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Arkansas Grant

by J. J. Bowden

The inability to pacify the wild nomadic tribes, who ringed its northern frontiers, prompted Spain to embark upon a series of barbaric wars in an effort to exterminate them. This policy created such a spirit of vengeance that the Apaches and Comanches frequently raided deep into Texas, New Mexico, and Nueva Viscaya plundering and destroying haciendas stealing livestock, and kidnapping women and children. As a result of these incursions, the mission system in Texas was almost destroyed. To protect its interior from these savage inroads and at the same time promote the development of the public domain, the newly independent government in Mexico under Emperor Agustin de Iturbide passed the Colonization Law of January 4, 1823.[1]  This concept was continued notwithstanding the overthrow of the Iturbide government and the repeal of his Colonization Law. On August 18, 1824, the new government passed the National. Colonization Law.[2] While the National Colonization Law established certain general limitations and guide lines, it directed each state to enact a local colonization law governing the colonization of the public lands located within its boundaries. The State of Coahuila and Texas passed its Colonization Law on March 24, 1825.[3] Article 8 of this law provided:

The projects for new settlements in which one or more persons offer to bring at their expense one hundred or more families shall be presented to the government, and if found conformable with this law they will be admitted, and the government will immediately designate to the empresarios the lands where they are to establish themselves, and the term of six years within which they must present the number of families they contracted for, under the penalty of losing the rights and privileges offered in their favor in proportion to the number of families which they fail to introduce, and the contract totally annulled if they do not bring at least one hundred families.

Except for certain special circumstances, each married colonist could acquire one labor of agricultural land and twenty-four labors of pasture land or a total of one league. The empresario, as compensation for his services, was to receive five leagues and five labors of land for each one hundred families he settled under his contract. The state law repeated the restrictions contained in the federal law which prohibited any one person from holding more than eleven leagues of land and the granting of land within an area of twenty leagues of the boundary of a foreign nation.

Stephen Julian Wilson, a native of North Carolina who was residing in Mexico City, was one of the empresarios to take advantage of this law. He petitioned the Governor of Coahuila and Texas on May 15, 1826, seeking a grant bounded as follows:

Beginning at a land mark established where the 32nd degree of North Latitude intersects the Meridian of the 102nd degree of Longitude, West London, this point being the southwest corner of the grant applied for by Colonel Rueben Ross; thence west on the parallel of 32nd degree of Latitude to the eastern boundary of New Mexico; thence north, with the boundary of New Mexico; thence north, with boundary line of the State of Coahuila and Texas and New Mexico to a point twenty leagues south of the Arkansas River; thence east to the Meridian of the 102nd degree of Longitude, being the western bounder of the land of Colonel Rueben Ross; and thence south to the place of beginning.

Twelve days later, Governor Ignacio Arispe granted the requested tract to Wilson upon, among others, the condition that he settle two hundred families on the premises within a period of six years.[4]

