Map of Bastrop showing site of Osborn tenant house,
which was torn down to make way for construction of
Lovers Lane. (Click to enlarge map.)
Click images to enlarge
The Colorado River winds to the west of the Osborn
farm site. Concrete bridges today make for easier
crossing than the skiffs and ferries of earlier times.
A cotton boll, ripe for picking. Cotton has been
grown in Texas since the 1740s, brought to the region
by Spanish missionaries. Photo by Mary G. Ramos, courtesy
This single pen log cabin housed African-American
slaves during the 1850s and 1860s and was later used
by Mexican-American tenant farmers after the Osborn
family purchased the property. Over the years, the
cabin and other early farm structures deteriorated
and were ultimately demolished in 1989. Photograph,
circa 1936, by Fannie Ratchford, Hornaday Collection,
Texas State Archives.
Archeologists from the Texas Department of Transportation
screen dirt excavated from the farmhouse and yard
Using field records, photos, and
the recollections of family members, researchers reconstructed
this isometric view of the board-and-batten Osborn tenant
house as it might have appeared when first constructed
in the early 1900s. Board-and-batten construction was
a popular technique of the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth
centuries (Click to enlarge.)
At first sight, the small farm near Bastrop
seemed insignificant. Based on what remained of the dilapidated
structures, they hardly merited a second look. But as the
site was investigated, it became clear that the story of this
seemingly unimportant farm was worth telling. This exhibit
looks at the farm as representative of a critical juncture
in the state's economic history, as it was gradually transformed
from a property worked by African-American slaves to a venture
supported through tenant farming by Mexican-American families.
Originally part of a league granted to empresario
Stephen F. Austin, the T. C. Osborn farm lies near the site
of the Old San Antonio Road, pathway of explorers, traders,
and travelers. Texas Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Congressman
George Washington Jones lived there in a stately two-story
frame house from the 1850s to the turn of the century. Bastrop
historians note that the acclaimed orator periodically delivered
speeches from the upper balcony.
But this story does not concern the more-celebrated
players in Texas history but instead focuses on a lesser known
segment of the populacethe laborers who worked the cotton
fields and farmed the fertile Colorado River bottomland.
Here we look at the farm as it was gradually
transformed from a property worked by African-American slaves
to a venture supported through tenant farming by Mexican-American
families. Specifically, we focus on a small board-and-batten
house that in 1987 sat squarely in the middle of a planned
roadway on the south end of the town of Bastrop. In advance
of the construction, archeologist John Clark of the Texas
Department of Transportation investigated the house site and
gathered information on the farm.
Although the house itself was near collapse
and, by most standards, a relatively recent archeological
site, Clark believed it important to recover as much archeological
information as possible. Based on his preliminary research,
he realized that this could be the first study of a Mexican-American
tenant farm. Clark and his team documented the structure and
excavated 32 five-by-five foot units within the yard area.
After the excavations were finished, the remains of the old
farmhouse were torn down and a new road was laid.
In most cases, an archeological report is produced
soon after the field investigations are complete. In this
case, because of lack of time and money, the recovered data
was set aside for 13 years. In 2000, TxDOT contracted the
Center for Archaeological Research (CAR) at The University
of Texas at San Antonio to close-out the project. Their work
involved revisiting the site, interviewing former residents,
analyzing the artifacts, and interpreting the recovered data,
including that recovered by archeologist and historians from
the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. The TARL team
had previously documented the earliest farm structures. Using
all of these findings, Dr. Mary S. Black developed a five-day
bilingual curriculum, "Living on a Cotton Farm,"
for grade school and middle school students.
As researchers learned, the farm's history spanned
more than 100 years and involved six families: Castleman,
Jones, Osborn, González, Martínez, and García.
The early development of the farm was owed in large part to
a number of African-American slaves who worked for Castleman
and Jones. Unfortunately, the names of the slave families
were not recorded in U.S. census records or other available
documents. The third owner, T. C. Osborn, farmed the property
with sharecroppers, including the González, Martínez,
and García families.
