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UTRGV Digital Exhibits

Development of the Magic Valley: Work & Labor


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.

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Excursion Train

Photographic image showing an excursion train of Northerners arriving in Edinburg in the 1920s (Hidalgo County Historical Commission Collection, Archives Alert 94-581).

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Opening Celebration of Southern Pacific Lines

Photographic image of the opening celebration of Souther Pacific Lines on January 11, 1927 in Edinburg (Hidalgo County Historical Commission Collection, Archives Alert 94-574).

Excursion to Sharyland Orchards

Sharyland Orchards Excursions

Promotional literature published by John Shary to attract potential investors by inviting them on excursions to Sharyland Orchards (1917).


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

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Laborers Clearing Land of Dense Chaparral

Photographic image of laborers clearing land at Sharyland (Hidalgo County Historical Commission Collection, Archives Alert 80-332).

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Laborers Clearing Land with Hand Tools

Photographic image of labores with hand tools clearing land (Hidalgo County Historical Commission, Archives Alert 96-589).

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Mexican Labors in a Cabbage Field

Photographic image of seven farm workers in a cabbage field (Hidalgo County Historical Commission Collection, Archives Alert 82-552).


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.”

Cement Lined Canal HCHC Archives Alert 95-578.jpg
Irrigation Missouri Pacific Promotional.jpg Delivering Water to the Land.jpg