The federal government is trying to take as much as 140 square miles of deeded land in Texas from ranchers who’ve owned and have paid taxes on the property for generations. This is occurring in north Texas, along Red River on the Texas-Oklahoma border. What made the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) make this claim is unclear (as this is being fought in court, the BLM isn’t answering questions), but the ramifications make last year’s occupation of BLM buildings in Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge seem like a Boy Scout jamboree.
This fight has been going on for a number of years now in the courts. Seven families are behind the lawsuit trying to stop the BLM from taking their deeded property. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and a lot of other Texas politicians, praised the landowners for suing. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a motion to join the suit, which the court approved. Paxton said, “Washington, D.C., needs to hear, loud and clear, that Texas will not stand for the federal government’s infringement upon Texas land and the property rights of the people who live here.”
If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard about this land war before, it is likely because this story quickly gets more complex than a Spanishcorrida de torros.
Before getting into all that, it’s worth putting this in context by looking back at the 1948 classic Western, named not coincidentally, “Red River.” The movie opens with John Wayne looking south from a wagon train to the Red River. He decides there is good grass for beef that way for a man with the grit to take the ground, hold it and turn it into a ranch that’ll help feed a growing nation. He goes south with his partner (Walter Brennan) and is soon joined by a boy muttering madly about an Indian attack on the wagon train (Montgomery Clift plays this character when he becomes an adult). They fight off an Indian attack and, not long thereafter, Wayne outdraws a gunslinger hired by a Spanish rancher to keep settlers off the ranch given to him by the king of Spain. The movie then flashes forward to an older Wayne who has made his ranch, his American dream, with sweat and blood, but after the American Civil War his cattle are worth little in the South, so he must drive his cattle north in a desperate effort to keep his ranch and to feed all the people around him. The government isn’t there to help him. He doesn’t resent this. He knows that he, and the men with him, don’t need handouts, just good, old-fashioned American guts.
At the basis of this fictional plot is a true story about the men and women who settled the land and made it produce, as best they could.
Now many generations later, the ranchers who own and work this land might lose it, not to rustlers, drought or a crater in cattle prices, but to a far-off bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., because, the BLM says, land claims dating back to the Louisiana Purchase give them the power to take land where the river once ran.
Naturally, the shocked landowners responded with a lawsuit. Since then this complex fight has attracted the attention of the Texas governor, congressmen and legal advice from the attorney general of Texas. It also attracted Austin Curry, a founding partner of Caldwell Cassady & Curry. Curry is perhaps best known for getting a jury award of $532.9 million against Apple in Smartflash v. Apple. He is an attorney who specializes in David-and-Goliath battles over property rights (intellectual or physical).