AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Heirs to a 1767 Spanish land grant in what is now Texas claim the state revoked their land patent illegally in 1874 and they want it back, with mineral rights.
The Galan Family Trust sued Texas, its General Land Office and Commissioner George P. Bush, and the Texas School Land Board in Travis County Court.
Spain gave Joaquin Galan a tract of land known as the Palafox Grant, about 43 miles northwest of Laredo. It consisted of 21 million square varas on the east bank of the Rio Grande in what is now Webb County.
A vara is a Spanish unit of distance that was used in Texas land grants. One vara is about 33-1/3 inches. One million square varas is about 177.1 acres. The Palafox grant, then, was about 3,720 acres.
The Texas State Historical Association describes the Palafox Villa as a failed settlement in Coahuila that Spain granted to Mexican settlers during the early nineteenth century. Coahuila is the Mexican state across the river from Laredo.
The Spanish government wanted a new town established along the Rio Grande. It was named Palafox in honor of the Spanish general Francisco de Palafox y Melci, who fought Napoleon’s forces in Spain. The Historical Association says Galan received a royal land grant sometime before 1804.
Texas was briefly a republic, from 1836 to 1846. The United States annexed it in 1845 and it became a state on Dec. 29 that year. The Spanish-American War ended in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, granting the United States immense tracts of land in the modern Southwest – a sizable part of what then was Mexican territory.
In 1850, the Texas government established the Bourland-Miller Commission to investigate Spanish and Mexican land grants in the trans-Nueces region of the state.
The Nueces River, which runs roughly parallel to the Rio Grande about 50 miles north of it, was considered by Mexico as the southern border of Texas. The Republic of Texas, and the United States, disagreed, and put the border at the Rio Grande.
Claimants had to give the Bourland-Miller Commission evidence of their right to title, and the commission would recommend to the governor whether to confirm or deny the title.
If approved, the claimants would obtain a survey of the grant, file the grant with the General Land Office, and have the grant placed on a county survey map.
“On February 10, 1852, the Texas Legislature passed a bill recognizing the Galan Spanish land grant to Palafox and relinquishing all interest therein,” the Galan Family Trust says in the July 10 complaint.
The district surveyor placed the grant on the 1859 County Survey Map, which is on file with the General Land Office. In May of 1870, Texas Governor Edmund J. Davis executed a patent in favor of the Galan heirs for the Palafox.
But on Jan. 13, 1874, Texas “canceled or revoked the 1870 patent, without benefit of a judicial proceeding,” the Galans say, and the family’s property “was taken without due process of law.”
The state still claims ownership of mineral rights under much of the Palafox Grant, which the Galan Trust contests. It claims it still has possession and/or royalty interest in the property and the minerals under it, which Texas seized illegally.
“Defendant receives royalty payments under certain oil, gas, and mineral leases with various companies. Defendant has refuted the claim that plaintiff owns the minerals,” the complaint states.
Mary Garza, spokeswoman for the Galan family, told Courthouse News: “The Galan family has cause to believe that the mineral estate of this land parcel still belongs to the family, and has placed it in the hands of the court for an answer.
“We are working with the State of Texas for a resolution because we believe that ownership changed without following the judicial process. Presently, the State of Texas claims ownership.”
The General Land Office said it does not comment on pending litigation.
The Galan Trust seeks to recover its mineral estate interest in the property, plus royalties paid to the state from production of oil, gas and any other minerals from it.
The family is represented by Keith Bradley and Kirsten Holmes, of Cleburne.
Fights over Spanish land grants in the Southwest are not uncommon. If the claimants have enough money, the legal process can drag on for decades. They usually – but not always – are decided in favor of the modern states.
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