Land

Lawmakers discuss school savings accounts

After unprecedented attacks over the weekend, Israel is at war with Hamas. Jeremi Suri of UT’s LBJ school with more on what to expect as fighting intensifies.

A big day at the state capitol as lawmakers are called back into session by the governor. On the table: school savings accounts, what critics call vouchers, that some fear will upend public school funding.

Texas mega ranches hitting the market at what appears to be a quickening pace.

Plus the would be restaurant rivals who formed what they call the Taco Mafia.

Do plans for a Texas business court work?

This week at the Texas Legislature: Laws aimed at making it easier to have a baby in Texas.

Under the big dome in Austin, a hearing on a proposal to ban Chinese non-citizens from buying land in Texas.

The state Republican Party censures one of its own, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, after a vote supporting a new gun law.

Is a two-tier court system coming to Texas? We’ll have more on a push for businesses to have their own legal system.

And: A gift to a major Texas museum is aimed at diversity for public art and and greater visibility for Latino artists.

Big Bend National Park to add thousands of acres of parkland

Tridemic? One of the world leading virologists says its more like a Septademic. Dr. Peter Hotez joins us and talks about staying healthy during the holidays. Also as the humanitarian crisis on the border grows Governor Abbott is calling for an investigation of some of the non-profits helping migrants. We’ll explain. Plus, Google is making some changes that affect the results that show up in your searches including those shopping ads. Our go to tech expert Omar Gallaga takes us behind the curtains. And Big Bend National Park is about to get a little bigger with new areas to explore. All that and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: November 18, 2020

Amplifying the voices of Texas’s Black legislators. We’ll tell you about a revived effort. And remember that Texas County with no confirmed coronavirus cases? Yeah. That didn’t last. What’s going on in Loving County. Plus, how the oil bust has also led to a land value bust. How it’s playing out in the Permian Basin. And could we call what’s happening in the White House right now a coup? The answer from an expert in authoritarian regimes might surprise you. We’ll put it into context. And we’ll fact-check a claim about early voting and voter fraud. All of that and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: November 25, 2019

2020 doesn’t seem so far away anymore. As Election time nears, we’ll take a look at Texas’ political landscape and priorities. Also, breaking down the effects of a rollback of rule changes put in place to prevent another deadly explosion like the one in West, Texas. Plus, appropriate for this week, what do we have to be thankful for in the energy industry? At least from one perspective. And we’ll introduce you to an odd couple: an avid hunter and a vegan. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas As A Unit Of Measure

By W. F. Strong

Tom Hanks in the movie “Cast Away” was stranded all alone on a deserted pacific island. He was the lone survivor of a plane crash. The seriousness of his situation sunk in as he did the math in his head. He explained radial geometry to Wilson (his Volleyball friend) as he illustrated their predicament on a stone wall. He concluded, impressively, that since they went 400 miles out of their way to circumvent the storm the search area would be (400 miles squared x pi) 500,000 square miles. And he thought a moment and added, dejectedly, “it’s twice the size of Texas!”

Texas is often used as a unit of measure like that – in movies and in the real world. Exactly 30 years ago this week, Texas Congressman Mickey Leland’s plane disappeared over Ethiopia. It took a week for a massive search to find the crash site. During that week people around the world couldn’t believe that they couldn’t find the plane, despite dozens of aircraft looking for it. A frustrated Search Commander explained to the media, “We are looking for a needle in a haystack. The haystack is half the size of Texas.”

More recently many a news report warned about the growing environmental disaster of a floating island of plastic trash out in the Pacific, which is twice the size of Texas. And this is not just for U.S. consumption. Worldwide it seems to be a comparison that provides clarity for people because most people around the world know at least one thing about Texas – it’s BIG.

Even Alaska uses Texas to explain its size. “We’re more than twice the size of Texas,” they say. Of course one of those Texases is mostly snow and ice.  Just kidding Alaska. As far as states go, we’re brothers. BFFs.

People have a good deal of fun on the Internet laying Texas over other countries and regions of the world. It’s bigger than Spain, bigger than France, bigger than Germany, twice the size of England and bigger than Japan.

Texas was even used as a unit of measure in relation to Pluto. When Pluto was kicked out of the Solar System (as a planet anyway) and demoted to a dwarf planet, there were people who said, as justification,  “It’s smaller than Texas!” That was truly an exaggeration. As the Austin American-Statesman pointed out in 2015, Pluto is has almost twice the diameter of Texas, if you use the state’s widest point, which is north to south, and Pluto is 24 times larger than Texas by land area. Still, interesting that was used as a unit of measure even way there in space, or 4.6 billion Texases away.