 Sometime prior to November 15, 1826, Wilson sold a half interest in the grant to Richard Exter, a British merchant and husband of Maria Dolores Soto y Saldona, who was a member of a prominent Mexico City family and retained Alexander Le Grand to survey the grant. Le Grand departed from Vera Cruz aboard the Boston Packet on December 13, 1826, and arrived at New Orleans thirteen days later. He organized a large surveying expedition and proceeded to the grant in the spring of 1827. He arrived at a point located approximately twelve miles southwest from the present town of Garden City, Texas, which he established as its southeast corner on June 27, 1827.[5] Instead of surveying the out boundaries of the grant, Le Grand divided it into two tiers of six sections. Each of the twelve sections was approximately one hundred miles wide and fifty miles long. Sections 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, and 12 were located in the eastern tier of sections. Le Grand actually surveyed each boundary of the eastern tier of sections except the south line of Section 1 and the east line of Section 9. The east line of Section 9 could not he surveyed because it was impossible to survey across the Palo Duro Canyon. The northeast corner of the grant was located about ten miles north of Sunray, Texas. Le Grand allegedly measured the distance from the northeast corner to the Arkansas River and found it to be 55 miles; however, it is somewhat doubtful that he actually ran this particular line. The distance is actually about 80 miles! Therefore, it would appear that as a result of his error in locating the southeast corner about 25 miles southeast of the intersection of the 32nd parallel and 102nd Meridian, his calculations were off by that distance. Notwithstanding these two errors, it is obvious that Le Grand actually surveyed most of the boundary lines of the six sections located in the eastern half of the grant for most of the natural objects mentioned in his passing calls are located.[6] He noted that the Arkansas River ran a course west 10° north and to comply with the call fixing the north boundary 20 leagues from that river, he surveyed the north boundary west 10° north from the northeast a distance of about 177 miles. This brought him to the base of Sierra Obscura. At this point winter overtook the party and an eight inch snow prevented Le Grand from reaching the summit of the mountain separating the Rio Grande and Pecos River Valleys and the east boundary of New Mexico.[7] Le Grand re‑traced his steps to the center line of the grant and then proceeded south 100 miles in order to obtain a cursory check on the location of the mountains and eastern boundary of New Mexico prior to proceeding to Santa Fe and mailing his report to Exter and Wilson.[8]

Exter died at sea while enroute to England on June 18, 1829, and under the terms of his will his interest in the grant was devised to his widow and minor daughter, Anita. On August 3, 1830, Dr. John Charles Beales married Exter’s widow and promptly took over the management of both Exter’s estate and the grant. A few months after his marriage, Beales went to New York City where he organized the Arkansas and Texas Land Company for the purpose of developing the premises and fulfilling the conditions contained in the grant. Exter’s half interest was conveyed to the company on April 27, 1831. The company immediately commenced an intensive promotional campaign in an effort to obtain the necessary 200 colonists prior to the May 27, 1832 deadline.[9]

When it became obvious that the quota could not be reached in the United States, agents were sent to England. However, the mild receptions of the company’s recruiting program coupled with the problems raised by Wilson’s untimely death in the spring of 1832, caused Beales to realize that it would be impossible to timely fulfill the grant conditions. Therefore, Beales turned his efforts to obtaining a new concession covering the same land. In order to accomplish this he entered into a partnership with Jose Manuel Royuela, a resident of Saltillo, Mexico, and the two petitioned the Governor of the State of Coahuila and Texas asking for the Empresario Grant covering the same lands and “upon the same conditions as it was formerly given to the late Stephen Julian Wilson, whose term of six years is about to expire, on the twenty-sixth of May in this year, without the conditions of the grant having been fulfilled, in consequence of the death of the grantee.”[10] Permission to settle two hundred foreign colonists on the requested land within a six year period was granted to the petitioners on the next day subject to, among others, the following conditions:

1. The contract expressly stated that it was issued pursuant to both the general and state colonization laws.

2. The understanding that the state reserved unto itself “the right of property over all the surplus lands which shall remain of this grant, after lying off those which belong to the Empresarios and their settlers, according to the laws of that behalf provided.

3. The Colony was to be regulated by the person appointed by the state government, to allot the respective settlements or possession, and he shall duly observe the laws on Colonization in force throughout the State, the general law ... and likewise the instructions to Commissioners which have been appointed by the Honorable Congress, taking special care to afford protection within the limits of the colony, to such persons only as shall be approved by said Empresarios.”[11]

