Texas Monthly: Who Owns Texas?


Saw a link to this on Twitter. Fun read. Originally published in June of 1980.

One of the more curious remnants of the Texas Legislature’s great land giveaways, the Texas Pacific Land Trust, was formed in 1888 by the scheming financiers from the East who held the state’s railroads in thrall. Texas was so eager to get railroads—any railroads, going anywhere —that the Legislature offered sixteen square miles of free land for every mile of track constructed. Result: Thomas Scott, representing the Andrew Carnegie interests, and Jay Gould, the Mephistopheles of Wall Street, took control of the Texas & Pacific and built more than a thousand miles of rickety track out to El Paso. That much track entitled the railroad to an awesome 10 million acres of land. The route went unused, and to no one’s great surprise, the railroad went bankrupt in 1887. During the 1888 reorganization the Texas Pacific Land Trust was formed in a thinly disguised legal maneuver around the state law requiring railroads to sell off their land grants within twelve years. The trust started with 3.4 million acres (the railroad had been entitled to 7 million more but couldn’t wrench it out of the Legislature), and almost a century later it is still the largest private landowner in Texas. And at the rate the trust is liquidating its holdings—15,000 acres per year—it will be around for another 85 years to come.

The trust is administered by an agent named James McCaul, who represents some 3500 shareholders out of his Dallas office. The three men who control the land, as Texas Pacific trustees, are Maurice Meyer, Jr., an investor who lives in Elberon, New Jersey; George Fraser III, a consulting geologist in Abilene; and George A. Wilson, now the honorary chairman of Lone Star Steel in Dallas. Most of the land is in West Texas, and practically all of it is leased to cattlemen for grazing.