Life on the Frontier

Sunset view of barracks & hospital buildings

Immigration and Settlement

The possibility of free or cheap land at­tract­ed thousands of people to Texas in the 19th century. The earliest Anglo settlers arrived with men like Stephen F. Austin. Since Texas was part of Mexico, these colonists were subject to Mexican law and customs.

After Texas joined the United States in 1845, Americans moved south and west and Europeans crossed an ocean to come here. Germans, Czechs, English, and other groups formed new communities. Their traditions, languages, foods, and music helped redefine what it meant to be Texan.

Fort Leaton State Historic Site

The original 1848 fortified adobe building on the banks of the Rio Grande was named for Ben Leaton. It provided supplies for freighters on the Chihuahua Trail. Leaton and his partners’ business dealings could be as wild as the land itself!

Fort Richardson State Park & Historic Site

The cavalrymen stationed here fanned out from the fort to respond to Indian attacks.

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site and Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm

The Sauers, a Texas-German family, settled in the Texas Hill Country in 1869. Johann, Christine and their 10 children worked year-round on the farm, caring for livestock, canning, cleaning and more. Today, watch costumed interpreters recreate that rural life.

McKinney Falls State Park

Thomas McKinney helped fund the Texas Revolution with profits from his cotton, livestock and milling businesses. He settled close to the junction of Onion and Williamson creeks, near a crossing of the historic El Camino Real de los Tejas.

Clashes and Conflict

Texas was borne from con­flict: It won in­de­pen­dence from Mex­i­co at the 1836 Battle of San Ja­cin­to.

As Texas ex­pand­ed fur­ther west, settlers clashed with the Comanche and Apache, Native Amer­i­can tribes who inhabited the region. In order to protect frontier settlers and supply routes, the U.S. army built forts in strategic spots. From the 1850s, troops stationed at these posts fought native groups.

Fort Richardson State Park & Historic Site

Visit the northernmost post in a line of forts that stretched from the Rio Grande to the Red River. Cavalrymen serving here launched patrols and battled Indian groups on the northern frontier.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie led a surprise attack on Native Americans camped in the canyon in 1874. They fled, leaving ponies and supplies, which the troops destroyed. The reign of Native Americans over the Panhandle plains ended soon after.

Texas Women

Woman working in kitchen at Barrington FarmDon’t mess with them! Early Texas women super­vised households, worked on farms and ranches, raised children, and ran businesses. They settled on the Texas fron­tier, building their lives and homes prac­ti­cal­ly from scratch. Women along the Rio Grande spanned physical and cultural borders. Others created new identities after immi­grating to Texas from Europe, blending their native customs with local ways.

Fort Leaton State Historic Site

Juana Pedraza was from a prominent Mexican family. She survived life on the border first with Ben Leaton, who died of an unknown cause, and then with teamster Edward Hall, who was killed.

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site and Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm

It’s the early 20th century in the Texas Hill Country. Women on farms are cooking, cleaning, and caring for animals. See what life in the slow lane looks like.

Mother Neff State Park

Isabella Neff inspired her son, Texas Gov­er­nor Pat Neff, to establish a system of parks that survives to this day. How’s that for a mother’s influence?

Farming and Ranching Roots

Rich soils and open spaces along with rivers and springs supported farms and ranches in Texas. Crops flourished, and cattle first arrived with Spanish mis­sion­aries in the 1700s. Promises of plentiful land attracted thousands of settlers throughout the 1800s.

Balmorhea State Park

Mexican farmers diverted water from Toyah Creek and area springs in the mid-1800s to raise corn, wheat, beans, and po­ta­toes. Irrigation expanded in the late 1800s, as farmers produced alfalfa for the growing cattle industry.Water continues to attract people here, as it has done for centuries.

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Gus Bogel, an early ranch owner of land that would become Big Bend Ranch State Park. Courtesy of Marfa Public Library.

The Fowlkes brothers struggled to make their 300,000 acres of arid land a viable place to raise sheep and goats. They built miles of fence, and installed water storage and dis­tri­bu­tion facilities along with hundreds of miles of water pipe­lines.

Goliad State Park & Historic Site

Mission Espíritu Santo developed into Texas’ first large-scale ranch Texas. Thousands of wild longhorn cattle and horses roamed the mission lands.

Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site

Hueco Tanks is famous for its unrivaled rock art. But in earlier times, it was a re­li­able source of water for military ex­pe­di­tions, westering travelers, and the Butter­field Overland Mail stage. At the turn of the 20th century, it became a cattle and horse ranch.

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site and Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm

Green-painted wagon in front of old wooden barn at Sauer Beckmann FarmLyndon Baines Johnson, born in 1908, grew up in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, living a simple rural life. Tour the stomping ground of our 36th president to see why he loved this part of Texas so much. The Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, in the park, presents farm life of the early 20th century.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

In 1876, Charles Goodnight and John Adair established the now famous JA Ranch in the canyon. It provided grass, water and shelter for cattle as it had done for the Southern Plains Bison herds that still roamed the area. At its peak in 1885, the ranch had more than 1,325,000 acres of land and 100,000 head of cattle.

Penn Farm at Cedar Hill State Park

Now a suburb of Dallas, Cedar Hill was once a farming community. John Wesley Penn, his family and slaves cultivated some crops here, but horse, cattle, and sheep raising on the extensive prairies was Penn Farm’s major enterprise.


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