Even we Texans like to use Texas distances to illustrate things and amuse ourselves. We enjoy noting that El Paso is closer to the Pacific Ocean beaches of San Diego than it is to Beaumont. Brownsville is closer to Mexico City than it is to Dallas. Reminds me that a friend from Chicago once had a conference in El Paso to attend. He decided to take that chance to get a good look at Texas. He flew into Dallas, rented a car and enthusiastically started driving to El Paso. He said I knew it would be long drive,” but after driving about 3 hours I got to Abilene and was immediately depressed by the sign I saw there: El Paso 444 miles.”

We Texans know that the first day of a driving vacation to anyplace outside of Texas will be devoted to getting out of Texas. Maybe our version of the Chinese saying should be, “A journey of a 1000 miles begins with a long drive to the border.”

We do have fun finding all the ways that border cities are closer to Chicago or Denver or Nashville than they are to other parts of the state, which is why we measure distance in hours more often than miles. And most Texans think we are closer to heaven than most anywhere else – we’re God’s Country, they say. This time of year, though, it often feels like we are closer to – Well I’m out of time. Gotta run. I’m W.F. Strong and these are stories from Texas. Some of them are true.

Texas Might Have Been Smaller

Texas Standard: April 3, 2018

It’s being described as an eye popping boost for Beto O’Rourke’s bottom line: a game changer in his race against Ted Cruz for senate? We’ll explore. Also, there’s more teacher walkouts over pay, now in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Should Texas teachers be taking a cue? We’ll explore. Also, tariffs hit home. How china’s reaction to U.S. trade policies are making a mark on the Texas economy. And clinical trials of new alzheimer’s treatments haven’t been going well. Now researchers in San Antonio may have discovered the reason. Plus, will you get your next car by subscription? Why some automakers are disrupting their own sales model. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: November 29, 2017

Midterms aren’t usually the most exciting elections, but there’s a whole lotta shakin goin on: political turnover our top story today. Also, more than 30 quakes this year in and around Pecos, more than all recorded there in the past ten years put together. We’ll ask why. Plus, the university of Texas, landing soon in New Mexico? Or maybe Texas A&M? Details of the forthcoming battle for Los Alamos and whether there’s a Rick Perry factor. And as the hurricane season draws to a close, voices from a storm more than a hundred years ago that forever changed the Lone Star State. That and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: June 28, 2017

Is it okay for Texas colleges and universities to use race as a factor in deciding who gets in and who doesn’t? We’ll explore a new legal challenge. Also, the opioid crisis is bigger than an addiction problem. In Houston, city officials warn of the arrival of an opioid variant so toxic, incidental contact could be lethal. We’ll have the latest. Plus Texas and other states offer incentives to boost the space business. Caliornia, meanwhile,is taking quite the reverse approach. We’ll hear what’s up. Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Land Rush

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 thousand 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 and a half cents an acre for a league of land, which was 4428 acres.

He offered two deals, 4428 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 4500 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 and a half 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. 4428 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 4500 acres sold for even less. Sometimes as little as the filing fee of $50 and other times for ten 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? 30 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 great grandfather 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’ 5” or more, blue-eyed, and work in radio.

If only rebooting your life were that easy.

12th & Chicon: Saving Emancipation Park

A parcel of land in the Chestnut neighborhood of East Austin was once home to the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Now, it’s the proposed site of a new development that neighbors say would undermine its historical significance.

12th & Chicon: Rising Land Values

Changes in the population of Austin, and the people now living here, are creating opportunities, but they’re also causing tension between the newcomers and the old-timers. The impact in East Austin can be seen through new construction as well as felt by residents.

Sure, Texas Is Big – But It Used to Be Even Bigger

Texans have a kind of proverb that goes like this:

“Driving across Texas isn’t a trip; it’s a damn career.”

Texas is big, no doubt about that. But it used to be a lot bigger – about a fourth bigger. When Texas joined the United States in 1845, Texas’ borders (and shape) were quite different.

