Development of the Magic Valley: Work & Labor
“CIVILIZATION FOLLOWS TRANSPORTATION”
A century and a half of isolation for the Rio Grande Valley ended on July 4, 1904 with the coming of the St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico Railroad’s completion to Brownsville and caused the first land boom in the area. A long fought dream come true for early pioneers, many which invested in truck farming but became hindered by the lack accessibility to distant markets.
Land development companies began acquiring large acreage of lands and subdivided them into smaller blocks, primarily for agricultural production. One of the strategies they employed in order to entice purchasers, as well as to increase property values, involved developers beginning to plant citrus and palm trees. Farming and population increases began to rise throughout the Valley.
Once the citrus industry in the Magic Valley began to show successful results, acreage in citrus rose throughout the Valley. In addition, John H. Shary later used its success to convince the Southern Pacific Lines to expand into the Valley in 1927. This not only increased access to the Rio Grande Valley but also created a competitive transportation and a shipping market, which ultimately furthered the development of the Magic Valley by reducing costs.
Another major contributor to the success of the Magic Valley included the readily available access to cheap labor. Although Anglo pioneers and developers are attributed with the vision and capital that began the development of the Rio Grande Valley, it was the work of Mexican and Mexican-American laborers who made it all possible. They were the ones physically responsible for transforming what was once considered a “wilderness of mesquite and cactus” into usable agricultural land supporting the Texas citrus industry and the economic growth of the Magic Valley.
“One of the greatest assets in the Valley is our cheap Mexican labor. We are enabled to hire them for but a fraction of what Northern labor would cost. This enables us to clear our lands and farm them at a lower price than can be done elsewhere in the United States.” –John H. Shary
In order to ensure the accessibility of an adequate water supply to orchards and lands under his development, John H. Shary acquired the Mission Canal Company and developed it into the United Irrigation Company in 1914. The company improved canals by lining them with concrete, which decreased property and citrus damage from seepage and expanded irrigation works to new developing lands in the Sharyland and Mission area. At one time, the company maintained responsibility for providing water to as many as 55,000 acres.
The early success of the citrus industry in the Magic Valley during the 1920s generated a second land boom in the Rio Grande Valley. According to a 2009 Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) report titled, A Field Guide to Irrigation in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, the land boom resulted in the “creation of a number of new developer-initiated irrigation districts for the construction of new irrigation systems that increased the number of irrigated acres in the Valley.”