Texas Siftings, an independent weekly humor magazine, was started in Austin in May 1881 by Alexander E. Sweet and John Armoy Knox. The name of the publication was derived from a pen name, "Siftings," that Sweet adopted while he was a correspondent for the Galveston Daily News (see GALVESTON NEWS) in San Antonio in 1878. Sweet continued the column as "Galveston Siftings" when he moved to the island to become associate editor of the Daily News in December 1879. He left in December 1880 to move to Austin, where he bought the Austin Weekly Review, which he turned into Texas Siftings. The first edition of the eight-page publication came out on May 9, 1881, and circulation quickly grew to 50,000 copies. The publication had two associate editors, William O'Leary (later first city editor of the Dallas Morning News) and Franklin P. Holland (founder and publisher of Texas Farm and Ranch). After a few unillustrated issues, Texas Siftings hired W. H. Caskie, a cartoonist. During the first three years Texas Siftings resembled a newspaper more than a magazine. Though it was established primarily as a humorous sheet, it contained some local and state news and achieved a circulation of 100,000 by 1885. In March and April 1882 it published editorials that made its editors the focal points in an investigation of bribery in connection with the leasing of Texas prisons. As a result of the investigation the convict lease system was discontinued.
Early in 1884 Texas Siftings moved to New York. It kept a branch office in Austin and in 1887 started a European edition in London. In 1886 a smaller page (quarto) was adopted, the publication was expanded to sixteen pages, and Texas Siftings generally took on more of the appearance of a magazine. A. Minor Griswold ("Fat Contributor") was added to the editorial staff in 1886 and contributed several of his farce histories. From 1886 to 1891 Texas Siftings ranked as one of the most popular illustrated American publications, with a circulation of 150,000. Knox had become business manager in 1884, and Sweet was the sole editor and wrote most of the magazine from 1891 to 1895, when the publication was sold to Robert E. Morgan of New York. Sweet returned to Texas to start another weekly humor magazine, the Texas Sifter, which soon failed. At first, the contributors to Texas Siftings were principally Texas writers, but later nationally known humorists were added. The list included Opie Read, H. C. Lukens, Bill Nye, Bill Arp, Frank Bellew, W. H. H. Murray, William A. Bowen, R. R. Gilbert ("High Private"), Fannie Darden, and poets Joaquin Miller and James Whitcomb Riley. The art work was done by Thomas Worth, a Currier and Ives artist, T. Ramsden, and Frank Bellew. Sweet and Knox compiled columns from Texas Siftings into three books, Sketches from Texas Siftings in 1882, On a Mexican Mustang through Texas, from the Gulf to the Rio Grande in 1883, and Texas Siftings in 1883.