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The Big State of Texas is Getting Bigger!

The following is a transcript of Podcast #5

Texas has a strong history of growth since the final boundaries of the state were agreed upon in 1850 and the US Census Bureau began counting Texan’s heads and collecting place of birth information. An in-migration magnet since 1850, Texas now ranks number two in attracting newcomers, number one in population growth in 2019. The first 2020 statistics are just starting to filter in. So let’s look at a complete set of statistics from 2019.

The US Census Bureau puts those who moved to Texas in 2019 at a whopping 559,661 people, or 1551 new people moving to the state per day. Only Florida’s move-in count is higher at 601,611. Although data for 2020 isn’t available yet, any Texan paying attention to home sales and cars on the road would predict strong in-migration numbers for last year. While move-ins from other states and countries fuel growth, there is another factor in the state’s increasing population. A bit less than half of the total population growth is from “natural increase.” That’s a statistic defined as births minus deaths.

But this is only part of the story. Out-migration takes a big chunk out of the incoming growth.  (Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but some people do leave the state.) Subtract those leaving from those arriving, and the net migration growth for 2019 is about 105,000. Now add the birth-minus-death increase in population and the Census Bureau ranks Texas as the number one state in numeric growth in 2019 with 373,965 new Texans. Texans can also brag about accounting for nearly one fourth of the entire country’s population growth from 2018 to 2019. 

The percentage of growth over the last decade, 2010 to 2020…well, it looks downright paltry compared to the population explosion from 1850 to 1860.  Granted the numbers aren’t as big, but the percentage difference?  It’s huge. While the most recent decade scored a 16.6 percent increase in Texas population, the decade from 1850 to 1860 saw a whopping 184.2 percent growth. The population doubled, then nearly doubled again.

These were important years in the “Gone to Texas” movement. If that’s a new term for you, let me explain. The phrase—“Gone to Texas”—has a colorful history. In the 1820s and 1830s, Texas was part of Mexico. Population was sparse and the Mexican government was offering Americans free land in hopes of creating settlements in Texas to buffer the more settled parts of Mexico from the marauding Comanches. Many of the early settlers were fleeing the law, avoiding creditors, or just general rascals who viewed Texas as a place for a fresh start. Others came for free land. The common practice when settlers left for Texas was to scrawl Gone to Texas, or the initials GTT on their doors.  By 1850, Texas had already become a US state (that happened in 1845 with the transfer of governance in 1846) and the lure of land and opportunity attracted settlers who proudly painted Gone to Texas on their wagons and the doors of former homes. The decade between 1850 and 1860 saw tens of thousands of Gone to Texas settlers.

Lieutenant J.W. Abert an army officer traveling along the Texas Road from Fort Gibson in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) through Arkansas to Saint Louis, Missouri, commented in his official report to Congress, “The way from Ft. Gibson was literally lined with wagons of emigrants to Texas and from this time until we arrived at Saint Louis we continued daily to see hundreds of them.”  Abert was correct, there were scores of people who were “Gone to Texas.” Wagon trains swarmed into Texas from Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and other states. There were long lines of wagons and hours spent waiting to cross the Red River at the Texas border ferry crossings. Other settlers came by sea. Galveston was a major destination for emigrants from other countries. More than 10,500 Germans arrived in Texas in1850 making it the third largest source of new settlers, behind Tennessee and Alabama. More than 19,000 more Germans had arrived by 1860. As the Civil War loomed toward the end of the 1850s, Many Southern families and entire plantations moved to The Lone Star State assuming that Texas would most likely be the Confederate state farthest west and thus be less subject to Union attack. This proved to be the case.

Compared to those moving to the state today, with their moving vans and digital maps, the 19th century settlers arrived on horseback and in wagon trains. The roads they followed were merely rough trails full of stumps. There were creeks and rivers to ford, dense forests, and rugged terrain. Graves lined the roads as reminders of the risks of travel. It can’t have been easy, yet thousands persevered in hopes of a better life in Texas.  The “Gone to Texas” movement—which began in the early 1800’s—still continues. Texas opens its arms to potential newcomers and says, “Ya’ll come!” with hopes that they will become proud Texans— Texans who will honor both the state’s history and the brave and strong settlers who labored to build The Lone Star State.