San Antonio: Harvey Patteson, 1926. Handcolored panoramic photograph, 9 x 35 inches. Moderate toning, staining, and soiling, some tiny edge chips, tears, and nicks, one cello tape reinforcement on verso, minor rubbing, somewhat tanned overall. About very good. Item #3886
A powerful panoramic photograph capturing about sixty Mexican or Mexican-American farm workers spread across a large onion field in the Texas-Mexico borderlands in the middle of the Roaring Twenties. Some of the laborers, comprised of men, women, and children, pose for the camera while some stay hard at work either standing or on their knees picking onions. Given the time and place of the photograph, it is likely that at least some of the laborers were migrant workers from Mexico. The whole of the labor force seems to be overseen by one well-dressed white man standing just right of center. Several automobiles are parked in the far distance. The photograph was produced by noted San Antonio shutterfly Harvey Patteson, proprietor of the Patteson Studio, which became one of the most important photographic firms in the state of Texas during its time of operation between 1912 and 1979; the latter years of the studio were overseen by Harvey's son, Julius. The Harry Ransom Center holds the archive of the Patteson Studio, and describes the breadth of their photographic work as encompassing "military history, architecture, art, land development, the cattle and agricultural industries, and numerous urban views."
"The Winter Garden Region is an agricultural area on the South Texas Plains north of Laredo that centers around Dimmit, Zavala, Frio, and LaSalle counties. It is noted for its year-round production of vegetables by irrigation.... The first Bermuda onion crop was raised near Cotulla in LaSalle County in 1896, and commercial onion culture began in that county in 1898.... In Zavala County the 96,000-acre Cross S Ranch was divided into ten-acre farms between 1905 and 1907, and the number of farms in the county tripled between 1900 and 1930. The most important crops in the region were onions, spinach, beets, and strawberries, though cotton dominated in Frio County; some citrus fruit was also harvested, and nut trees became increasingly important. The population of the region more than tripled between 1900 and 1930, reaching 36,816. With the increased costs of irrigation by the 1930s and the economic impact of the Great Depression, the boom in small farms came to an end" - Handbook of Texas online.