Sunday, August 18, 2013

Strange Connections: Economic Depressions and the Texas Panhandle

Don't get me wrong; the Texas economy is fine. The Texas Panhandle, too. Some people here still struggle to find work, but there are some signs we're recovering from the nation's lingering recession. So, when I say there's a strange connection between economic depressions and the Texas Panhandle, I'm not talking about now. I'm talking about history. The Texas Panhandle is connected to the two greatest depressions in the history of the United States.

The Great Financial Panic of 1873


Until 1929, this economic event was known as the Great Depression. Unemployment peaked at 8.25%, 18,000 businesses fail, and many families lost everything. The causes of this event included the Great Chicago Fire (1871), the Great Boston Fire (1872), and the Equine Flu Epidemic (1872). But, the principal cause worldwide was stock speculation, the main force and effect in the US stock market being railroad stocks. The depression that followed lasted years.

No one in the Texas Panhandle suffered economically because of the Great Financial Panic, because the economy in this part of the world in 1873 had nothing to do with stock markets or mercantilism. This was Indian country. To the white man, it was No Man's Land.

So what's the connection between the Texas Panhandle and the Great Financial Panic? The federal government's drive for economic recovery. With unemployment rising in the east coast cities and increased immigration from Europe, the US Government needed to create employment opportunities. They chose to do it by opening up No Man's Land. Of course, there were already residents in No Man's Land.

How to clear the area of Indians ... hmm. First, encourage the buffalo hunters. They'll kill off the main animal the Indians depend upon for food, tools, and clothing. Then, wait for the Indians to attack a white settlement, and give the US Army the order to round up all Indians and bring them into the reservations ... permanently.

Roughly, that's what happened. On June 27, 1874 , a group of Comanche, Cheyenne and Kiowa Indians attacked the buffalo hunter trading post Adobe Walls. That event marked the beginning of the Red River Indian War, a war that culminated in the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon in September of the same year. After Palo Duro, the tribes drifted into the reservation, one by one, and surrendered. Within two years, Charles Goodnight began a ranch in Palo Duro Canyon. By 1880, settlements were springing up across the plains, the place once known as No Man's Land.

The Texas Panhandle played its part in the government's plan for economic recovery in the 1870s.

And, again, following ...

The Great Depression


The US facet of this depression began in 1929. In the years that followed, unemployment rose to 25%.

Part of President Roosevelt's plan for economic recovery in the US, the New Deal, was the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC). The CCC provided manual labor jobs, food, clothing, and shelter for unemployed young men.

By this time, the Texas Panhandle was settled, with several towns and cities established, including the Amarillo. And, it was to this area several groups of the CCC were sent.

Among the CCC projects completed in the Texas Panhandle, still standing today, are:

Once again, the Texas Panhandle marked the passing of economic events.

Strange connections, but not improbable. The more I study the history of Texas, the more I'm convinced that the story of Amarillo and the surrounding land is the story of America. This strange connection is just the first example.


The Great Financial Panic of 1873 plays a part in the next Undead Bar Association book, Deadhand Control. Look for the book in February 2014. Or, join the adventure now, by contributing to the Kickstarter Project.

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