History of Texas Land
With a preface by
Commissioner of the General Land Office
The Old GENERAL LAND OFFICE BUILDING—BUILT IN THE YEARS 1856-1857 IN AUSTIN, TEXAS
The Old General Land Office Building, pictured (above) asit appeared about 1890, is located at the southeast corner of the Capitolgrounds in Austin. It is one of the oldest remaining buildings in the CapitolCity.
It was designed in December, 1854, by a draftsman in the GeneralLand Office, Professor Doctor C. C. Stremme, who enjoyed considerableprestige in Europe before his emigration to Texas. In addition to otherhonors, Professor Stremme held a title at the Court of Emperor Nicholas Iof Russia.
Maps prepared by Professor Stremme suggest his German homeland,and he poured his rich background into the Old Land Office Building. Thisstructure is German Romance in style.
It was built in 1856 and 1857.
Thirty years after its construction, the building was the workinghome of William S. Porter, who was later to gain fame as a short storywriter under the name of O. Henry. He was a draftsman in the GeneralLand Office, and there he turned out numerous maps of rare beauty.
Later, O. Henry used the Old General Land Office Building in oneof his stories, entitled “Bexar Scrip Number 2692”.
Statistically, the old building is 62 by 94 feet, outside dimensions.It has 11,656 feet of floor space in its two floors. Its exterior walls aretwo feet in width. It is characterized by star-transomed windows.
Moving into the Old General Land Office Building shortly after itscompletion, the General Land Office occupied the structure until 1918, whenit moved into its present building.
A new building to be occupied by the General Land Office and theState Library and Archives is now in the planning stage.
More information about the historic Old General Land Office Buildingcan be obtained from Mr. August Watkins Harris, an Austin architect,13 Niles Road, Austin, who created the picture (below) and withwhose permission it is printed.
PRESENT GENERAL LAND OFFICE BUILDING, 1918
Here is the story of Texas land.
And the story of Texas land is the story of Texas. This history beginswith the Spanish in Texas, goes through the period of the Mexican occupation,tells about a courageous people who forced their independence, setup a republic, and ten years later joined the United States. The story ofTexas oil development is also pertinent to the history of Texas land.
Through the whole account shines the far-sightedness, honesty, anddevotion of early Texas leaders. By their efforts we enjoy much that wouldnot otherwise be ours, not the least of which are our two great educationalfunds, the Permanent School Fund and the Permanent University Fund.
Does it not seem proper that we treat the educational future of ouryoung people with at least as much respect as our ancestors? We shouldcontinue to help these educational funds grow as much as possible now whileresources still exist on which to build them. Otherwise we run the futurerisk of emaciated funds and no resources with which to develop them further.
Section III of this booklet lists items of interest which may be foundin the General Land Office. We extend you a personal invitation to visitthe Land Office to see these historical treasures of Texas and the otherfiles which, collectively, spell out in detail the story of Texas land.
BILL ALLCORNCommissionerGeneral Land Office
Austin, April 10, 1958
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- PREFACE vii
- I. HISTORY OF TEXAS LAND 1
- II. DISPOSITION OF TEXAS LAND 8
- III. ITEMS OF INTEREST TO BE FOUND IN THE GENERAL LAND OFFICE 17
- APPENDIX 19
- Table A.: DISPOSITION OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN OF TEXAS UNDER THE REPUBLIC AND THE STATE.
- Table B.: MINERAL ESTATE, LEASED MINERAL ESTATE, PRODUCING ACREAGE, ANNUAL ROYALTY.
HISTORY OF TEXAS LAND
When Christopher Columbus stepped ashore in the West Indies inOctober, 1492, he drew the curtain to an immense area of land, some fertileand some desert—land of all types and for all purposes.
So vast was this discovery that land-conscious European powerswho sponsored New World exploration were soon giving away large areaswith a surprising disregard for their value. However, when rival powersdisputed their claims to specific territories in the New World, they werequick to argue. The effect was that nations which matured in the WesternHemisphere grew up with a high regard for land.
From this it may be inferred that the history of any nation or statehas been and continues to be largely a history of land. The political, social,and economic superstructure of a people is traceable to the land they control.Especially is this true of western nations and of Texas.
In what is now Southwestern United States there were several settlementsof Mexicans and Indians on both sides of the Rio Grande as early as1750. These people held no title to their land. They had assembled forreasons of economics and security.
Agents of the King of Spain finally arrived in the New World in 1767,surveyed the river lands, and issued titles. With the exception of Laredo,there was little colonization until 1815, when the Spanish governor beganto feel the French encroachment on the east. Before then, Spain’s maineffort had been directed toward the erection of missions, which requiredconstant support and defense, rather than toward establishing civil settlementsthat could defend and support themselves.
Thus, the vast area of the Southwest was sparsely populated and layas a wilderness to American settlers who had pushed to its borders fromthe United States. A grant to colonize was made to Moses Austin in January,1821, to settle 300 families in Texas; this was the first deviation from theSpanish policy of maintaining a predominately native population.
