Confirmation of land titles during the early days of Texas involved a complicated process. The King of Spain made many land grants in South Texas prior to Mexico gaining its independence. During Mexican sovereignty, the state of Tamaulipas either confirmed these grants or made new grants of its own. After Texas became a country and then a state, it established laws by which landowners could confirm ownership.
On December 15, 1826, Mexico adopted Decree No. 42 known as the colonization laws, which allowed foreigners to colonize vacant lands in the state, provided they submitted to the laws of the republic. This law defined a sitio as a square league or 25 million square varas, a vara being three geometrical feet. A labor consisted of one million square varas or 1,000 varas on each side of a square.
Four years later, on October 28, 1830 the Tamaulipas Congress adopted Law No. 47. The Congress saw a need to increase the population in the Nueces region. This was one of the most abundant areas of the state but its sparse population provided little security to the ranchos in the hinterland. Through this law, Tamaulipas hoped to found from one to three new towns on the Nueces River frontier. Citizens settling near these towns could catch and keep any wild horses for a period of 10 years. Each head of family would receive a sitio of free pastureland for planting.
The state exempted these settlers from military service but they were still required to serve as a militia in defense of nation’s independence as well as the territory and towns from Indian attacks.
During the Mexican era, the area around Duval County was part of the Mier and Camargo municipios. A municipio was not a city but was more like a county. Its authority extended well beyond their population centers. The lands in Duval County were in the Camargo and Mier municipios.
When Texas seceded from Mexico and later when it joined the United States, it sought to honor the land grants made by Spain and Mexico. Landowners, however, had to show that they had occupied the land, paid for it and kept up the taxes. Texas adopted a number of laws that provided a process for ratification of titles to these lands. Often landowners had to go to district court to confirm ownership.
Proving ownership was not always easy, since meeting these rules was a challenge. Between the raiding Indians and the constant revolutions, it was nearly impossible for landowners to live on the land for sustained periods. During the differences between Mexico and Texas, landowners in the area were in an impossible situation. Mexico considered it treason if the settlers showed any allegiance to Texas. Under these circumstances, it was nearly impossible to pay taxes, not knowing who the sovereign was.
Still, even under these challenging circumstances the states of Tamaulipas and later Texas confirmed many land titles in the area.