Salado Historical Society learns of Land Office programs
It is the oldest agency in Texas, created when Texas was a young Republic.
More than 180 years later, the General Land Office continues to do important work in the state.
It oversees the management of the public lands in the state, including overseeing the mineral resources in order to maximize returns for the Permanent School Fund.
It is responsible for caring for the coast, whether it is through programs such as the Adopt-a-Beach and beach cleanups or being the agency that responds to oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.
Through the Veterans Land Board, created by the Texas legislature in 1948, the General Land Office provides veterans’ services such as the Veterans Land Program, the Veterans Housing Assistance Program, the Veterans Home Improvement Program, the Texas State Veterans Homes Program, and the Texas State Veterans Cemetery Program.
Here in Bell County, veterans are served through the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen and the William R. Courtney Texas State Veterans Home.
Finally, the GLO serves as “the home for Texas History,” James Harkins told members of the Salado Historical Society at their annual potluck and awards supper March 6.
Harkins is the director of public services, archives and public records for the General Land Office.
The GLO archives are housed in Austin next door to the flashier Bob Bullock Museum for Texas History. Within are more than 36 million Texas land grant documents and 45,000 maps dating back to 1561. The oldest document on record, according to Harkins, dates to 1720.
The archives are divided by eras and language: Spanish and Mexican Land Grants, Republic of Texas Land Grants and Land Grants to German immigrants written in German.
More than three million of the documents have been scanned and digitized for the use of researchers.
“A lot of the research is done by oil and gas producers and other landmen,” Harkins said, adding that the documents are a treasure trove of information for genealogy researchers.
As the first agency created by the Republic of Texas in its infancy, one of the earliest jobs of the GLO was to consolidate all of the land grant documents from regional offices around the state into one central location.
“Texas didn’t have any wealth in its earliest days, but it did have a lot of land,” Harkins said, “which it gave to the veterans of the Texas revolution and later to immigrants willing to settle here.”
The land records are the oldest, largest and most complete record group at the GLO.
The records are now housed in acid-free folders under constant humidity of 40-50 percent and constant temperature of 60-72 F. The archives are protected by state-of-the-art fire suppression systems, Harkins said.
When headright grants were awarded to settlers in the days of the Republic, there were multiple levels.
The land was granted by the Texas government to encourage settlement of the new republic.
According to the GLO, First-class headrights were issued to those who arrived before the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. Heads of families were eligible for one league and one labor of land (4605.5 acres) and single men were eligible for 1/3 of a league (1476.1 acres), according to the GLO.
Second-class headrights were issued to those who arrived between March 2, 1836 and October 1, 1837. Heads of families were eligible for 1,280 acres and single men were eligible for 640 acres, according to the GLO website.
Third-class headrights were issued to those who arrived between October 1, 1837 and January 1, 1840. Heads of families were eligible for 640 acres and single men were eligible for 320 acres, according to the GLO.
Fourth-class headrights were issued to those who arrived between January 1, 1840 and January 1, 1842. The amounts issued were the same as for a third class headright with the added requirement that 10 acres be cultivated, according to the GLO website.
“We are here to preserve and conserve Texas history,” Harkins said.
The latest, and perhaps biggest, challenge for the GLO in regards to preserving and conserving Texas history is the Alamo.
For more than a century, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas acted as the caretakers of the Alamo. The DRT were tasked to be the caretakers for the Alamo in 1905. At that time, the DRT purchased the Alamo long barracks from a private owner and then turned over ownership to the State of Texas. The DRT was charged with the day to day operations until 2011 when the state legislature turned over custodianship to the GLO. The GLO contracted with the DRT to continue the day to day operations until 2015 when it terminated the contract and took over the day to day operations of the Alamo under the leadership of George P. Bush, General Land Commissioner.
Phil Collins donated his collection of artifacts from the Alamo, the largest private collection in the world, to the GLO to be housed in the former DRT library on the grounds of the Alamo complex. The Collins collection is valued at $15 million and continues to grow.
The DRT library is now housed at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
The GLO is working to transform the library to house the Collins collection in a museum and visitors center.
To do that, the GLO is developing a $300 million Alamo Endowment through private funds.