Land Often Wrongfully Gained

Norman Mikalac mikalac at
Fri Aug 11 16:32:13 MDT 2000

very interesting history.  since i'm ignorant of Tex-Mex economic
history, can you cite sources for becoming educated on the subject?

thanks for your help.


Tony Abdo wrote:
> The Ballí heirs' victory in federal court last week must give heart to
> the various Mexican-American reclamante, or claimant, associations
> across the Southwest that have been working to recover lost lands.
> But it will not be easy. In the Ballí case, the issue was the buyer's
> failure to live up to the conditions of the sale, not the sale itself.
> After the westward movement, Texas and California established
> commissions to validate the titles of original grantees. Some scholars
> have questioned the constitutionality of that process, since it placed
> the burden of proof on the defendant, but some process was necessary
> with the change of sovereignty.
> Few Mexican-Americans lost their lands at that point, even though titles
> and documents to many holdings in South Texas perished when a steamboat
> carrying the proceedings of the Land Commission sunk on the Rio Grande.
> The problems were greater than validation of titles, however. As
> Mexican-Americans adapted to the American system, they were faced with
> the new legalities of land ownership and new procedures for the sale of
> land.
> There also were problems with the boundaries of the lands granted under
> Spain and Mexico. Vast properties were used largely for cattle grazing
> and, therefore, the exactness of their perimeters was not important.
> Additionally, neither Spain nor Mexico had a strong tradition of taxing
> land. The American system, however, did, and that required clear
> boundaries. Consequently, South Texas rancheros had to hire surveyors.
> But not all rancheros attended to this or the paying of taxes. Many lost
> their lands at sheriffs' auctions, at which the new lords, colluding not
> to outbid one another, bought the ranchos for pennies per acre.
> Still, most fraud came as American and European settlers, hungry for
> land at any cost, moved into South Texas.
> Edward Dwyer, an Irish merchant in San Antonio, for example, called for
> the Texas Revolutionary Army to move into Béxar to intimidate the
> Mexican residents of San Antonio into selling their lands.
> In Victoria, unfair challenges to property rights were brought against
> Mexicano ranchers. Elsewhere, unwarranted criminal charges were made
> against them in the hopes that the ranchers, fearing unfriendly juries,
> they would flee to Matamoros or Saltillo and abandon their properties.
> There was fraud among attorneys, who would keep cases tied up in the
> courts for years. Even when Mexican-American landowners won, they would
> have to pay lawyer fees with land. Sometimes the defending attorney
> turned around and split his gains with the claimant.
> A former student of mine recounted how her grandfather, in his old age,
> would get up from his rocking chair fearful that "los rinches de la
> quineña me vienen a envenenar las norias" ("the rangers, or henchmen,
> of the King Ranch are coming to poison my water holes"), thus killing
> off his stock and forcing him to sell his land.
> Yet many Mexican-American landowners defended themselves well. Many,
> too, learned the rules of the American system, adapted and even
> prospered.
> In fact, rancheros in the San Antonio River valley had been driving
> herds to Louisiana; taking them to American markets was not particularly
> difficult.
> Some Mexican-Americans in South Texas also prospered. In the 1880s, one
> ranchero, Blas María Gutiérrez of Zapata County, reported $144,188
> for tax purposes.
> With the exception of a few who also were merchants, however, these
> ranchers were land rich but money poor. Consequently, many found
> themselves in a bind during the economic crises that occurred
> practically every decade and willingly sold their ranches.
> It was during those depressions that Richard King and Mifflin Kenedy
> amassed kingdom-size ranches in South Texas.
> The truth of it all may never be known. There are sample studies of
> fraud and violence, adaptation and survival and massive sales of land.
> In any case, the ties to the land among Mexican-Americans are
> indisputable. The victory of the Ballí heirs thus confirms a heartfelt
> sentiment among Mexican-Americans that this is their land and they
> belong here.
> GHinojosaEN at
> 08/10/2000
> Tony Abdo

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