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CHAPTER XIX.

ITALIAN RURAL SETTLEMENTS IN TEXAS.

INTRODUCTION.

In Texas there are four localities where the Italians have settled on farms. These settlements are located at Montague, in Montague County; Bryan, in Brazos County; and Dickinson and League City, in Galveston County. Near the cities of San Antonio, Beaumont, Houston, and Dallas are found a few Italians who are raising garden truck for the local markets, but the distinctly agricultural localities are those first mentioned. The Italians at Montague are growing fruit and cotton as specialties, those at Bryan are in the cotton district, and in Dickinson the Italians will soon have a colony that rivals the Italian colony at Independence, La., in producing strawberries and garden truck. In League City they are also raising a small quantity of vegetables which they ship to the nearby markets of Houston and Galveston. ·

The Italians in Montague and League City are from the northern Provinces of Italy, while those in the towns of Bryan and Dickinson are mostly from the island of Sicily or the extreme southern Provinces.

NORTH ITALIANS AT MONTAGUE, TEX.

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Montague is situated in Montague County, in the extreme northern portion of the State. That part of the country was first settled by Americans about thirty-five years ago. The town, although the county seat, is not on a railroad and is obliged to receive its mail from Bowie, 14 miles, and from Nocoma, 9 miles, distant, respectively, a star route connecting these two towns with the county seat. Forty families of Italians, numbering nearly 250 people, from the Provinces of northern Italy, are located in Montague. The Italians are all property owners with farms from 20 acres to 400 acres in size. A large part of the land is still in woods and pastures, while some is set out to apples, peaches, and grapes. All these fruits, together with grain and vegetable crops, thrive well in this part of Texas. The Italian farms are scattered through the outlying districts of the town and are not concentrated in any one locality. The first Italians came to the neighborhood from Sherman, Tex. The three families that first came had lived in Sherman County for some time, but owing to some difficulty in the matter of land titles they removed to Montague. Land was very cheap and they purchased suitable tracts for $3 per acre.

After this first group eight or ten years elapsed before others came, and then they began to drift in from the neighboring States.

All bought their land on time. In 1894 one man bought 148 acres for $1,200. This price included a good farmhouse, a barn, a shed, and two small buildings. He paid $800 cash and the remaining $400 within four years with 10 per cent interest. This case is typical.

Three of the families in this settlement came direct from Italy, while the others as a rule came from the coal mines of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, where they had spent from one to ten years working as miners. Nearly all the settlers had been farmers or employed in some agricultural occupation in Italy.

The growth of the colony has been very slow. In twenty-five years it has increased from 3 to 40 families and from 15 to 250 persons. But while the growth has been slow it has been steady, for there have been no desertions, none of the property owners having moved away. The probabilities are that this growth will continue, as good land is available at reasonable prices and the crops are sold at a good profit. The only drawback is the lack of convenient railroad facilities.

The climate is comparatively dry and is characterized by high winds and light annual rainfalls. The temperature during the summer months is high, but more or less uniform; in the fall and winter considerable fluctuation is noted. Cold winds from the north frequently change the temperature many degrees in a few hours. Henrietta is about 25 miles northwest of Montague and Forestburg is 20 miles southeast, but weather records made at these places will serve very well to illustrate climatic conditions in this locality.

Average monthly and annual temperature and precipitation Henrietta and Forestburg,

Texas.a

(United States Department of Agriculture. Field Operations of the Bureau of Soils, 1902.

Report, p. 367.)

Fourth

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a The table from which this is taken has the following note: “ This table has been compiled from frazmentary records, covers ditferent periods of time for different stations, and is not strictly comparable station by station or with tables of normals given for other areas covered by this report."

The elevation is high and the country consists largely of rolling prairie interspersed with low hills. The land is drained by means of rivers and creeks, and sometimes after a heavy rain the roads become impassable on account of the washes and gullies and the height of the water at the fords. The land is composed of heavy loam and clay, well suited to the production of hay and cotton.

AGRICULTURAL CONDITIONS.

