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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Early Texas rarely let go of land

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

In earliest Texas, land was granted to anyone who applied and was found qualified to own. Taking possession of such grant land was called "being seized of a piece of property." This strange custom came long before professional surveyors and lawyers arrived on the frontier. Acquiring land was a great accomplishment, especially to settlers who had never owned land before. Certain routines were devised to celebrate and ratify the occasion.

Such routines were serious in nature and consisted of, "kicking dirt clods in all directions, pulling weeds or grass then flinging them into the wind and yelling in four directions asking adjoining property owners to show cause why the new grantee couldn't own the property."

Of course, no one protested as usually there were no neighbors within miles and if so, they were probably Indians who didn't understand the language used. The event was recorded in detail and placed in the archives by the government agent in charge.

Interestingly, the origin of this practice was not Spanish in origin but English, being handed down from William the Conqueror's times. The ritual was just as legal in that time as a registered surveyor driving survey stakes today.

Sometime later in about 1877, while revolutions raged across Mexico, the Mexican side of Nuevo Laredo fought often and hard among themselves in support of their beliefs.

Their in-town skirmishes sometimes sent stray bullets across the Rio Grande River into the American side of Laredo. Dodging these wayward shots alarmed the U.S. citizens living in the town.

They approached Major Henry C. Merriam of nearby Fort McIntosh with the problem. He promptly ordered his artillery to send several cannon balls with holes drilled through the middles to make them whistle, across the river above Nuevo Laredo to get their attention. The scheme worked.

The Commandant of the Mexican side demanded a protest meeting with the Major, who informed him if any more Mexican stray bullets landed in Laredo he would lower the cannons and level the Mexican side of the town.

Yes, the revolutions continued vigorously but were fought carefully in a "sideways fashion" with no more stray bullets crossing the river into Laredo.

History shows that sometimes there is only a fine line between being a lawman or an outlaw. This distinction was taken into consideration by Captain L.H. McNelly when he formed McNelly's Rangers, a famous early Texas Ranger group organized to protect the early Texas frontier.

Captain McNelly was a born Texan and knew that blood was thicker than water. He worried that native Texans working as Rangers might have kinfolks and friends operating on the wrong side of the law.

He didn't want any of his men to be influenced by blood ties while attending their legal duties.

He wanted to avoid any hint of scandal during his command.

As a result of this thinking, all of McNelly's original Texas Rangers came from southern states other than Texas. One exception was a Yankee from the east.

The rule was not written or published in the manuals, just adhered to faithfully as he interviewed and hired his men.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" June 19, 2008 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

 
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