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Ten Leagues of Land (CEC)

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What DOES ten leagues of land look like?

Most colonists coming to Texas as part of an Empressario contract would receive a league and a labor of land. The men who lined up these colonists would receive five such parcels per 100 families they convinced to migrate to Mexican Texas.

Santiago del Valle, a hacienda owner whose vast land holdings included a spread near Monclova, Coahuila, Mexico, was an influential Federalist politician and state official in the 1820s. He assisted in the passage of immigration laws that favored American land speculators interested in developing Texas.

From his advantageous position near the seat of government in Saltillo, Del Valle forged several important alliances with newly arriving Texians including Samuel May Williams, one of Stephen F. Austin’s chief associates. Del Valle parlayed his political position and commercial contacts into a grant of ten leagues of land in Texas. His associates located and surveyed this windfall along the Colorado River in what would eventually become present-day southeast Austin.

The map above shows Del Valle’s grant (outlined in red) superimposed on the modern landscape of Austin. His tract would have included miles of frontage along I-35, an impressive stretch of the south bank of Colorado River, as well as all of Austin’s Bergstom International Airport.

Like many Mexican land speculators with connections to the government of Coahuila y Tejas, he never actually visited his extensive holdings in Texas. Instead Del Valle sold nine leagues of this property to Thomas F. McKinney, a shrewd businessman and merchant with commercial interests on the lower Trinity River and at the mouth of the Brazos. Del Valle traded his remaining league to Bartlett Sims of Bastrop, one of Stephen F. Austin’s original colonists, in exchange for locating and surveying services. For nearly twenty years, the property lay unoccupied.

Sims eventually moved to this Austin-area holding in the early 1840s and become an influential militia officer and Texas Ranger, before moving his home yet again to Williamson County.

McKinney would occupy his part of the old Del Valley tract in 1850. After several adventures during the crises with Mexico, McKinney made a sizable fortune as a merchant and eventually served in the Texas legislature from Galveston. He moved near Austin in 1850, building an impressive stock operation, mill, and homestead as well as a quarter horse racetrack. He suffered all of the vicissitudes of Texas in the next few decades and died in 1873. His ranch became McKinney Falls State Park in 1976.