The farms vary in extent from 20 to 400 acres. Only a small portion

a of the land is cultivated, the rest being in natural pasturage, woods, or meadows. Cotton is the principal money crop and averages about one-half of a bale an acre. Apples and peaches have been planted extensively, but the trees are young and little money has been realized from their fruits. Up to two years ago the Italians raised large quantities of grapes and made them into sour Italian wine. This sold readily in large quantities to the natives. Recently the establishment of prohibition in the county stopped the sale of this wine and cut off a profitable industry for the Italians.

The method of handling the cotton does not differ from that in other cotton localities. The growing of fruits was introduced by the Italians, and to all appearances they will succeed as horticulturists. Corn and hay are grown in small amounts. The settlers raise only enough to make them independent of grain dealers, and are not obliged to buy any hay or grain to feed their stock.

The buildings owned are substantial frame dwellings, neatly painted; the sheds and barns are well built, and the whole presents an air of prosperity. Some of the Italians operated land" on shares” before buying their present holdings. The crop rent paid was onethird of the corn and one-fourth of the cotton crop.

Owing to lack of railway facilities the Montague farmers are at serious disadvantage in marketing their crops. There is little local demand for the crops produced by the Italians, and practically everything that is sold has to be hauled a considerable distance to the railway.

Most of the property owned by the Italians is now free from debt, the majority having paid off the mortgages on their farms by hard work in the fields. They have little use for the banks, putting most of their money into farm improvements and equipment in the endeavor to increase the productivity of their farms. Some still send money back to Italy, but this practice is less common than in former years. One Italian owns a butcher shop, but he is the only Italian in the community not engaged in agriculture. The Italians are now fully Americanized with respect to clothing, wearing the same garb as the Americans. The houses are neat and well kept, and the farms, on an average, look as well as any native farms. Vegetables constitute the larger part of the Italians' diet, and the raising of chickens, pigs, and cows enables them to live very comfortably.

The women and children work on the farm fully as much as in the house, and aid materially with the farm work. The cotton crop is one in which women and children are very useful, and the Italian with a family is able to produce his cotton at a much lower price than his neighbor who is obliged to hire laborers. They seldom mingle with the Americans except on business. On Sunday they visit their fellow countrymen, and occasionally hold a social dance on Sunday afternoon. They have not really segregated themselves, as many now have one or more American neighbors. Race prejudice has never prevailed.

A Catholic church was built some years ago, and a priest from a neighboring town holds local services once a month. The public school has only ten Italians enrolled, as the majority of the Italian

а

children are kept on the farm and not allowed to go to school when they can be of use at home. This means a serious drawback to the rapid Americanization of the younger generation.

Among the Italians there are fifty men of voting age. About half have secured their final papers and exercise the privilege of voting, but none manifest any desire to hold office.

The settlers are spoken of as very industrious and peaceable. seldom getting into trouble and always trying to keep the good will of the natives. While the effect of the colony upon the community has not been marked, the forty families of Italians are helping to make the region prosperous. The following table shows the economic condition of three typical North Italian families who have been in the community for a considerable period of time. The farms owned by them average 195 acres, and their present value has increased somewhat overthe price of the land first purchased by them.

Table 66.- Economic condition of certain typical North Italian families, Montague, Ter.

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The value of produce sold is not large, but when it is considered that each family earns its living in addition to what is sold, it is evident that they are in a fairly prosperous condition.

NORTH ITALIANS, LEAGUE CITY, TEX.

League City is in Galveston County on the main line of the Galveston, Houston, and Henderson Railroad, from Galveston to Houston. Six Italian farmers are located at this point, the first having come twelve years ago. All moved from Dickinson and Bryan, Tex. They are engaged chiefly in raising strawberries, althougħ all varieties of garden truck are grown. Several other small towns in the neighborhood have each two or three Italian farmers within its boundaries.

The following table shows the present economic condition of three of the League City farmers:

TABLE 67.- Economic condition of certain typical North Italian families, League City,

Ter.

Number of persons in family.

Years of
head in
locality.

Date of first
purchase.

Acres

now owned.

Value of land and improve ments.

Value of produce farm, igos.

sold per

12. 6. 6.

12
11
11

1899
1908
1908

70
9

$4,000

420 1,600

$1,000.00

157.50 200.00

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