It is not known whether Royuela was joined as a petitioner merely to lend dignity to the request or whether indirectly he had a bona fide interest but had tired of the project. Be that as it may, he conveyed his interest in the grant to Beales on October 11, 1832, and the partnership was dissolved.[12] Shortly thereafter, Beales returned to New York where he organized the New Arkansas and Texas Land Company for the purpose of colonizing and settling the grant. He conveyed also one half of the grant to the company, which subdivided the forty-five million acres covered by the grant into 11,200 shares of 4,017 acres each. The stockholders of the original company could exchange their stock for an equal amount in the new company. Anyone holding stock could locate it and receive the land represented thereby. There is no evidence that any of the stock was located or that any actual colonization of the grant took place prior to the outbreak of the Texas Revolution.[13] What ever Beales’ plans for the fulfillment of the conditions of the grant may have been, they were upset as a result of Texas’ gaining its independence from Mexico. On December 14, 1837, Texas passed a law which declared that all empresario contracts ceased on March 2, 1835, and all vacant lands located within their boundaries became the property of the republic.[14]

Several petitions were presented on Beales’ behalf seeking the confirmation of the grant by the Republic of Texas. When no action was taken on these petitions, he petitioned Queen Victoria, as a British subject, asking her to intervene on his behalf. He stated he had gone to a great deal of trouble and expense in connection with the grant and would have fulfilled its conditions if the Texas Revolution had not prevented him from so doing. He pointed out that notwithstanding the fact that he personally sympathized with Texas’ position, his allegiance to the British government prevented his participation in the revolution.[15] He bitterly complained of the acts of the Republic of Texas which cancelled the empresario grants and prevented aliens from suing the sovereign. He assured the queen that he would complete his contract if Texas would let him. In conclusion, he asked the queen to take measures to cause his rights to be reinstated and “assert the honor and dignity of the crown of England.”[16] On two occasions Charles Elliott, the British Charge d’Affairs to Texas, brought the matter to Secretary of State Anson Jones’ attention. Elliott stated the termination of the contracts seemed unjust and unless the facts set forth by Beales were refuted or a satisfactory explanation given, the Texas government must realize “that his Majesty’s government would be fully authorized to take the necessary steps for enforcing the just claims of Her Majesty’s subjects.”[17] On September 19, 1843, Jones noted that Beales had not settled any families on the grant, and based on his previous conduct, doubted that he would have satisfied the conditions even if there had been no revolution. Therefore, he recommended that Beales appeal to the Texas Legislature or courts for redress if he had been wronged.[18] Beales failed to pursue either of the recommended courses of action. He undoubtedly realized that even if he were able to secure the necessary legislative permission to sue the sovereign, the Texas Courts probably would not grant any relief since his title obviously was inchoate. The refusal of the Texas Legislature to act on the previous memorials presented on his behalf clearly indicated that he could expect no relief from that forum.

Meanwhile, the British intervention into a strictly domestic affair raised a furor in Texas. The Austin City Gazette pointed out that Great Britain had no right to represent Beales, an expatriate British subject who had become a naturalized Mexican citizen, and at the same time enjoy the protection of the British government.[19] In October, 1843, the British Charge d’ Affairs conceded that the evidence in support of the claim was insufficient and until it could be better sustained, Great Britain would not press the matter.[20]

Little, if any, further action was taken by Beales prior to 1870 to obtain the recognition of his claim to the lands covered by the Arkansas Grant. In the spring of 1870 Beales sent an agent, Benjamin P. Williams, to New Mexico to oversee his property. Williams wrote Beales on June 23, 1870, and reported that he had taken up residence at the San Augustine Ranch, which was located on the grant. On July 5, 1870, Williams, as Beales’ attorney, petitioned[21] the Surveyor General’s Office seeking the confirmation of the grant under the provisions of the act of July 27, 1854.[22] However, before any action was taken on the claim, Williams was killed at his home in El Paso, Texas, by the police while attempting to arrest him on December 7, 1870, for the murder of Judge Gaylord Clarke.[23] Beales must have been unaware of the filing of the claim for he never retained any one to prosecute it and, therefore, it was not investigated or acted upon by the Surveyor General’s Office. 