Later in 1821, the Spanish yoke was thrown off by Mexico, and theMexicans continued the policy of granting land to Americans. A liberalcolonization policy brought an immediate and widespread response. By1835 it is estimated that there were over 30,000 people in the Texas colonies—peoplewho had come to Texas not as adventurers or speculators, butto establish new homes. The fourteen-year period had wrought many changes.Texas was no longer a complete wilderness. Many areas had beencleared and turned into small agricultural districts where the people wereboth industrious and self-reliant.
Because of the differences in the background and heritage of theAnglo-Americans and the Mexicans, it was inevitable that conflicts woulddevelop. Differences in political views, religion, language, and mode ofliving all served to kindle and feed the flames of the Texas Revolution.
At the very beginning of hostilities, Texans closed the colonial landoffices and assumed control of the land problems under one agency. Thiswas the foundation and beginning of the General Land Office, as it is knowntoday.
In separating from Mexico, Texans recognized the valid titles toland which had been made by Spain and Mexico, but all vacant land withinthe borders of the new republic became the property of Texas. Theseborders were defined by the Congress of Texas in an Act of December 19,1836, and included all land within the present boundaries of the state (andout to three marine leagues in the Gulf of Mexico), more than half of thepresent State of New Mexico, and parts of Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.The first commissioners of the General Land Office, who were given themomentous task of administering this huge domain, were John P. Borden(who served from 1837 to 1841) and Thomas Wm. Ward (whose tenure ofoffice was 1841 to 1848). On December 29, 1845, the Republic became astate.
Events leading to the annexation of Texas by the United States weresignificant in the land history of the state. Relations between the Republicof Texas and the United States during this time may be separated into threeperiods, each of which lasted about three years.
During the first period, Texas sought annexation. Partly as a resultof the slavery controversy then raging in the United States and partlyin fear of war with Mexico, the United States refused annexation.
In the second period, Texas altered her attitude, withdrew her applicationfor annexation, and made plans to perpetuate her republic. Duringthis period, Texas was recognized by powers such as Great Britain, France,Holland, and Belgium. Americans, laboring under the influence of whatthey considered a Manifest Destiny, feared the influence of foreign powersin Texas.
This led to the third phase, which was characterized by renewedU. S. interest in Texas. On June 8, 1844, a treaty of annexation was defeatedin the United States Senate, largely by partisan politics. This treatystipulated that the United States would pay Texas debts up to ten milliondollars, but that Texas would have to surrender title to all public lands.
Texas was fortunate that this treaty was not approved, because onlya small part of the land that she would have traded for ten million dollarshas since put more than 625 million dollars in the Permanent School andUniversity Funds. Later that year, President John Tyler of the UnitedStates proposed that the treaty of annexation be adopted by a joint resolutionof Congress, and this maneuver succeeded, the treaty receiving approvalon February 28, 1845.
Provisions of the treaty as confirmed by the joint resolution allowedTexas to retain her public domain and provided also that the new state shouldkeep her debts, which amounted to about 13 million dollars at that time.All in all, it was a better arrangement than the earlier treaty which hadbeen defeated.
Congressional approval was greeted in Texas by considerable enthusiasm.
The initiative in annexation proceedings now lay with Texas. Presidentof the Republic Anson Jones called a convention to meet at Austin onJuly 4, 1845, to decide whether or not Texas should accept the proposal.The decision being in the affirmative, the State of Texas was admitted intothe Union on December 29, 1845, and the State government was formallyinstalled on February 19, 1846. Thomas Wm. Ward, who had been Commissionerof the General Land Office under the Republic, assumed the sameposition in the State government. His duties remained essentially the same.
Shortly after Texas was annexed by the United States, war broke outbetween Mexico and the Union over the newly-acquired territory. Mexicohad never relinquished her claim to Texas, and had repeatedly warned theUnited States that annexation of what she considered a rebellious provincewould mean war. From the beginning of hostilities, however, the UnitedStates experienced a minimum of difficulty in subduing her southern adversary.Less than two years after the war began, it came to a conclusionwith the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, signed February 2, 1848. Amongother provisions, Mexico gave up her claim to Texas.
Hardly had the war come to an end than a dispute arose between theUnited States and Texas over 78,892,800 acres of land claimed by Texas.When Mexico concluded the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, she sold this andother land to the United States for $15,000,000. Mexico had never recognizedTexas’ claim to the land in question, which included parts of what isnow New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming.
However, when the United States began taking possession of thisland, anger in Texas mounted. The Legislature passed a resolution renewingTexas’ claim to the disputed area.
A solution to the problem was worked out in the Compromise of 1850by which the United States was to pay Texas $10,000,000 for the area. OnFebruary 28, 1855, Congress paid Texas an additional $5,496,477.77 forthis land. Therefore, Texas profited handsomely by some shrewd bargainingon the part of its early leaders. Not only was Texas able to pay its publicdebt, but the State reserved its present domain to itself as well.
This public domain of land has been the basis of growth for the State’stwo big educational funds, the Permanent School Fund and the PermanentUniversity Fund, as the result of mineral exploration within Texas andespecially because of oil development on public land set aside for the benefitof these funds.
As a result, the history of oil exploration and development withinTexas is directly related to the story of Texas land.