Yeomen, Sharecroppers, and Socialists: Plain Folk Protest in Texas, 1870-1914

Yeomen, Sharecroppers, and Socialists: Plain Folk Protest in Texas, 1870-1914

Yeomen, Sharecroppers, and Socialists: Plain Folk Protest in Texas, 1870-1914

Yeomen, Sharecroppers, and Socialists: Plain Folk Protest in Texas, 1870-1914


As the nineteenth century ended in Hunt County, Texas, a way of life was dying. The tightly knit, fiercely independent society of the yeomen farmers--"plain folk," as historians have often dubbed them--was being swallowed up by the rising tide of a rapidly changing, cotton-based economy. A social network based on family, religion, and community was falling prey to crippling debt and resulting loss of land ownership. For many of the rural people of Hunt County and similar places, it seemed like the end of the world.

In Yeomen, Sharecroppers, and Socialists historian Kyle G. Wilkison analyzes the patterns of plain-folk life and the changes that occurred during the critical four decades spanning the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. Political protest evolved in the wake of the devastating losses experienced by the poor rural majority, and Wilkison carefully explores the interplay of religion and politics as Greenbackers, Populists, and Socialists vied for the support of the dispossessed tenant farmers and sharecroppers.

With its richly drawn contextualization and analysis of the causes and effects of the epochal shifts in plain-folk society, Kyle G. Wilkison's Yeomen, Sharecroppers, and Socialists will reward students and scholars in economic, regional, and agricultural history.


In 1912 a rumor spread through one rural Texas community that the world was on fire; London had burned already, the flames had leaped the Atlantic, and the conflagration was headed straight for them. News of Halley’s Comet caused others to search the sky in fear and wonder for signs of the end of the world. Moved by the comet’s approach, a contrite blackland tenant farmer quit drinking whiskey and took up a frenetic regimen of attending every revival and camp meeting within riding distance. Imaginations further leaped in 1916 at the sudden appearance of a fiery light on the dark horizon of southwestern Hunt County. As the largest barn in the county burned, people walked and rode for miles through the night toward the unearthly glow, confessing their belief that the end of the world was upon them. Perhaps this anxiety was not so misplaced in the world of the rural yeoman community. Those who tried to make their livings in the semi-subsistence manner of their parents and grandparents well knew that the triumphant national marketplace was rapidly transforming their erstwhile agrarian world.

What follows is an exploration of that transformation in Texas during the critical period from 1870 to 1914. This rural poor majority had inherited a common culture based in large part on neighborliness and land ownership. Neighborly interdependence provided the foundation for family survival and community independence; widespread land ownership provided the foundation for family independence that fos-

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