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
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.
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
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