The most expensive property currently on the market in Texas is a 2300 acre estate in Lago Vista. It is near Austin, on Lake Travis, going for a mere $68 million. Only 30,000 an acre. Get out your checkbooks.
That’s quite a contrast compared to the deals the first Texans were getting on real estate. Stephen F. Austin charged 12.5 cents an acre for a league of land, which was 4,428 acres.
He offered two deals, 4,428 acres if you were a rancher and 177 acres if you were a farmer. So you can imagine that many farmers became ranchers right quick. And that’s not all. Married men got far more land than single ones. So there was a stampede up the church aisles as single farmers rushed to become married ranchers. Imagine, you walk down the aisle with nothing and come out with almost 4,500 acres. Compare that to today where you walk in with thirty thousand dollars and walk out broke.
That was quite a deal Austin offered. 12.5 cents an acre (and mostly on credit) at a time when land in the rest of the U.S. was ten times more than that. Someone later pointed out, “Land in Texas was what gold was to the gold rush.”
A league of land for $550. Even adjusted for today’s dollars it would be only $12,000. 4,428 acres is a lot of land. It would require a long hard day of walking to make your way around it by sunset. But you still wouldn’t have a King Ranch. Even with all those acres you would still own less than half a percent of the King Ranch. By comparison, you wouldn’t even have a ranchito. You would have a ranchititito. Essentially a postage stamp.
In deep south Texas, the original land grants of 4,500 acres sold for even less – sometimes as little as the filing fee of $50 and other times for 10 cents an acre, with payments not starting until the fourth year of the seven-year term, to give you the chance to work the land and have it help pay for itself.
And even considering that $30,000 an acre today is shocking – it may well seem like a bargain 20 years from now. How many times have you sat at someone’s kitchen table and heard them say, “See that house over there? Thirty years ago I could have bought it for $100,000. Today it’s worth $300,000.” Or more. As the old saying goes, “Buy land, they’re not making anymore of it.” Certainly been a wise adage to live by in Texas for about 200 years now.
What I need is a good time machine. I wish I could go back to see my greatgrandfather when he lived in east Texas. I could say to him, “Great gramps, here’s $1,000. I want you to go over to Beaumont and find a little hill known round there as Spindletop. Buy that hill and the 4,000 acres that surrounds it. Here’s another thousand for mineral rights. Leave it all in a trust to be shared by your descendants who are 6 feet 5 inches or more, blue-eyed, and work in radio.
If only rebooting your life were that easy.
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Stories From Texas, UTRGV Digital Library, The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley. Accessed via https://scholarworks.utrgv.edu/storiesfromtexas/