Cotton Production in the Borderlands
Ruifeng Zhou
La Valle Bajo Rio Bravo

The success of the cotton zones in Laguna and Mexicali inspired the Mexican government to search for more prosperous agricultural lands. By 1920, the Colorado River and the upper Rio Bravo were under the control of the U.S. Reclamation Service, while Mexican government could only claim the water which was drained into Rio Bravo from tributaries located in its own territory and the lower Rio Bravo itself. By planning dams on the tributaries, the Mexican government threatened to dry up the agricultural zones in Texas in order to get a stable amount of water for the use of irrigated zones on its own land. Starting in 1935, the Mexican government started the Valle Bajo Rio Bravo project to call back Mexican workers from the US and industrialize the vast areas around Matamoros with cotton agriculture. By 1939, the flood control works were almost finished by the Secretary of Communications and Public Works and the focusing point wold be shifted to irrigation systems. During this period, several colonia sites were built to repatriate large amounts of Mexican workers and farmers, such as Colonia Anahuac and Colonia 18 de Marzo.


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.