50 Amazing Photos Show What Texas Looked Like in the Late 19th Century

Texas is a state in the South Central region of the United States. At 268,596 square miles (695,662 km2), and with more than 29.1 million residents in 2020, it is the second-largest U.S. state by both area (after Alaska) and population (after California). Texas shares borders with the states of Louisiana to the east, Arkansas to the northeast, Oklahoma to the north, New Mexico to the west, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas to the south and southwest; and has a coastline with the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast.

Houston is the most populous city in Texas and the fourth-largest in the U.S., while San Antonio is the second most populous in the state and seventh-largest in the U.S. Dallas–Fort Worth and Greater Houston are, respectively, the fourth- and fifth-largest metropolitan statistical areas in the country. Other major cities include Austin, the second most populous state capital in the U.S., and El Paso. Texas is nicknamed the “Lone Star State” for its former status as an independent republic, and as a reminder of the state’s struggle for independence from Mexico. The “Lone Star” can be found on the Texas state flag and on the Texas state seal. The origin of Texas’s name is from the Caddo word táysha’ meaning ‘friends’.

Due to its size and geologic features such as the Balcones Fault, Texas contains diverse landscapes common to both the U.S. Southern and the Southwestern regions. Although Texas is popularly associated with the U.S. southwestern deserts, less than ten percent of Texas’s land area is desert. Most of the population centers are in areas of former prairies, grasslands, forests, and the coastline. Traveling from east to west, one can observe terrain that ranges from coastal swamps and piney woods, to rolling plains and rugged hills, and finally the desert and mountains of the Big Bend.

The term “six flags over Texas” refers to several nations that have ruled over the territory.[note 1] Spain was the first European country to claim and control the area of Texas. France held a short-lived colony. Mexico controlled the territory until 1836 when Texas won its independence, becoming the Republic of Texas. In 1845, Texas joined the union as the 28th state. The state’s annexation set off a chain of events that led to the Mexican–American War in 1846. A slave state before the American Civil War, Texas declared its secession from the U.S. in early 1861, and officially joined the Confederate States of America on March 2 of the same year. After the Civil War and the restoration of its representation in the federal government, Texas entered a long period of economic stagnation.

Historically, four major industries shaped the Texas economy prior to World War II: cattle and bison, cotton, timber, and oil. Before and after the U.S. Civil War, the cattle industry—which Texas came to dominate—was a major economic driver for the state, and created the traditional image of the Texas cowboy. In the later 19th century, cotton and lumber grew to be major industries as the cattle industry became less lucrative. It was ultimately, though, the discovery of major petroleum deposits (Spindletop in particular) that initiated an economic boom which became the driving force behind the economy for much of the 20th century. Texas developed a diversified economy and high tech industry during the mid-20th century. As of 2015, it has the second most Fortune 500 company headquarters (54) in the United States. With a growing base of industry, the state leads in many industries, including tourism, agriculture, petrochemicals, energy, computers and electronics, aerospace, and biomedical sciences. Texas has led the U.S. in state export revenue since 2002, and has the second-highest gross state product. If Texas were a sovereign state, it would have the 10th-largest economy in the world. (Wikipedia)

The photographs and information related to photos from SMU Libraries Digital Collections provide a unique glimpse into the social and domestic history, architecture, transportation, ranching, agriculture, commerce, material culture, costume, and urban and rural history of Texas in the 1880s and 1890s.

Empire Livery & Sale Stable, M. J. Dagnan, Proprietor, Austin, Texas, circa 1880
Courthouse, Lampasas, Texas, circa 1880
Texas State Capitol fire, 1881
Foundation of Capitol Building, Austin, Travis County, Texas, circa 1882
Pierson Hotel, El Paso, Texas, circa 1882-1895
Temporary Capitol, Austin, Travis County, Texas, 1883-1888
Bird’s-eye view of San Angelo, Texas, circa 1885
Branding Caldwell in early days, Henrietta, Clay County, Texas, circa 1885
Farm house, San Angelo, Texas, circa 1885
Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas, 1885
Immigrants going through San Angelo, Texas, circa 1885
Mr. Jacob Hoffman of Troop F, 3rd Cavalry, Fort Hancock, Texas, circa 1885
Skirmish with Indians, Texas, circa 1885
Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas, circa 1888
Family in cotton field outside San Antonio, circa 1889-1892
Comanche Camp, Texas, circa 1890
Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway Collision, Texas, circa 1890
Ox cart with storefronts in background, El Paso, Texas, circa 1890
Maverick County Jail Guards, Eagle Pass Rifles, Texas, 1891
A group on riverbank, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Aqueduct at Mission San Juan, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Beautics of San Antonio River. Guenthers Lower Mill, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Beauties of San Antonio River. Mill Dam, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Birdseye View of San Antonio. East of City Hall, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Birdseye View. Houston Street, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Commerce Str., Looking East, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Falls San Antonio River, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Fourth Mission, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Houston Street from Soledad, Looking East, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Mexican Cart and Burro, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Military Plaza. Market, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Military Plaza. Market, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Military Plaza. Market, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Mission Concepcion. 1st Mission, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Mission San Jose. 2nd Mission, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Mission San Juan Capistrano. 3d Mission, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Old aqueduct, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
The Ursuline Convent, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
U.S. Military Post, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892.
U.S. Military Post, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892.
U.S. Military Post. Infantry Parade, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
View approaching ‘Lover’s Retreat’ 3 miles west from Palo Pinto, Texas, 1892
Wood Market on Military Plaza, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, circa 1892
Rise in North Concho, San Angelo, Texas, 1894
Picking cotton, Eden, Texas, 1895
View of charity circus parade from Trust building looking west toward the court house, Dallas, Texas, 1895
View of Olive while snowbound, Texas, February 14, 1895
Lanham mill, Somervell County, Texas, 1896
Lanham mill, Somervell County, Texas, 1896
Furniture Room store, Sherman, Texas, 1899

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