The northern boundary of Texas in those days stretched all the way up into what is today southern Wyoming. It´s true. In those days, the northernmost town in Texas was not Dalhart, it was Rawlins. You think it’s a long way from Brownsville to Dalhart now – at 860 miles – try 1,400 miles to Rawlins. In 1845 a trip like that would have been measured in seasons, not days. We’ll leave in early spring and get there before winter sets in.

Texas used to have a panhandle for the panhandle. It stretched north of the present day border and passed through prime Colorado Rockies real estate (including Vail) into Wyoming. They called that the stovepipe because that is what it looked like – a long skinny stovepipe, snaking northward. You can still find vestiges of Texas up there in that part of Wyoming. For instance, there is a creek up there named Texas Creek.

Texas used to include what is today the panhandle of Oklahoma. That territory is comprised of three counties. One of them is still named Texas County. So some Oklahomans still live in Texas. Well, Texas County, anyway.

The southwestern tip of Kansas was claimed by Texas. Dodge City was in Texas. Glad to know that. “Gunsmoke” always seemed like a Texas series. We know that Marshal Matt Dillon was born in San Antonio. His father was a Texas Ranger. It’s all coming together.

New Mexico used to be about half its current size because Santa Fe and Taos and all the eastern part of the state was Texas. Texas was so big in 1845 that if you had put a hinge on the northernmost part and flipped it northward, Brownsville would have been in Northern Canada next to Hudson Bay. Don’t think those Brownsvillians would have liked trading the tropics for the tundra, but that would be the result.

If you had flipped Texas southward, the people of Rawlins would have been in Peru. The East-West boundaries would have been about the same as they are today. Still, flip Texas eastward and you will have the El Pasoans trading their margaritas for mint juleps in Georgia. Flip it westward and the Beaumantians will be hanging ten with California surfer dudes.

So what happened to all our land? The U.S. government bought it in 1850. For $10 million they bought our claims to our Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma – it came to 6.7 cents an acre. Seems like we sold out cheap, but we desperately needed the money then. And remember that $10 million in 1850 is $300 million in today’s dollars, which is almost enough to buy a nice vacation home in Vail.

But, as I said, we really needed the money. We had a state to build and the only true assets we had in those days were land – and a tough, hardened people made of unbreakable spirits. So we sold the land and paid off debts and got a much more appealing shape to the state, a shape that fits nicely on t-shirts.

So even though we sold off our lands, we are nonetheless no slouch of a state, especially when we drive it. We still measure distance in time. We still feel like we are crossing an enormous frontier when driving I-10 through West Texas or I-69 to the southern border. And this old Texas saying is still valid:

“The sun has riz; the sun has set; and here I is in Texas yet.”

W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.

The Mysterious Texan and the Ranchers’ Convention

The story goes that there was a convention of landowners – mega farmers and big ranchers – up in Denver. There were four men sittin’ around in the bar there in the fancy resort, enjoying happy hour. Three of them were swappin’ stories about their farms and ranches and generally braggin’ about their land holdings. A fourth man, a Texan, was off to the side a bit. You knew he was from Texas because of the Lone Star hatband on his Stetson. He was not much involved in the conversation, just readin’ the paper and half-listenin’ to the others.

One of the talkers said, “I have about 8,122 acres of land along the Western Slopes of the Rockies here in Colorado. Have over 1,000 horses, I bet, if I could ever manage to count ‘em all. Probably the highest ranch in the Western U.S. – we call it El Cielo Ranch because it’s so close to Heaven.”

Next man said, “Sounds real nice. I have kind of the opposite. I own El Diablo Farms in Southern California’s Imperial Valley. Always hotter then the Devil down there. But we have over 9,500 irrigated acres. It is a desert, but just add water and watch the miracles happen. We grow produce faster than you can harvest it. Like a license to print money!” he said, laughing loudly.

Third guy said, “I don’t have nearly that much land. I have about 6,000 acres in the fertile Willamette Valley. Have the largest dairy operation in Oregon. Over 3,000 registered Holstein cows. Scottish Dairies it’s called. Supply milk to half of Portland. Only problem is the Willamette River runs right down the middle of my farms and makes navigating my own property difficult. It’s a beautiful problem to have, though.”

The Texan was still sittin’ quietly and then one of ‘em says, “Hey, Tex, how about you? How much land do you have?”

He said, “Well, down in Texas it’s considered unseemly to ask a man how much land he owns or how many head of cattle he runs. We talk about land in terms of sections, not acres, but, since you gentlemen revealed your cards, I guess I can oblige your curiosity. I suppose, all told,” he said, looking up at the ceiling, as though mentally counting, “I have 200 acres.”

