Estimates of the number of Indians living in Texas when the first Europeans arrived range from 30,000 to 130,000. Eventually, they all were killed, fled southward or westward, or were removed to reservations. The first great wave of white settlers, beginning in 1821, came from nearby southern states, particularly Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi; some of these newcomers brought their black slaves to work in the cotton fields. During the 1840s, a second wave of immigrants arrived directly from Germany, France, and eastern Europe.

Interstate migration during the second half of the 19th century was accelerated by the Homestead Act of 1862 and the westward march of the railroads. Particularly notable since 1900 has been the intrastate movement from rural areas to the cities; this trend was especially pronounced from the end of World War II, when about half the state's population was rural, to the late 1970s, when nearly four out of every five Texans made their homes in metropolitan areas.

Texas's net gain from migration between 1940 and 1980 was 1,821,000, 81% of that during the 1970–80 period. A significant proportion of postwar immigrants were seasonal laborers from Mexico, remaining in the US either legally or illegally. By 1990, Texas had a foreign-born population of 1,524,436, representing 9% of the total. During 1980–83, Texas had the highest net migration gain—922,000—in the nation. From 1985 to 1990, the net gain from migration was 36,700. Between 1990 and 1998, the state had net gains of 541,000 in domestic migration and 656,000 in international migration. In 1996, the state's foreign-born population was 2,081,000, or 11% of the total population. In 1998, 44,428 foreign immigrants arrived in Texas, the 4th-highest total among the states. Of that total, the greatest number of immigrants (22,956) came from Mexico. Between 1990 and 1998, Texas's overall population increased 16.3%. In the period 1995–2000, 1,362,849 people moved into the state and 1,214,609 moved out, for a net gain of 148,240, 17,957 of whom were age 65 or over.