The farm was established between 1840 and 1855
by Andrew Ewing Castleman, who bought land from the estate
of Stephen F. Austin. A Tennessee native, Castleman operated
the farm with the help of eight slaves who lived in log cabins
behind his expansive two-story house. Between 1855 and 1906,
the next owner, attorney George W. Jones and his family, worked
the property with six slaves. Politics and public life continually
called Jones, however. In addition to serving as Bastrop District
Attorney, Jones unsuccessfully ran for the Texas House of
Representatives and Senate, and served a brief stint as Lieutenant
Governor under James Throckmorton. He was elected to two terms
in the United States Congress in 1878 and 1880.
Thomas C. Osborn acquired the Jones farm in
1906 after a career as cowboy and rancher. Inclined toward
business rather than farming, Osborn directed his attention
to the town of Bastrop, where he and his family lived and
where he owned a butcher shop and later a saloon. To run the
farm, he brought in tenant sharecroppers.
Over time, the various tenant families lived
in the structures dating to the Castleman/Jones era as well
as in the small board-and-batten house (shown in the top picture)
built by Osborn in the northwest corner of the farm. One of
the first to occupy it was Livorio González, who with
his wife, Rosario Dominguez González, and three children,
lived in the small frame house until 1922.
In 1932, the board-and-batten house was occupied
by David García, who left work as a miner in the nearby
town of Phelan to return to his long-held dream of farming.
The family worked at the farm for ten years, raising four
children there. Mrs. García's grandfather, Macedonio
Ríos, was also a farmer who played a significant advocacy
role in community affairs. In 1911, Ríos and others,
acting as "trustees of the Mexican community, west of
the Colorado River," purchased a parcel of land to be
used as a graveyard, church, and school. García's oldest
daughter, Emma García Rockwell, offered researchers
a poignant recollection of her childhood at the Osborn Farm,
where she and her siblings grew up (see section following).
The Pete Martínez family worked for T.C.
Osborn for nearly 40 years, living first in one of the small
log houses formerly occupied by slaves and ultimately in the
two-story G. W. Jones house in the northeast section of the
farm. Interviews with Pete Martínez, Jr., who was born
and raised on the farm, provide a compelling look into the
economics of tenant farming.
Between 1906 and 1954, the Osborn tenants annually
cultivated approximately 100 acres of the 327-acre farm in
cotton, using the remainder for grazing and homesteads. During
that time there was no electricity on the farm and no running
water. The land remained in the Osborn family until 1985 when
it was sold to Terry Bray. Prior to removing the remaining
historic structures, which had seriously deteriorated by then,
Bray contracted with TARL to document them and explore their
The following section takes a look at the world
of the tenant farmer, as reflected in the small board-and-batten
tenant farmer's house and in the memories of the families
who lived there.
Workers stooped over cotton plants in the fields
were a familiar Fall site across much of Texas, before
machines took over the task in the mid-twentieth century.
Photo of Bexar County workers courtesy of the Insititute
for Texan Cultures, University of Texas at San Antonio.
(Click to enlarge photograph.)
Map of southern end of Bastrop circa 1920 showing
Osborn farm and locations of structures. (1) Osborn
tenant house (built ca. 1906; (2) George W. Jones
house, log buildings, and frame tenant house; (4)
barn and corral. Tracks for the Missouri, Kansas,
and Texas Railway were laid through the Osborn property
in the late 1800s. The farm encompassed 327 acres
of fertile bottomland south of the town of Bastrop,
just east of the juncture of Gills Branch Creek and
the Colorado River. (Click to enlarge.)
The George Washington Jones house,
built sometime prior to 1850, later was home to the
Martínez family who sharecropped the Osborn farm.
The structure was documented by TARL researchers in
1989 before it was removed from the property. Photograph,
circa 1936, by Fannie Ratchford, Hornaday Collection,
Texas State Archives.
Project area and excavation units dug by Texas Highway
Department archeologists at the Osborn tenant house
site. (Click to enlarge.)
House corner, exposed during excavation,
provided information on construction techniques.