Heritage, Winter 2004 Page: 19
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Texas-have succeeded Spain as sovereign of the public domain
The first concentration of Spanish land grants within modern
Texas was, in fact, originally not in Texas. In 1767, royal commissioners
distributed land on both sides of the Rio Grande
River to settlers. These long strips of land with narrow frontage
on the river, known as porciones, proved a practicable way of
providing a greater number of landowners with a source of water.
Following Mexican independence, the northern border of
Tamaulipas was still at the Nueces River. In an audacious land
grab, the first Congress of the Republic of Texas established its
southern and western boundaries at the Rio Grande, from the
river's mouth to its source in what is today southern Colorado
and thence due north to the forty-second parallel. Mexico, of
course, refused to acknowledge this historically unfounded
claim; therefore, the trans-Nueces remained de facto part of
Tamaulipas until the U.S.-Mexico War and the ensuing treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) imposed the Rio Grande boundary
on Mexico. As a result of these events, the Spanish and Mexican
land grants between this river and the Nueces were subsumed, or
taken over, by Texas.
In subsequent boundary negotiations, the western edges of
modern Texas were rounded down to their present configuration
by the Compromise of 1850. Under the terms of this agreement
Texas transferred 67 million acres of its unappropriated public
domain to the United States in exchange for slightly less than
$13 million. The land ceded by Texas now comprises parts of
New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming.
Unlike Spain, which didn't encourage foreign settlement of
Texas, the colonization policy of independent Mexico extended
a welcome to all who wished to settle in its undeveloped territories.
As an inducement to immigration and settlement, the government
offered abundant and cheap land to those who
answered the call, and many did.
Heads of families could obtain a league of land (4,428.4 acres),
and single men were allotted a quarter-league. Settlers were
given six years to pay the nominal fee due the government.
Those who came seeking land left behind a legacy of letters,
many of which are archived with land grants at the Texas
General Land Office. Each provides a snapshot of life and times
in early Texas.
On May 18, 1841, James Williams penned a letter to his wife,
who he had left behind in Tennessee while he worked to earn a
Texas land grant. In this letter, he urges her to sell all their
belongings and begin making clothes that they might sell in
Texas. He also encourages her to urge their Tennessee neighbors
to make the trip.
"Tell Mr. Moore that I think he can do very well here ... this
country is high and piney and tolerably rich," Williams wrote of
the East Texas land he had his eye on. "There are ... grapes as
large as the English grapes in that country...And they are not yet
This word-of-mouth enthusiasm helped lure many to Texas, as
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HERITAGE WINTER 2004
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Winter 2004, periodical, Winter 2004; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45372/m1/19/: accessed September 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.