The three men burst out laughing. The Californian said, “200 acres! What the hell you doin’ here at this gathering of big ranchers and farmers? What do you call your little ranchito, Tex?”

And the guys laughed some more.

“Well,” drawled the Texan, “I don’t have a name for it myself, but people all round Texas like to call it – Downtown Dallas.”

Things got mighty quiet. You could hear minds bein’ blown. You could hear jaws droppin’ – hittin’ the metaphorical floor.

The Texan drank the last bit of his Shiner Bock, got up and said, “Any you boys want to sell your land, let me know. I’ll dip into my petty cash account and buy you out.”

With that he tipped his Stetson politely and said, “Y’all have a nice evenin’, now.”

W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.

The Peasantry: Blain Snipstal (Ep. 13)

Raj Patel, Tom Philpott and Rebecca McInroy talk with peasant farmer Blain Snipstal about the history of agriculture and racism in America, power, food sovereignty, La Via Campesina, land, and much more.

The Texas Rancher and the New York Banker

This story comes under the heading of “folklore,” a story that rises up out of the people and migrates and mutates. There is a New York version, a Jewish version, an Italian version, a Southern version and a Texas version, where I believe it originated, but that is likely because I am a Texan. It goes like this:

A Texas rancher walks into a bank in New York City and asks for a $5000 loan for the period of a month.

The banker hesitates. He is uncertain about it because he thinks the Texan looks a bit like a redneck, and truth be told, rather poor. So he decides to blow him off quickly. He says, “Do you have any collateral to put up for the loan?”

The rancher replies, “Yep, got that 2015 Ford F-250 sittin’ across the street there. Worth $70,000 all decked out that way.”

The banker rolls his eyes and says, “How much do you owe on that truck?”

The rancher says, “Not a dime. All paid for.”

The banker leans forward and changes his tune. “Well sir, I don’t see why we couldn’t loan you $5000. We could go up to $40,000 if you’d like, over a longer period, of course.”

“Nope,” said the rancher, “$5000 will do. A month is all I need.”

“You mind if I ask why you need the loan?” asked the banker.

The rancher said, “I drove up from my little ranch in Abilene to do some business here and suddenly have an emergency opportunity. A bucket list item, to fly over to España to maybe purchase an Andalusian horse, if I can afford it. Little cash poor just now – need some walkin’ around money.”

The banker says, “Well this will be no problem. We can certainly help you out.”

“Just one thing,” said the rancher. “Can we skip puttin’ a lien on the title? Clearing a New York lien from Texas, I imagine, is like herdin’ cats.”

“I tell you what,” said the banker, “Just leave the truck with us as hard collateral and pick it up when you come back. You’re not going to need it anyway.”

The rancher thought a moment and said, “Well, it’s a bit unusal, but I guess it will be alright.” He slid the keys across the desk to the banker.

In a few minutes, all the formalitites were settled and the banker gave the rancher $5000 in cash and off he went to Spain.

One month later the rancher returned and paid the banker $5000 – plus $28.22 for one month’s interest.

The banker walked the rancher out to the front of the bank. As they waited for the truck to be brought down from the garage. The banker said, “Sir, while you were gone I ran a full credit check on you, just for the hell of it. And turns out you are quite wealthy. You have a 1200 acre ranch, 500 head of cattle, and oil and gas interests; you didn’t really need this loan did you?”

Rancher said, “No sir, I didn’t, not really.”

Banker said, “Mind if I ask why you got the loan?”

Just at that moment, truck arrived from the bank’s garage. The rancher hopped in and powered the window down. He leaned out toward the banker and said, “Where else was I gonna park a big ol’ F-250 in New York City for a whole month for just $28?”

With that he tipped his hat and said, “Much obliged to you.”

W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell Ice Cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.

Texas Standard: November 2, 2015

The real Red River Rivalry? A 90 thousand acre dispute between Texas farmers and the federal government. Also- You’ve heard of Fort Knox…could Fort Shiner be next? Texas pans for plans to repatriate what could be a up to billion in bullion. Plus- competition along the border as the numbers of Cubans rival Central Americans trying to cross into Texas. Also, life sentences in the most horrific child sex ring in Texas history…that never was. A bizarre case of Texas justice coming to the big screen…those stories and much more today on the Texas Standard: