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They saw the future of the cattle business, and eacli bought lands at six cents to half a dollar an acre. The Kenedy ranch is now 800,000 acres in extent, and the King ranch contains 1,300.000 acres.
A strange freak of fortune at the outbreak of the Civil War gave obscure Brownsville one of the most unique booms in the history of any American settlement. The little trading post became the only fort in the United States not under blockade by naval forces, and consequently the only port from which the South could ship its cotton. This continued for five years; and the cotton of the Southwestern States found its outlet through Brownsville, which became a city of 40,000 inhabitants, and a very lively one.
But when the Civil War closed, the fortunes of this remarkably prosperous city slumped as suddenly as they had risen; for this whole empire was untouched by a railroad, and the river traffic, so great under the artificial stimulus of the peculiar shipping conditions of the war, diminished almost to nothing, leaving the city practically isolated from the world of commerce, save for the patronage of the scattered cattle kings.
About fourteen years ago, a very com
monplace incident occurred which spelled almost as great results for this fallen metropolis of .the Gulf Coast country as did the outbreak of the Civil War. P. E. Blalack, a prosperous "sugar man" from Mississippi, was on a train bound for Chicago when he chanced to make the acquaintance of a dealer in army supplies who was returning from a business trip to Fort Brown. To the Mississippian, the army contractor gave a detailed and enthusiastic account of the productiveness of the isolated region which he had visited, and made a prophecy that "some day a stray business scout from farther North would discover the riches of that forgotten land, build a railroad into it, and give the United States one of the greatest agricultural sections of which it could boast."
Every fact which the contractor could give regarding the soil, climate, water, and other conditions, was carefully noted by Mr. Blalack, who rehearsed them to his partner, on his return. "I've capital to spare," said Mr. Blalack's associate. "You make a trip into that country, verify the things you have heard, and we'll buy a large tract of land."
For fully seven years this trip was deferred because the health of Mrs. Blalack was too delicate to permit her husband to leave her. Some seven years ago, they decided, because of her health, to remove to San Antonio. There the ailing wife gradually improved, and a little more than two years ago she said to
Point Isabel, From The Gulf.
her husband: "Now you can leave me long enough to make the expedition you have so long dreamed of making and explore the Brownsville region." At once he put out on the realization of his long-deferred purpose, and struck the river at Rio Grande City. He footed it most of the way down the valley, sleeping in the open wherever night overtook him, and coming in close and actual contact with the soil. Although in the "tropics of the United States," he found the nights so cool that the covering of a warm blanket was invariably necessary.
the results of hundreds of years of alluvial deposit from the Rio Grande—and was at least thirty feet in depth. Here he bought 15,000 acres, paying one dollar an acre, or less. At length he reached the commercially marooned city of Brownsville, and his entry upon its streets was the most exciting event it had known in several decades. The top story of the big hotel, which had been crowded with guests during "war times," was literally a buzzard's roost, and the town was at once a reminiscence and a sepulcher..
Of course he found it necessary to give a prompt, and definite account of himself and his mission. When he told the "leading citizens" that he had come to look at land, and to buy if satisfied, he was besieged with offers. There had not been a sale of real estate in the county, of any moment, for ten years previous to his arrival, and men owning thousands of acres begged him to buy at his own price. He had already invested nearly all of his spare capital; but his faith was as strong as the importunities of his new-found friends, and consequently he bought about 1,600 acres—the pick of the surrounding country—close to the city of Brownsville.
"I paid just one dollar an acre for that," said Mr. Blalack in a recent conversation with the writer, "and now, two years later. I am offering $35 an acre for an adjoining tract, and am thus far unable to induce its owner to part with it. I expect to see the day when my farm will be worth $500 an acre—as much as the choice orchards and garden lands of California, Colorado, and Washington. Why? Because it will grow almost anything, will bear as abundantly, and is near the great central markets. It produces the table delicacies in fruits and garden truck at the time when they bring the highest price of the year in the markets of the North."
Mr. Blalack showed the writer a "demonstration acre" devoted to sugar-cane, for which the crop brought $240 when manufactured into sugar. The cost of planting was $25; but this is distributed over five or six years, as successive crops are grown from the same stubble. He declaVes that the cost of cultivation is not more than half the expense in Louisiana, while the yield of cane is twice as great,
and that this cane produces two to four per cent more sucrose.
His fig orchard was planted February 7, 1905, the "cuts" being about the size of a lead pencil. They began to bear the following August, some of them yielding 500 mature figs to the tree, and bringing three cents a pound in the green state. One-fifch of an acre in cauliflower, on Mr. Blalack's farm, produced a net profit of $235.
