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German Seed in Texas Soil

German Seed in Texas Soil
Immigrant Farmers in Nineteenth-Century Texas

Terry Jordan explores how German immigrants in the nineteenth century influenced and were influenced by the agricultural life in the areas of Texas where they settled.

Series: Texas Classics

September 1994
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261 pages | 6 x 9 | 11 b&w illus., 14 figures, 52 tables |

Terry Jordan explores how German immigrants in the nineteenth century influenced and were influenced by the agricultural life in the areas of Texas where they settled. His findings both support the notion of ethnic distinctiveness and reveal the extent to which German Texans adopted the farming techniques of their Southern Anglo neighbors.

  • Preface to the Fourth Paperback Printing
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Nineteenth-Century Southern Agriculture and Its Expansion into Texas
  • 3. Nineteenth-Century German Farmers and Their Emigration to Texas
  • 4. Germans in the Cotton Kingdom: The Eastern End of the German Belt, 1831-1885
  • 5. Germans on the Rim of the Desert: The Western End of the German Belt, 1844-1885
  • 6. Conclusion: The Importance of Cultural Heritage in the Agricultural Systems of the Immigrant Groups
  • Appendix
  • Bibliography
  • Index

The late Terry G. Jordan held the Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History and Ideas in the geography department at The University of Texas at Austin.


Texas is a land where many cultures have met and mingled, for peoples of varied national origins have contributed to the development of the state. From Latin America came Spaniards and Mexicans, who colonized for a century prior to the arrival of any other groups; from the United States came hundreds of thousands of southerners, who first effectively occupied the soil; and, finally, from nineteenth-century Europe came smaller but significant numbers of Old World immigrants, who added diversity to the population. The rural areas of Texas reflect the varied ethnic character of the state as a whole, and communities of Germans, Czechs, Scandinavians, and Poles, are islandlike in a sea of Anglo-Americans. These different immigrant groups brought the strands of Old World agricultural heritages to be woven into the rural fabric of Texas.

The Purpose of the Present Study

The present study focuses attention on the Germans, the largest of the groups of European immigrant farmers that settled in nineteenth-century Texas. It seeks to discover on the basis of their experience whether rural Texas became a mosaic bearing the marks of the various ethnic groups which inhabited it, or whether the agricultural individuality of the immigrants was erased through the process of assimilation. The significance of the European farming heritage of the Germans in shaping the agriculture of the areas in which they settled is evaluated. The study involves a rather detailed description and analysis of the changing farming practices of the Germans during their first half-century or so in Texas, the crucial decades in the development of an immigrant group's agricultural way of life. During this forty- or fifty-year period, all major adaptations and changes were accomplished, and those aspects of the Old World farming heritage that were to survive in the new homeland met their great testing-time. The study is a close look at the workings of agricultural assimilation on a large immigrant group that was loosely bound together by the tie of a common language.

Central to the study is the device of comparison, by means of which the agricultural practices of the immigrant group may be seen in proper perspective against the background of the practices of other cultural groups in the same, or closely similar, areas. It would be meaningless to study the Germans alone, for so to limit the investigation would remove the basis for judging whether or not the Germans were different from other Texas farmers. Accordingly, an evaluation was made of the practices of southern farmers to parallel that for the Germans. The result is an agricultural comparison of these groups as they lived side by side in certain portions of Texas during much of the last century.

If comparison is the device of the present study, its major method is the generous use of the manuscript census schedules of agriculture and population for 1850 through 1880. On the manuscript schedules of agriculture, diverse information is found for each farm enumerated, including the name of the farmer; while the population schedules list, among other things, the birthplace of each inhabitant. Through the combined use of these schedules, a great wealth of information in the form of averages and percentages for farmers of different origins was compiled, providing a statistical framework for the study. So embarrassing were these riches, that the use of the censuses was confined to a number of carefully chosen counties, and for the years 1870 and 1880 random samples were taken within these selected counties. A more complete discussion of the procedures employed in the use of the manuscript census is contained at the beginning of Chapters IV and V.

In order to put flesh on the dry bones of the census statistics and expand the study beyond the limits of the sample counties, thorough use was made of other contemporary sources, such as travelers' accounts, immigrant guide books, letters, reminiscences, diaries, newspapers, minute books of the meetings of agricultural societies, and almanacs. Through field work, the present-day landscape was scanned for relics of the past which might aid in a better understanding of the nineteenthcentury farming systems, and descendants of the original settlers were informally questioned about the agricultural practices of their fathers and grandfathers.

