7.2 Southwest (1870-1900): Integrating into the American Fabric




(37 states)


(45 states)






New Mexico















% of U.S. population








Key events that shaped law and society:

  • By 1870 the Southwest’s isolation from the rest of the United States was at an end.  The Southern and Central Pacific Railroads completed the nation’s first transcontinental rail route in 1869, giving California direct access to the rest of the nation.  In the early 1880s the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific completed additional lines linking Arizona and New Mexico with California in one direction, and with Texas and the east in another.  Indian wars in the Southwest also ended in the 1870s, and the region spent the rest of the 19th century assimilating the blessings – and curses – of civilization.
  • Texas and California grew rapidly during the era:  the two states were magnets for Easterners and Southerners looking for a fresh start after the Civil War.  California experienced the first of many boom-and-bust cycles which have marked its history.  Mining peaked in the early 1870s and was soon followed by a collapse of the mining industry and depression.  The hard times sparked antagonism toward Chinese immigrants, whom many white workers regarded as an economic and cultural threat.  Violent anti-Chinese riots took place in Los Angeles (1871) and San Francisco (1877).  Californians also became increasingly restive over the disproportionate influence that the Southern and Central Pacific Railroads exercised in state politics and railroads’ excessive freight and passenger rates. 
  • These forces gave birth to the Workingmen’s Party, which had a short life but lasted long enough to secure enactment of new state constitution in 1879.  The 1879 constitution was a curious mix of populism and nativism:  it incorporated “Granger” provisions the state to regulate railroad rates and other aspects of railroad operation, as did several other state constitutions of the period (see §§ _______).  The new constitution also barred Chinese immigrants from voting and imposed other restrictions on them, although some delegates recognized that these provisions were unenforceable in light of the state supreme court’s Ah Fook decision (§ ___). 
  • Reconstruction ended in Texas in 1873.  As in other Southern states, “Bourbons” (conservatives, many of whom had been members of the state’s pre-war elite) initially took control but were replaced in the 1890s by “straight outs,” a coalition of workers and farmers who sought laws bettering their lot and eliminating blacks as an economic and political threat.   Texas “straight outs,” led by Governor James Hogg (1891-1895), focused more on populism and somewhat less on racial domination than their counterparts in other states.  Like California, Texas grew rapidly and strengthened its economic links with the rest of the nation during the era.  Open rangelands gradually were fenced and tamed, and cities such as Dallas, San Antonio and Houston began their advance from small towns to great cities.

File:Tough Nut Mine Tombstone Arizona.jpg
Tough Nut Mine, Tombstone, Arizona (1880) - courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Chisholm Trail mural, Fort Worth, Texas
Chisholm Trail Memorial, Fort Worth, Texas - courtesy Library of Congress

Depot and RR works from Los Angeles, S.P.R.R.
Los Angeles, California, circa 1880 - courtesy Library of Congress