Meanwhile, Beales turned to the United States Congress for relief. Between 1870 and 1882 numerous petitions, bills and memorials were presented to the Congress seeking the recognition of the claim, but no affirmative action was taken.[24]

Following Beales’ death on July 25, 1878, title to the grant passed under his will to Anita Exter, James A. G. Beales, and Adelaide K. Jaffray.[25] On November 17, 1886, they conveyed the grant to Newton B. Childs for $250,000.00.[26] Childs in turn sold it to the Interstate Land Company, a Colorado corporation, on November 23, 1886, for the same consideration.[27]

In 1888 a boundary dispute arose between the Interstate Land Company and the Maxwell Land Grant Company, which had been issued in 1841 to Guadalupe Miranda and Charles Beaubien by the then governor of New Mexico, Manuel Armijo, and subsequently confirmed and patented by the United States. In an effort to establish its title to this disputed land, the Interstate Land Company instituted an equity suit in the United States Circuit Court of Colorado on January 20, 1888, to restrain the Maxwell Land Grant Company from prosecuting certain ejectment suits which it had brought against a number of tenants of the Inter‑state Land Company. The Inter‑state Land Company alleged that the Maxwell Land Grant was void because at the date it was made there was no law in existence authorizing its issuance and the confirmation and patenting of the grant by the United States was a mere quit claim which in no way affected its rights. Continuing, the bill alleged that a valid grant had been issued to Beales and Royuela in 1832 covering the lands in question, and the performance of the condition requiring the introduction and settlement of two hundred foreign families on the grant within six years had been prevented by the outbreak of the Texas Revolution. In answer the Maxwell Land Company filed a demurrer in which it contended that the grant merely designated a large tract within which Beales and Royuela could settle colonists and obtain title to certain amounts of land as prescribed by law. The court sustained the demurrer, stating:

… It seems to me clear that the grant in controversy was not intended to be, and was not, a conveyance subject to difeasance, but that it amounted only to a designation and setting apart of the tract as a tract within which the petitioners could establish a colony inconformity to the colonization law, and upon such establishment obtain title to a fixed quantity of land within the tract. As there is no pretense that one was ever established, no title to anything ever passed. It follows that the complainant holds nothing by virtue of the so-called grant... [28]

The plaintiff appealed this decision to the United States Supreme Court. In a decision dated April 6, 1891, the Supreme Court affirmed the Circuit Court’s decision in the case and held:

The mere fact that the word “grant” is used many times in them [the grant papers] sometimes apparently in its general and unrestricted sense of a conveyance of the title, ought not to be permitted to outweigh other parts of the instrument which clearly negative that idea ... This grant ... means just what the law says it may mean, and was simply a designation of a tract within which the petitioners might establish a colony. It of itself passed title to no portion of the land to them.[29]

[1] 1Gammel, The Laws of Texas 27‑30 (1895).

[2] A Compilation of Spanish and Mexican Law, 451‑453 (1851).

[3] 1Gammel, The Laws of Texas 125‑133 (1895).

[4] Translation of Empresario Contracts, 102 (Mss. Records of the General Land Office, Austin, Texas).

[5] The intersection of 32nd degree of Latitude and the 102nd Meridian is located about 25 miles northwest of the point Le Grand established as the southeast corner of the grant. However, it should be remembered that he located this point by a limited number of observations and undoubtedly did not have the modern equipment necessary to accurately locate this remote point. It also should be noted that this was the first survey made in West Texas and Le Grand did not have any known reference points to tie or connect to in order to check his work. One author is of the opinion that the southeast corner was located in the vicinity of the 98th Meridian. Estep, “The Le Grand Survey of the High Plains—Fact or Fancy,” 29 New Mexico Historical Review 88 (1954). Another believes it was located in Throckmorton County, Texas. Dickson, Speculations of John Charles Beales in Texas Lands, 11 (Mss., Masters Thesis, University of Texas, 1941). But a comparison of the natural objects, especially the creek and river crossings, with a topographical map of the area shows that the beginning point is located at the point mentioned above.

