Family sues Texas over centuries-old Spanish land grant

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

AUSTIN, TX -- More than 600 descendants of a Mexican settler have sued Texas over the alleged 1870s seizure of a royal land grant, claiming that they are entitled to the mineral revenue the state has collected for years.

Joaquin Galan received a land grant from the Spanish king more than two centuries ago. His heirs say it was illegally seized in the 1870s.

The state still owns about 40,000 acres of the land northwest of Laredo.

The family filed a lawsuit in July in Travis County District Court, the Austin American-Statesman reported ( ). The main defendant is the General Land Office, whose commissioner is George P. Bush.

"The land was pretty inhospitable," Tony Zavaleta, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Brownsville who helped a coal company survey the land in the 1980s told the newspaper. "Who knew that it was sitting on a sea of minerals?"

Land grants are a source of pride and pain among generations of Hispanics in Texas. Previous claims have not fared well in the courts.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in 2008 against a family, deciding that the suit had run afoul of the statute of limitations. The court issued a similar ruling in 2003.

"Your land may have been stolen, but it was a long time ago, and proving it with the right documents is really difficult," said Lance Bruun, a South Texas oil and gas attorney who last year chaired a committee created by the Legislature to sort out Spanish land-grant inheritance claims.

Galan received the land grant sometime before 1804. By 1816, a settlement called Palafox had 277 residents, but Comanche raiders burned the village and killed most of its residents in 1829.

The land was intermittently populated after that.

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