The Brits and cattle-ranching, a follow-up

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Fri Apr 12 11:07:31 MDT 1996


"The cattle industry shared mining's dependence on outside capital.
During the heyday of open-range ranching in the 1870s and 1880s, the
industry probably had a higher proportion of European investment
than any other western business. Between 1876 and 1880 the annual
import of American beef into Great Britain increased by 15 times and
provoked a wave of interest in western cattle raising. The British alone
invested, either directly or through commission firms, an estimated
$45 million in the western livestock industry, with perhaps $25
million of that amount going into Texas. The investment companies
that managed these sums created ranches that extended like small
European principalities across the public lands. In 1883 the Prairie
Cattle Company, a Scottish company, consisted of three divisions, the
first of 3,500 square miles, the second of 4,032 square miles and the
third of 400 square miles. The spectacle of European corporations
extralegally controlling such huge tracts of western land and impeding
the settlement of American farmers and small ranchers provoked a
reaction that produced the Alien Land Law of 1887 and a similar
measure in Texas in 1892. The Alien Land Law banned the ownership
of land in the territories by foreign corporations and by those who did
not intend to become citizens. The law, however, proved largely a
statement of pious intentions. Ten years later there had apparently not
been a single forfeiture of land under its provisions."

(From Richard White's "It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own, A
New History of the American West", Univ. of Okla. Press, 1991.
White is in the history department of the University of Utah. He and
Eric Foner are co-editors of "The Organic Machine", a study of the
ecology of the Columbia River in Washington State.)


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