Late 19th Century Texas: Background information when reading News of the World

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Discuss |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

News of the World

by Paulette Jiles

News of the World by Paulette Jiles X
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2016, 224 pages
    Jun 2017, 224 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

Buy This Book

Late 19th Century Texas

This article relates to News of the World

Print Review

Paulette Jiles' News of the World takes place in late 19th century Texas. Much of the state's land was untamed and rugged, but in this time between the end of the Reconstruction and the beginning of the Progressive Era, Texas changed and grew, as did much of the western frontier and the New South.

Longhorn DriveIt was the era of cotton, cattle and railroads, and it was a time of economic growth. Cotton was the most common crop grown for profit, and corn was the most common food crop. In fact, agriculture dominated the state economy, and much of it centered on ranching. Texas had always been cattle country, but after the Civil War, the economic importance of livestock grew. Wild longhorn cattle could be sold in the northern United States for up to six times what they went for in the South, so ranchers caught them and organized drives to get them up there, sometimes all the way up to Canada. Cowboys would travel for weeks at a time on trails with these wild cattle, thus creating the iconic vision of the Texan cowboy – fiercely independent and rugged – that has become a lasting symbol of the state. The growth of the railroad system vitalized commercial farming as well as ranching (but ended the golden era of the cowboy) – lumber was carried from east Texas. Cattle were carried from west Texas. Crops were also carried from farms all over the state, and people were able to travel to newly developing cities. In 1901, petroleum was found near Beaumont, Texas and became, at that time, the most productive oil well in the world. Oil discoveries continued after that, heralding in the oil boom, which permanently transformed and grew the economy of Texas.

Poster about Land for SaleBlack and Latino communities emerged during the late 19th century too, separate from one another and from the dominant white population and, not surprisingly, they faced much discrimination. The population in Texas grew fast during this time – from over one and a half million in 1880 to over three million by 1900. People came in from other states, especially from the South, and immigrants from Mexico and Germany added numbers too. Most Black Texans worked as sharecroppers, tenant farmers who had to pay the landowner part of their crop as rent to use the land. Some also herded cattle, worked on the railroads, in lumber camps, on seaport docks, or as craftsmen. A few acquired their own land and opened their own businesses. The Colored Farmers' Alliance was organized in the 1880s. Schools and churches were segregated, and funding was scarcer for those black institutions than for their white counterparts. Latino Texans had a similar experience. Some owned ranches and small businesses, but most herded sheep or cattle, or did manual labor like working on the railroad. Mexican immigrants took the place of black slaves on many cotton plantations. They worked for very little money and, just as before the Civil War, the white landowners were the primary beneficiaries of the cotton industry, which was booming. Being a sharecropper was an incredibly hard life. After accounts to the landowners were settled, sharecroppers rarely had money left over. Families, including children as young as four-years-old, worked together for long days, from sun up to sun down.

Sutton GriggsThe Democratic Party dominated politics in Texas after the Reconstruction. Interestingly, being a Democrat in this time period meant standing for retrenchment, white supremacy and states' rights on racial issues, while the Republican Party favored expanding the rights of minorities, improving education, and developing economically. Texas music in the late 19th century included folk songs, religious spirituals, and the influences of black, Latino and German culture. Cowboy songs were popular too.

Sutton Griggs, a black Texan native, social activist, and Baptist minister, became a famous novelist in the 1890s. His best-known work, Imperium in Imperio (State Within A State), was a utopian story that imagined a separate African-American state within the United States.

Painting of a cattle drive through a Mexican pueblo, courtesy of lrnarts
Poster offering cheap farmland to immigrants
Sutton Griggs, courtesy of

This "beyond the book article" relates to News of the World. It originally ran in October 2016 and has been updated for the June 2017 paperback edition.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Beauty in the Broken Places
    Beauty in the Broken Places
    by Allison Pataki
    Ernest Hemingway wrote that we are "strong at the broken places," and Allison Pataki found that to ...
  • Book Jacket
    Love and Other Consolation Prizes
    by Jamie Ford
    Love and Other Consolation Prizes was read and reviewed by 22 BookBrowse members for First ...
  • Book Jacket: The Judge Hunter
    The Judge Hunter
    by Christopher Buckley
    In London 1664, Balthasar de St. Michel or "Balty" has no discernable skills besides pestering his ...
  • Book Jacket: Star of the North
    Star of the North
    by D.B. John
    It's summertime. You're looking for an absorbing thriller while you flop at the beach. ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

An audacious American epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Summer Wives
    by Beatriz Williams

    An electrifying postwar fable of love, class, power and redemption set on an island off the New England coast.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Clock Dance
    by Anne Tyler

    A delightful novel of one woman's transformative journey, from the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win A Place for Us

A Place For Us

A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

H, W H A Problem

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.