Why go to Texas? — Why leave Texas?

In my series of blogposts from October 13 to November 8, the focus was on how Herbert and Lena Bevers and their family traveled from Watertown, South Dakota to Raymondville, Texas.  But I didn’t address why they chose to move to a farm in Texas.  As recorded in the U. S. censuses and state censuses, from the beginning of their marriage in 1892 until 1919, Herbert and Lena farmed in four locations in South Dakota:

  1. Agency Township, Roberts County (1900)
  2. Rau Township, Codington County (1905)
  3. Oxford Township, Hamlin County (1910)
  4. Elmira Township, Codington County (1915)

The first property that I have evidence of Herbert owning was a homestead in Agency Township, Roberts County.  In the Register of Deeds Office in Sisseton, Roberts County, there is a record of Herbert paying $400.00 on October 24, 1902 for 160 acres from the United States.  A deed record in the same office shows that on the following day, Herbert and Lena sold that property for $2,300.00.  It is not known whether he purchased property following the sale of that homestead, but according to the 1910 U. S. census and the 1915 South Dakota State census, Herbert was renting farms, instead of owning them.

Somehow Herbert heard that land in southern Texas was available.  The New Handbook of Texas provides a description of land development that we can use to speculate:

“The real surge of Anglo settlement came after the building of the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway into the lower [Rio Grande] Valley in 1904.  Close behind the tracks came the land promoters, who worked enthusiastically to convert pastures to plowed fields. … The railroad companies, more aggressive than land promoters, bought large tracts of land, subdivided them, and sold them to customers they recruited elsewhere.  Magazines, pamphlets and brochures with photographs of the happy and easy life that awaited the new settler in the area were scattered throughout the Mississippi valley.  Between 1905 and 1910, on the first and third Tuesday of the month, prospective farmers could purchase thirty-day round-trip tickets from St. Louis and Kansas for twenty dollars and from Chicago for twenty-five.  The excursions would take them to investigate the possibilities of the ‘Magic Valley.’  They bought land, settled in communities planned by ranchers or land developers, chose the most profitable cash crop that could be cultivated, and began to recruit Mexican day laborers.”1

Two men who saw the lucrative advantages of being real estate agents in southern Texas were Alva A. Lindahl and William A. Harding, who in 1910 lived in Minnesota.2,3  (On November 6, 1919, Lena stated in her travel log, “we waited for a telegram from Harding.”4  It is quite likely that she was referring to William A. Harding.)  By the mid-1910s Lindahl and Harding were purchasing and selling property in the newly established Raymondville area of Cameron County.  One example of their sales is the transfer of 6000 acres (known as Rancho Tresquilas, San Juan de Carricitos Grant) for $205,000 from Harding to Lindahl.5,6  The grant in this description refers to “the earliest Spanish land grant [which] was El Agostadero de San Juan Carricitos, made to José Narciso Cabazos on February 22, 1792.”7

A review of deed records in Cameron County deed registers reveals that Lindahl and Harding sold properties as individual agents and also in a group.  In 1916 Frederick Kammrath, who was from Minnesota and the future father-in-law of Herbert and Lena’s daughter Florence, purchased 160 acres from a group which included Alva A. Lindahl, his wife Ethel G. Lindahl, his father Ole Lindahl, his sister L. V. Harding and his brother-in-law W. A. Harding.8  Alva A. Lindahl served as the trustee for this group.  In the 1920 U. S. Census, Alva A. Lindahl’s occupation is listed as farm dealer and W. A. Harding’s occupation is real estate salesman.

