As oil and gas production booms in South Texas, the ghosts of Texas' mythic Spanish colonial past are reappearing to try to get their fair share of the proceeds, 1200 WOAI news reports.
The descendants of holders of Spanish land grants from the 18th Century say they are entitled to their share of the mineral rights from lands which were presented to their ancestors by the Spanish Crown, but were lost, sold, or even stolen in the chaotic days of the Texas Republic and early statehood.
"The state essentially has gotten away with taking this money for years, because nobody has complained," said San Antonio retiree George Farias, who is the descendant of a family which received a land grant in what is now the Rio Grande Valley back in the 1760s.
Spanish colonial settlement of Texas was based on the 'land grant' system, starting with the grant of lands to the Franciscans to build the Missions, and the grant of land to Canary Islander settlers to settle in San Antonio.
Throughout the late 18th Century, Spanish viceroys awarded huge tracts of land in the form of 'sitios,' or about 4500 acres, and 'labors,' which were about 177 acres, to families who were willing to move to what was then the frontier north of the Rio Grande and build ranches, farms, and settlement.
These were similar to the grants later given to the Anglo empresarios like Stephen F. Austin which led to widespread Anglo settlement in Texas.
Many of these grants were revoked by the Republic of Texas in the anti Mexican fervor which swept Texas following the War of Independence. Over the next twenty years, many of the Spanish Land Grant families found themselves swindled out of their land, largely because they didn't speak English. In other cases, the last was legally sold or even stolen.
But Farias says unclaimed mineral rights remain with the descendants of the Spanish Land Grand families, many of whom once held title to 40,000 acres or more of what is now prime Eagle Ford Shale land.
"What we are asking for is unclaimed revenues to whom only two people are entitled," Farias said. "The real owner, if they come forward, or the descendants."
The Unclaimed Mineral Proceeds Commission was created by the Legislature in 2013 and will meet later this month to begin resolving these issues. Farias says the money that should be rightfully the property of the heirs has instead gone to the state.
He says nobody is going to get rich off of this, but it would be a way to bringing justice to the descendants of one of the oldest families in Texas, the people who essentially created this state.
"If I'm one of a hundred living descendants, what we call primaries, then I can only get one percent (of the royalties from the land which once was owned by his ancestors)," he said. "If I am one of a thousand living descendants, that percentage keeps going down."
The Commission has until January of next year to come up with a solution and report back to the Legislature for action.