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Yeomen, Sharecroppers, and Socialists

Plain Folk Protest in Texas, 1870-1914

By Kyle G. Wilkison

Publication Year: 2008

As the nineteenth century ended in Hunt County, Texas, a way of life was dying. The tightly knit, fiercely independent society of the yeomen farmers—”plain folk,” as historians have often dubbed them—was being swallowed up by the rising tide of a rapidly changing, cotton-based economy. A social network based on family, religion, and community was falling prey to crippling debt and resulting loss of land ownership. For many of the rural people of Hunt County and similar places, it seemed like the end of the world. In Yeomen, Sharecroppers, and Socialists historian Kyle G. Wilkison analyzes the patterns of plain-folk life and the changes that occurred during the critical four decades spanning the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. Political protest evolved in the wake of the devastating losses experienced by the poor rural majority, and Wilkison carefully explores the interplay of religion and politics as Greenbackers, Populists, and Socialists vied for the support of the dispossessed tenant farmers and sharecroppers. With its richly drawn contextualization and analysis of the causes and effects of the epochal shifts in plain-folk society, Kyle G. Wilkison’s Yeomen, Sharecroppers, and Socialists will reward students and scholars in economic, regional, and agricultural history.      

Published by: Texas A&M University Press


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pp. ix-x

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-10

In 1912 a rumor spread through one rural Texas community that the world was on fire; London had burned already, the flames had leaped the Atlantic, and the conflagration was headed straight for them. News of Halley’s Comet caused others to search the sky in fear and wonder for signs of the end of the world. Moved by the comet’s approach, a contrite blackland tenant farmer...

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2. From Homeplace to No Place: The Changing Texas Economy, 1870–1910

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pp. 11-29

Like Jacob wooing Rachel and mistakenly marrying her veiled sister, the yeomanry courted cotton’s prosperity but married instead poverty and dependence. Farmers’ loss of independence in early-twentieth-century Texas lay very near the root of their iron marriage to cotton and its accompanying socio-economic...

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3. Farmers and Wealth Distribution in Hunt County, Texas, 1870-1910

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pp. 30-45

More Texas farmers faced a bleak outlook in 1910 than had their class forty years earlier in the aftermath of the Civil War. More owned no property and had less control over their lives. Data in county tax rolls and federal manuscript censuses recorded the meaning of economic trends for individual farm families. This chapter, which looks at Hunt County, explores three topics in detail: wealth distribution, wealth composition, and household social characteristics...

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4. A Legitimate and Useful Life: Family, Work, and Community

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pp. 46-80

Early in the spring of 1915 the U.S. Senate’s Industrial Relations Commission held hearings in Dallas on the increasingly heated “land question in the Southwest.” This progressive body, known as the Walsh Commission for its chairman, Frank P. Walsh, sought solutions to labor unrest throughout the country. In Dallas the commission took the testimony of a representative small farmer named William Travis Davis. A few years earlier, this former...

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5. The Same Class of People: Cohesion and Conflict

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pp. 81-124

In the midst of a transformed economic landscape, the rural poor majority continued to hold to a set of community-centered values. Yet, the yeomanry’s way of life consisted of a set of behaviors, not just beliefs and values. So while rural people persisted in idealizing neighborly values, their ability to practice those values shrunk with each passing year, disappearing along with widespread economic independence...

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6. The Land Shall Not Be Sold Forever: Land and God in 1910s Texas

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pp. 125-160

Late in 1910 two Hunt County preachers treated newspaper readers to an intense debate of “the land question” in Texas. Southern Baptist minister Brother J. R. Barrett presented a biblical defense of individual rights to “absolute ownership” of land and warned against “perverters” of Scripture who preached that the Bible limited such rights. The next issue of the Commerce Journal signaled the arrival of scriptural combat with a reply from the Rev....

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7. Whose Planet Is This Anyway?: Land and the Politics of Dissent

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pp. 161-206

Late in the summer of 1911 the new Texas socialist newspaper, The Rebel, admonished tenant farmers that “the only renter worth a whoop to his class is the rebellious renter.” The Rebel wanted rural poor people to see that they were worth as much as anyone who had “ever strode majestically up and down the planet Earth. Well, why not? Whose planet...

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8. Conclusion

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pp. 207-213

The rural community in the eastern third of Texas underwent a fundamental transformation between 1870 and 1910. Immigrants from the rest of the South dramatically increased the population. Farm values tripled, and in the cotton counties they nearly quadrupled. In Hunt County, 1910 farm values were six times their 1870 level, even as the...

Appendix A

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pp. 215-220

Appendix B

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pp. 221-228

Appendix C

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pp. 229-234


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pp. 235-270


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pp. 271-287


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pp. 289-297

E-ISBN-13: 9781603444132
E-ISBN-10: 1603444130
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603440653
Print-ISBN-10: 1603440658

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 3 apps. Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 605885463
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Yeomen, Sharecroppers, and Socialists

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Rural poor -- Texas -- Hunt County -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Farm tenancy -- Economic aspects -- Texas.
  • Land tenure -- Texas.
  • Hunt County (Tex.) -- Rural conditions.
  • Religion and culture -- Texas.
  • Texas -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950.
  • Agriculture and politics -- Texas.
  • Rural poor -- Texas -- Hunt County.
  • Group identity -- Texas -- Case studies.
  • Rural poor -- Texas -- Hunt County -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
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