[6] Estep notes “it is almost exactly 355 nautical miles from the intersection of the 102nd Meridian and the 32nd parallel to the point where the 102nd Meridian Crosses the Arkansas River! This distance of 355 miles, however, might have been easily determined. Since the geological coordinates of the upper Arkansas had been established and published a number of years before, and the distance from a fixed point on the Arkansas to the 32nd Meridian could have been readily calculated by formula. This Le Grand may have done. Estep, “The Le Grand Survey of the High Plains—Fact or Fancy,” 29 New Mexico Historical Review 89‑90 (1954). It should be noted in this connection that Le Grand could not have calculated the numerous passing calls contained in his field notes. These passing calls prove that he was on the ground and considering the adverse working conditions confronting him and the surveying equipment available at that date, it is surprising to find his work to be so accurate.

[7] Robert L. Lindsay, “Attorney and Title Expert,” states, “As to what constituted the eastern boundary or limits of New Mexico in 1832 has been a question of more or less difference of opinions among men not familiar with all the facts and history of this remarkable land grant. I have given a great deal of thought and study to the subject ... and summing it all up, I am satisfied in my own mind that the 104°30 of west Longitude from London is the true and rightful boundary as it existed in 1832 between the States of Coahuila, Texas, and the Province of New Mexico. Lindsay, Digest and History of the Beales-Royarella Land Grant, 5‑6 (1899). Wislizenus, Memoir of a Tour to Northern Mexico, 22 (1848).

[8] Kennedy, Texas The Rise Progress and Prospects of the Republic of Texas, 176‑191 (1925); 29 New Mexico Historical Review 141‑153 (1954). An extract of Le Grand’s Report was published in the Daily National Intelligencer July 8, 1829.

[9] Estep, “The First Panhandle Land Grant,” 36 The Chronicles of Oklahoma 362‑363 (1959)

[10] Translation of Empresario Contracts, 194 (Mss., Records of the General Land Office, Austin, Texas).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Anon, The Arkansas Grant 24 (1901).

[13] Anon, New Arkansas and Texas Land Company Documents 21 (1833).             

[14] 1 Gammel, Laws of Texas 1413 (1895).

[15] In this connection it should be noted that on July 12, 1836, the President Ad Interim of the Mexican government wrote Beales stating that he had been advised of the “judicious and circumspect course” which Beales had taken in employing his influence to allay the disturbances and sustain order and the obedience due to the general government and in correcting public opinion through the medium of the newspapers in the United States. He also stated that Beales was a “good citizen” and exhorted him to continue in the “defenses of the just cause of the nation...” Interstate Land Company v. Maxwell Land Company, 139 U.S. 569 (1891).

[16] Telegraph and Texas Register April 10, 1844.

[17] Adams, British Diplomatic Correspondence Concerning the Republic of Texas 157‑161 (1918).

[18] Ibid., 1130‑1135.

[19] Austin City Gazette, July 15, 1840.

[20] Worley, “The Diplomatic Relations of England and the Republic of Texas,” 9 The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 9 (1907).  

[21] The Arkansas Grant, No. F‑100 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[22] An act to establish the offices of surveyor general of New Mexico, Kansas, and Nebraska, to grant donations to actual settlers therein, and for other purposes, Chap. 103, 10 Stat. 308 (1854).

[23] MacCallum, The History of St Clement’s Church 42‑43 (1925).

[24] S. Misc. Doc. No. 14, 46th Cong., 3d Sess., 108, 567 (1881); and H. R. Misc. Doc. No. 213, 53d Cong., 2d Sess., 47 (1896).

[25] Anon., The Arkansas Grant 26‑27 (1901).

[26] Ibid., 28‑29.

[27] Ibid., 30.

[28] Interstate Land Company v. Maxwell Land Grant Company, 41 F. 275 (C.C.D. Colo. 1889).

[29] 139 U.S. 569 (1891). The Supreme Court’s decision settled the question of the validity of the Arkansas Grant for all practical purposes. However, since the suit involved only the lands in conflict between the Arkansas and Maxwell Grants and the United States was not a party to the litigation, the ghost of this grant still haunts lands located in four states—Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Colorado.