All land in the Rio Grande valley is irrigated from the river, and most of the planters have their irrigating plants. In certain sections, however, capital and enterprise have called the best engineering talent into play to furnish irrigation to a vast extent of territory. At Lonsboro for example, the writer found a corps of engineers putting in a great irrigating plant which will soon "make the water flow down hill over 5,000 acres of land." Incidentally they were giving birth to a new city. Two box cars stood upon the siding—two engineering homes on wheels. The mistress of one of these homes was a New York woman, gowned in white flannel and wearing natty white slippers. When asked if she wished to send her love to "old Broadway," her eyes filled with tears—but she quickly added, "But I'm happy here and proud to be an indirect help to such a work. What can a man do more useful and helpful to his fellows than to reclaim a wilderness and transform it into a garden?" The other box car home was presided over by the young bride of the chief engineer's assistant. They had married just before his engagement with the irrigation company, and she had been left behind in Brownsville with the promise that the husband would visit her "frequently." When some two months passed without a visit, he received a message that if his absence was to continue he could "fix up some sort of a place" for his bride, as the separation would not be endured any longer. He decided that she "had good engineering stuff in her," and she was told that a box car would be placed at her disposal, and that she might "fit it up into a home and then come on in it." She took up the work with a will and made a unique and thoroughly artistic dwelling out of it. The walls are done in burlap with a dado of matting and hung with pictures, while the floors are covered with rugs, and the bunks draped with Navajo blankets. She arrived two months before the chief engineer's wife and was the only white woman in that region. Her husband was called away for two weeks and she presided over the camp of Mexicans, her only protectors being a faithful dog and a brace of revolvers. When these wives wish to break up the monotony of their exile, one arrays herself in a New York gown, pays a call upon her neighbor, returns to her home, waits thirty minutes, and then receives a return call. Sundays are especially exciting, for the quartette mount their broi chos and "ride the country." No travv who has had a glimpse of these b> >x car mansions can fail to have a new apprehension of what the civil engineer gives to his fellows and his country.
The power-house of the irrigation plant referred to is located at the railroad station, seven miles from the river, and is being equipped with two steam turbines of 600 horse-power each. The electricity transmitted from this power-house is used to lift the water from the river to a 350-acre reservoir—an average of about twelve feet. Each turbine engine and its pump will act as a separate and absolutely independent unit, and will have the power to raise the water in the reservoir one foot in three days. This company owns 120,000 acres, all of which will be irrigated, and much of which will be sold in small plantations to the public.
One of the most picturesque reminders of "the old days" of American railroading to be found in the United States, is the narrow-gauge railroad running between Brownsville and Point Isabel—the actual mouth of the Rio Grande—a distance of about thirty miles. The tiny locomotive is of the most ancient "woodburner" type, and the cars which it hauls can be actually described only by the word antediluvian. A night ride in this strange train is one of the most weird and picturesque journeys that imagination could suggest—from the stack belches a trail of sparks, giving the impression that the train is being pursued by a swarm of millions of brilliant fireflies. But this strange survival of ante
bellum railway equipment will soon be extinct, and one of the novel features of the Brownsville region will be supplanted by the modern and "standard" railroad and the latest equipment.
From the moment the visiting stranger reaches Kingsville, his attention is instantly challenged by the splendid artesian wells which continue southward to the Rio Grande valley. Here is a pro- • vision of nature which is doing at small expense what the civil engineer is often called upon to do at the cost of hundreds of thousands—yes, millions—of dollars. Actually, Driscoll is the most northerly limit of the "proven artesian belt," which contains about 300 wells, whereof the oldest has been flowing steadily and in practically unabated volume for six years. Here the big flow was struck at a depth of 650 feet. Lyford is at the south'era extremity of the proven territory, and its wells were struck at a greater depth, of about 800 feet The cost of sinking the average artesian well in this territory is not far from $1,000. The flow of these wells is greatly increased by pumping. For this purpose a twelve horse power gasoline engine is generally sufficient, and can be operated at a very small expense. Earth reservoirs are generally constructed to hold a reserve supply of water. At Kingsville and practically all other stations, the railroad company has put in-a system of "demonstration" parks on the right-of-way of the road through the town. One part is devoted entirely to citrous trees imported at great expense from California, another to native trees, another to nut trees, and a fourth to park palms.
The revolutionary change which has followed the coming of the civil engineer and the railroad, is indicated by the fact that in securing its right of way through a stretch of country 110 miles long, the railroad authorities found it necessary to deal with only four land-owners. To-day these lands are being sold in 20-, 40-, 60-, and 80-acre farms, and these little holdings are being made to pay $100 to $500 net profit each year. The writer saw the harvesting of a 16-acre onion field at Kingsville, Texas, which yielded its owner a clear profit of $500 to the acre.