Popular Belief and the German-American Farmer

There long has been a popular belief in the United States that farmers of German origin were superior to the native inhabitants as tillers of the soil. As early as 1789 one writer describing the Pennsylvania Germans enumerated sixteen ways "in which they differ from most of the other farmers" of the state, and similar remarks can be found in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature dealing with other areas where Germans settled. In Texas the popular notion of German agricultural distinctiveness began to gain acceptance quite early. In 1843 an English-language newspaper in Galveston contained an article on the German farmers who had settled a portion of the Republic, lauding them as "patient, industrious, and untiring," with skill, energy, and "a most scrupulous regard to punctuality in their contracts," as a result of which they gave "indications of fine prosperity." The Anglo-American farmers of Texas were chided for being inferior to the Germans in these respects. In the following year the British consul in Texas, William Kennedy, wrote in a dispatch that German farmers in the Republic were "laborious, persevering, and eager to accumulate," with the reputation of being very successful; and in 1851 a Texas newspaper praised the Germans of Austin County as "intelligent, industrious, and thrifty." Perhaps the most important and influential reference to the prowess of German farmers in Texas was contained in the writings of Frederick Law Olmsted, who, in the mid-1850's, contrasted the intensive, diversified, free-labor farming practices of the Germans with the careless, casual methods, often involving slave labor, of southern Anglo-Americans. A few years later, in 1858, another writer complimented the Texas Germans for being "a thrifty and industrious people, rapidly accumulating property and adding to the productive wealth of the country. Their settlements are compact, fences well built, and farms in good order."" By the outbreak of the Civil War, the idea was well-established that German farmers in Texas were something special.

Observers in the post-bellum period continued the chorus of praise, beginning in 1866, when one Anglo-American, speaking of the German settlements near San Antonio, was moved to note that

... the more settled and thrifty appearance of the country indicated our approach to the German settlement of New Braunfels ... This whole region ... is settled very largely by old country Germans, and they have left their impress of industry, order and economy on this section, as they have always done wherever they have found a home in the new world.

His sentiments were echoed by an English traveler of the mid-1870's, who observed in the same area the "well-fenced, well-cultivated fields, such as the eye of even a New England farmer never rested upon." Another traveler was equally impressed, and added, "the more I see of the Germans, the more I think of them. They almost invariably have nice and happy homes, and always have something good to eat and drink." Similar comments can be found in many other contemporary books, and even the editors of the Texas Almanac paid tribute to the alleged superiority of German farmers in the state. The adjectives "thrifty," "prosperous," "successful," "industrious," and "frugal," were used repeatedly to describe the Germans.

Modem scholars have arrived at similar conclusions regarding the Texas Germans, generally on the basis of some of the nineteenth-century sources cited above. The geographer W. M. Kollmorgen wrote in the 1940's concerning Texas that: "German settlements to this day carry on a rather diversified form of agriculture. On comparable soil, traditional cotton farmers who have never raised much besides cotton and com have reproduced a landscape similar to that prevailing in the older cotton states." County historians have been even more enthusiastic, suggesting, for example, that "there can be no better citizens than the Germans," and "a thousand German farmers would be the best thing for this county."

All of these references, from the earliest to the most recent, have one thing in common—they offer little factual basis for their claims of German agricultural distinctiveness and superiority in Texas. The reader is asked to accept the statements on faith, and the objective student of agricultural geography is hesitant to do so. Accordingly, the need for an objective appraisal based firmly in the factual becomes evident. The writer of the present study aspires to such a goal.



“The lasting benefits Texas has received from its Germans mark our place names, our historic records, even our food and drink. Dr. Jordan's [book] makes this clear and is a valuable contribution to Texana.”
Dallas Morning News

“Detailed with maps, charts and pictures, the book is excellent reading for many Texans whose ancestors came to Texas direct from Europe.”
San Antonio Express

“. . . an eminently readable book . . . in its recording of the adaptation of a transplanted human population to a new environment.”
West Texas Historical Association Year Book

“If one of my colleagues in American history asked me for a good book in geography, I would give him this one.”
Economic Geography

“It makes a contribution to the lore of the nineteenth-century immigrant; it throws some light on the history of Texas agriculture. Perhaps more important, however, is that the method of research as well as the method of presentation ... show that geographer and historian can collaborate to their mutual benefit.”
Journal of Southern History


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