - plains and prairies, bottom-
lands and uplands.
To help small farmers obtain credit after the Civil
War, the crop-lien system was developed. Merchants
extended credit to hard-pressed farmers in exchange
for a lien on their crop. Since cotton was the major cash
crop, many farmers were discouraged from planting
anything else, adding to the concentration of cotton.
Agricultural leaders, agriculture teachers, newspa-
per editors and others were alarmed by this over-
whelming plunge into cotton farming. They preached
diversification of crops. Farmers responded by plant-
ing more cotton. Bell County was typical: In 1879, Bell
County farmers produced 84,267 bushels of wheat and
9,217 bales of cotton. The railroad arrived in Bell County
in 1881. By 1889, the county was producing one quarter
of the wheat it had grown in 1879, but more than four
times more cotton. Although cotton farming lacked the
romance of cattle ranching, it rose to the top in econom-
ic importance to the state.
With the H&TC moving toward the northwest out of
Bryan, Lum Hearne offered railroad officials land for a
right of way. Settlers began moving in. A general store
and a private bank were among the first of many busi-
nesses to be drawn to the new town of Hearne. Then the
International Railroad Company was lured to Hearne
with a donation of 700 acres of land.
Hearne took on boom-town characteristics common
to all such early railroad towns with large payrolls.
Gamblers and con men abounded. The two railroads
crossed north of the original depot, so the town's busi-
nesses moved themselves to the intersection.
The H&TC reached Calvert, Robertson County, in
June 1869. For a period of time Calvert was a railhead,
which gave it, too, a boom-town atmosphere. By Jan. 1,
1870, Calvert had 104 businesses, some of which were
open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. General stores
stocked whiskey in barrels and sold it by the gallon. The
jail was said to be the largest building in town, although
con men, prostitutes and gamblers operated with little
interference from the law. Calvert was named for
Judge Robert Calvert, who donated the townsite.
Trains connected at Calvert with stage lines to Waco
via Marlin, continuing to Dallas, and to Houston and
Galveston. People from North, Northeast and North-
west Texas came to Calvert in wagons, on horseback
and afoot to meet the trains. Lodgings were in short
supply. To house the multitude, hotels were supple-
mented with tents, covered wagons and temporary
buildings. The resulting unsanitary conditions probably
contributed to an outbreak of yellow fever in 1873 that
killed several hundred people.
In 1869, about 300 Chinese laborers were recruited in
California by the H&TC to grade the right of way north
out of Calvert. After six months, the exotic railroad
workers encountered labor problems, and their con-
tract was terminated. A number of them returned to
Calvert and surrounding towns to settle; others joined
them from China. Although the total number of Chinese
who came to Texas during this time is not available, at
least 150 people of Chinese origin were registered to
vote in Hearne in 1874.
Other Chinese, who worked on the Southern Pacific
line through West Texas, settled in San Antonio after
the railroad was completed. By 1890, about 50 Chinese
were living there and working mostly as laundrymen
truck farmers and restaurant workers.
Bremond, also in Robertson County, blossomed
overnight when the H&TC reached the site in 1870. The
town was founded by three of the principal stockholders
of the railroad, Abraham Groesbeck, William Robinson
Baker and William Marsh Rice, as a private specu-
lation. They named it for Paul Bremond of Houston, the
principal promoter of the H&TC.
At first, Bremond comprised several long, two-story
buildings, with businesses occupying the ground floors
and living quarters upstairs. When the rails moved
north, the structures, which had sprung up like mush-
rooms, were torn down just as fast and moved north
with the railroad. Some residents stayed; more settlers
arrived. Stock raising and farming became Bremond's
primary economic base.
TEXAS ALMANAC 1992-1993
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Kingston, Mike. Texas Almanac, 1992-1993, book, 1991; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth279642/m1/50/: accessed April 30, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.