In 1919 Herbert and Lena joined the stream of people traveling to Texas to begin a new farming endeavor.  One of their grandsons relates what he was told about their experience:

“Grandpa had … a farm near Raymondville but it was all cactus and mesquite trees so they had to clear the land.  The South Dakota horses were not familiar with the cactus so they didn’t know enough to walk around them.  Their legs got full of thorns and swelled up.  Grandpa had to buy some Texas horses to clear the land.”9

Mesquite trees and cactus near Raymondville, Texas (Photograph by EJJ November 9, 2019)
Cactus along U. S. Highway 181 (Photograph by MRW November 5, 2019)

Obviously, the climate and terrain of southern Texas was drastically different from South Dakota, but also the social atmosphere was very different.  In the late 1790s, Spaniards had settled in that area and in the early 1800s immigrants from Mexico began arriving.  Over time the Tejano culture developed, an intermingling of European, primarily Spanish, culture and Mexican culture.  In the 1880s and 1890s, Anglos moved into the region and gradually took control of ranches through marriage and defraud.10  An ethnic divide began to develop, with Anglos assuming superiority over Hispanics.  The division escalated following the arrival of the railway:

“The county’s new residents, however, mostly Protestant and white, were more reluctant to assimilate, and as a result ethnic divisions began to widen.  After 1910 social relations came to be increasingly dominated by ethnic separatism. … Segregated facilities – including churches, schools, and restaurants – were established for Hispanics and Anglos, and many of the former felt the sharp sting of discrimination.”11

“As more settlers came in from northern states and transformed ranches to farms, ranchers (early white settlers) sided against farmers (newcomers); the division led to the reorganization of [Willacy County in 1921]. … Relations between Anglos and Mexicans became even more antagonistic during the late 1920s, as evidenced by the Raymondville peonage cases of 1927, which showed that Mexicans were controlled by the Anglo minority ….”12

One family event is known to have occurred while the Bevers family was in Texas.  Eight and a half months after arriving in Texas, seventeen-year-old Florence married Theodore (Ted) Kamrath, the son of Frederick Kammrath, on July 20, 1920 in Brownsville, which is located about 50 miles south of Raymondville on the Mexican border.  It is believed that Herbert and Lena farmed near Raymondville for only one year.  One of their grandsons was told that they gave up and returned to Watertown, but their son Willis stayed in Texas for another year, working on a road crew before returning to Watertown.13  Florence and her new husband didn’t stay in Texas either.  They moved to Ted Kamrath’s home state, Minnesota.

Notes:

  1. A. A. Garza, “Willacy County,” The New Handbook of Texas vol. 6 (Austin, Texas: The Texas State Historical Association, 1996): 975.
  2. Year: 1910; Census Place: Center Creek, Martin, Minnesota; Roll: T624_710; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 0110; FHL microfilm: 1374723.
  3. Year: 1910; Census Place: Winnebago, Faribault, Minnesota; Roll: T624_696; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 0090; FHL microfilm: 1374709.
  4. L. Bevers, Our Trip to Texas (unpublished, 1919): 11.
  5. “Harding, W. A.,” General Index to Deeds – Grantors (Brownsville, Texas: Cameron County Clerk): 51.
  6. “Lindahl, Alba A. Trustee,” General Index to Deeds – Grantees (Brownsville, Texas: Cameron County Clerk): 51.
  7. A. A. Garza, “Willacy County,” The New Handbook of Texas, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hcw10.
  8. D. Kroeker, “Alva Andrew Lindahl,” Kroeker Family Tree, https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/71024103/person/36240481145/facts.
  9. D. L. Bevers, Herbert and Lena Bevers trip to Raymondville Texas [Transcription of Our Trip to Texas by Lena Bevers, 1919] (Unpublished, n.d.): 4.
  10. A. A. Garza & C. Long, “Cameron County,” The New Handbook of Texas vol. 1 (Austin, Texas: The Texas State Historical Association, 1996): 919.
  11. A. A. Garza & C. Long, “Cameron County,” The New Handbook of Texas vol. 1 (Austin, Texas: The Texas State Historical Association, 1996): 921.
  12. A. A. Garza, “Willacy County,” The New Handbook of Texas vol. 6 (Austin, Texas: The Texas State Historical Association, 1996): 975.
  13. D. L. Bevers, Herbert and Lena Bevers trip to Raymondville Texas [Transcription of Our Trip to Texas by Lena Bevers, 1919] (Unpublished, n.d.): 4.

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