Heritage, Winter 2004 Page: 20
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did the law authorizing the governor to enter into agreements
with contractors, known as empresarios.
As it began to distribute land, the Republic of Texas
retained several features of the Mexican system of colonization.
In a major departure from its predecessor, though, the
new government consolidated control and supervision of the
land granting system. That responsibility was given to a single
agency, the General Land Office of Texas, created in 1836 and
placed under the responsibility of its chief officer, the commissioner.
The commissioner's primary responsibility was to administer
and supervise the distribution of the Republic's vast public
domain, the main source of wealth for an otherwise destitute government.
The land was called on as a continuing inducement to
settlement. It was given to those willing to fight for Texas independence,
and it helped raise money to pay for the war and retire
Over time, Texas used its public domain for increasingly
diverse purposes. In 1875, for instance, Texas set aside 3 million
acres of public land to pay for the construction of its Texas-size
red granite capitol building. The state also used 37 million
acres, about one-fourth of the available land, to encourage
internal improvements. The lion's share, 32 million acres, went
to railroad companies, with the remainder used as exchange for
carrying out projects such as the excavation of irrigation ditches,
construction and improvement of canals, and road building.
To its great credit, Texas also assigned a sizeable amount of its
public lands to promote education. Of all the uses found for its
public lands, it could be argued that the land dedicated for school
purposes has produced the greatest long-term benefit. Revenues
from school and university lands, including the tidelands
retained by Texas after a protracted challenge by the federal government,
continue to flow into the respective school funds, the
proceeds from which benefit public and higher education in the
In an important 1898 decision, the Texas Supreme Court
declared that the state had disposed of all of its vacant and unappropriated
land. In the end, from 1836 to 1898, Texas found ways
to distribute 216,314,560 acres of public domain. And while that
number is indeed great, Texas still remains a state that is known
for its incredible amount of land, its wide open spaces, and unbridled
Galen Greaser is the Spanish translator at the General Land Office.
........................................................................... .. ............................................................................
Enrique Guerra, a rancher and life-long resident of South Texas, has roots that go back to the 1750s,
when the area was first settled by the Spanish government. On his father's side, Guerra still owns land
in Starr County that was originally granted to his great-great grandfather around 1757. Guerra says
that he has in his possession every document tracing the lineage of ownership of that land. Guerra
also has property in Hidalgo County, but because so many Spanish deeds were either destroyed or
lost, following the trail of ownership of that land is more complicated.
This story begins back in 1748, when Jos6 de Escandon began to colonize the area between Tampico
and the Nueces River, a region that became known as Nuevo Santander. In the mid-1750s, as the Escandon colonization
efforts gained momentum, settlers flocked to the new territory. More than 20 towns, including Dolores, Reynosa,
Mier, and Laredo were established by people looking for new opportunities. One of those settlers was Jos6 Manuel
Gomez, who in 1799 received a grant of land to approximately 95,000 acres on the north side of the Rio Grande River.
That land grant became known as Santa Anita, and it has played a major role in the history of South Texas.
When Gomez died, the land was sold. Eventually, a large part of the original grant came to be owned by Jose
Francisco Balli Villarreal and his daughter Salom6. An independent woman and headstrong business partner, Salome
was able to acquire vast amounts of land in South Texas. She married a Scottish merchant named John Young, and
they had a son. Throughout the years, the family continued to purchase land from the heirs of original grantees. The
elder Young died in 1859, and his widow remarried-this time to a Scotch-Irish immigrant John McAllen. They had
another son in 1862, and when Salom6 and John McAllen, himself a successful business man, passed away, their vast
land holdings were split between Salome's two children. It was at that point, in the 1920s, through John Young, that
Enrique Guerra's father and grandfather had an opportunity to purchase a portion of the land that more than 300 years
earlier had belonged to Jose Manuel Gomez.
Though the story is complex and circular, it is one that connects Enrique Guerra and his family to a rich, colorful part
of the history of South Texas.-Gene Krane
HERITAGE WINTER 2004
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Winter 2004, periodical, Winter 2004; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45372/m1/20/: accessed October 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.