Land, Lotsa Land
by Celia Hayes
So – thinking about land in the here-and-now, after having spent so many months and years considering it, owning a couple of parcels of it – the tiny residential lot where I live now, the scenic and slightly larger bits of it that I hope to purchase someday, once I become the Margaret Mitchell** of the Hill Country, looking wistfully at bits of it that other people have to sell, the acres that I own of it in California and hope eventually to sell to anyone who appreciates pine woods and inaccessible hilltops, and writing deep and meaningful paragraphs about what possession of it meant to all sorts of people … people who came here because they had a hunger for it, for acres that they could call theirs, that they weren’t just borrowing from a lord or a land-lord for a time, land that they could walk across and think ‘this is mine, and no one can ever forbid me to do what I want to do with it – hunt the animals on it, pasture my own cows on it – and that no one shall ever take it away and if they try, the reason had better be really, really good.
I know – it’s a complicated business, land and the rights to it. When we went down to Goliad for Christmas on the Square, we noticed so many more oil wells, yards full of equipment and trucks, and man-camps full of residential trailers which hadn’t been there the first time we drove that way. Someone in the Author Corral that we mentioned this observation to, said that the DeWitt County Courthouse had been absolutely full of people for months, researching the various mineral rights titles – and landowners who had scraped along for years were now getting regular payments in quite astonishing amounts: Mine and my daughter’s cars both run on gasoline. I’d rather see a portion of what I pay for the stuff at the pump to go back to Texas, rather than some middle-east hell-hole, but that’s just me. Your mileage may vary.
Oil and mineral leases, hunting leases, permits to park a couple of dozen cows upon it – well, that’s all the happy outcome of having title to your personal patch of paradise, isn’t it? An acquaintance once told me of how she and her husband had sold a piece of land that had come to them through their family; a little patch that really held no actual sentimental value for them, so they had no hang-up about selling it – but they kept a copy of the deed and all the attachments to it, because it read almost like a novel. That land had started as a Spanish grant, moved through four nations, three centuries, two languages, and so many owners, who had used it for so many purposes, had it surveyed, surveyed again, sold off little bits, or gave them as dowers to married daughters, split it between sons, lost it for taxes, regained it again – and every possession of it meant a bit of a dream.
Land; I suppose it matters to Texans, and those of us lately come to Texans, because it was the only thing that Texas was rich in, back in the early day – and as my father once pointed out, real estate is the one thing that nothing is being made more of, except at great expense and a lot of labor in reclaiming it from the sea, or draining a swamp, or whatever. Having clear title to a patch of it – why, then there is a place to set your feet and anchor your lever … and accomplish amazing things. Or, if not amazing – at least, to one’s personal satisfaction.
**Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell (November 8, 1900 – August 16, 1949) was an American author and journalist. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937 for her epic American Civil War era novel, Gone with the Wind, the only novel by Mitchell published during her lifetime.....