After achieving statehood, Texas underwent drastic changes, moving away from slavery and cotton to the longhorn and the cowboy. In the Statehood & Beyond Gallery, explore the period of the "Wild West" as it happened and as it was remembered.
The institution of slavery escalated political tensions in the United States during the 1850s. In 1861, several Southern states seceded from the Union, forming the Confederate States of America. Their economy was centered on cotton and was based on slave labor.
The resulting Civil War came to Texas with the Battle of Sabine Pass and the Siege of Galveston, both Union attempts to gain a foothold in Confederate Texas. Both attempts failed. Texas troops fought across the South and were known for their effectiveness.
Following the cessation of hostilities, many soldiers returned to Texas and began to work as "cowboys." Cattle were driven from the Texas Plains to various railroad centers, creating a thriving economy. Cowboys were diverse: Anglo, African American, Mexican, Indian, and Chinese. Women—"cowgirls"—were known to participate in cattle drives and became more prevalent in the West in the growing rodeo culture of the early 20th century. The life of cowboys and cowgirls was glorified in the media, prompting an obsession with the "Wild West."
With the ceaseless movement of settlers into central, north, and west Texas, law and order lagged behind. Famous outlaws ran the streets of El Paso, Texas and other western towns, and famous lawmen attempted to preserve peace and eliminate feudists, robbers, and cattle rustlers.
As settlers moved westward, Indians such as the Comanche and Apache fought to maintain their territory. Violent frontier struggles ensued, and U.S. Cavalry units were stationed at forts throughout the western United States. The advent of transcontinental railroads, stagecoach lines, and trans-Atlantic steamships made traveling to and throughout Texas and the broader American West an easier task for settlers and immigrants. These developments also expanded markets from local or regional to nation- and world-wide. Galveston, Texas became a center for economic activity as well as immigration. The 1900 Hurricane quelled this growth, and the discovery of oil in Texas also hurt Galveston's slow-to-recover economy.
The same economic and industrial growth occurred in Mexico but amplified class inequalities. Politicians, such as Francisco Madero, challenged the presidency of Porfirio Díaz, a dictator for over thirty years. The ensuing political and social revolution saw the change of leadership often and rapidly. General Victoriano Huerta, Venustiano Carranza, Francisco "Pancho" Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and Álvaro Obregón all rose to power over the next decade.
The end of the Mexican Revolution came in 1920, with the election of Obregón as president, and Mexico saw peace once again. The Revolution in Mexico was not contained by the U.S.-border; rather, arms, supplies, and revolutionaries flooded across it, developing a cross-border economy that was as important to border towns such as El Paso, Texas as it was to the revolutionaries.