The population of Texas grew rapidly at the end of the nineteenth century. Texans lived and labored in rural areas throughout this period.
The Texas economy of the late nineteenth century experienced tremendous growth, mixed with serious problems and major changes. Agriculture continued to dominate the state economy, with most Texans engaged in farming or ranching. Production of cotton grew more than in any other state. Corn, the most significant food crop also grew significantly. Despite this growth, national economic depressions struck in the 1870s and in the 1890s. Farm prices varied through the period but declined overall. The value of Texas farms increased because they grew in size, but the value of land per acre fell in the 1890s. These problems produced greater debts, more mortgaged farms, and a rise in the percentage of tenants during the last two decades of the nineteenth century.
Commercial farming and ranching were affected by the growth of railroads. Railroads grew from 1,650 miles of track in 1875 to 9,867 in 1900. The new track crossed the state both east-west and north-south to provide faster and cheaper transportation for people and products. Yet in the 1880s control by Jay Gould and Collis P. Huntington of most railroads in Texas led to reduced competition and uniform rates. Farmers and small businessmen began to complain of monopolies and trusts, and government regulations followed.
These concerns led farmers to join the Grange, an organization that promoted social gatherings, political lobbying, agricultural education, and cooperative buying and selling in a search for better prices. In the 1880s the Farmers' Alliance replaced the Grange. The alliance grew to over 100,000 members and spread into other states. It emphasized cooperative business efforts based on credits instead of cash. After the state business exchange failed at the end of the 1880s, many alliance members turned to politics through the Populist party or People’s party.
Source: Nineteenth-Century Texas
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