Cotton Production in the Borderlands
Ruifeng Zhou
Magic Valley

In the 1890s, the boll weevil spread quickly north from Brownsville to San Antonio, and reached Trinity River and Houston by 1901. Extensive damage was caused on the cotton belt of southern United States with some Texas counties reported up to 50 percent losses. This cotton shortage forced European textile companies to search for more secure cotton resources in other parts of the southern US states. Starting in 1902, with the passage of Reclamation Act, irrigation systems were built by U.S. government to pump water from the Rio Grande in an effort to convert dry rangeland to cotton agriculture zones.  During one of the major projects of the era, the Rio Grande Federal Reclamation Project, the "magic valley" near El Paso was dedicated entirely to cotton.


Other places in the series

Magic Valley

La Laguna

La Valle Bajo Rio Bravo


Cotton production in the borderlands

In late 19th and 20th century, commercial cotton production dominated the society and economy of the border region. Together with the growth of railroads and mining, commercial agricultural enterprises defined the character of borderlands in a regional sense.

Cotton is an indigenous agricultural product in the borderlands of United States and Mexico, but the situations of cotton production on each side underwent significant change after the 19th century. Before the Civil War in the United States (1861-1865), most of the world’s cotton was grown in New Orleans and East Texas in the United States. In contrast, cotton production in Mexico was of relatively small scale. By 1843, 80 percent of domestic cotton fiber came from Veracruz which only occupied 20 percent of cotton need for Mexico's textile industry. During the American Civil War, the northern US states imposed a naval blockade to prevent southern cotton from reach market, resulting in a global impact on textile industries. Cotton cultivated in southern states during this time was often smuggled through Texas into Mexico to be shipped to Europe. As the textile center of northern Mexico, Monterrey saw a large amount of capital and labor force concentrated within the textile industry in a very short time. The accumulation of capital resulted in the development of the cotton zones in the border region.



Walsh, C. (2008). Building the borderlands a transnational history of irrigated cotton along the Mexico-Texas border. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.