NEW YORK AND TEXAS LAND COMPANY
The New York and Texas Land Company, Limited, was one of the largest of the privately financed land companies to operate in post-Civil War Texas. It was formed when all the land owned by the consolidated International-Great Northern Railroad Company was transferred from the Texas Land Company and deeded to John S. Kennedy, Samuel Thorne, and William Walter Phelps, all of New York state. At the sale, made on December 10, 1879, a total of 3,049,430 acres was exchanged for $4,628,400. Ira Hobart Evans,qv general manager of the Texas Land Company, was named president of the new company. Offices were maintained in Palestine, Texas, and New York. Evans's first task was to assemble an organization to locate, survey, map, and sell the company's diverse properties. On November 8, 1882, the company sold 637,440 acres of land in Carson, Gray, Hutchinson, and Roberts counties to Charles G. Francklyn, a London and New York capitalist, for $887,654.40. This, the largest sale of a single tract of land by the company in its history, marked the formation of the Francklyn Land and Cattle Company,qv and the lands purchased became known as the White Deer Lands. Total acreage owned by the company during its existence was approximately 5.5 million acres. Except for the initial purchase, some 2.5 million acres was West Texas land bought from the state at fifty cents an acre under provisions of the Land Act of July 1879. Company properties extended into fifty-one Texas counties. Evans had urged his first cousin, Timothy Dwight Hobart,qv then superintendent of schools in Berlin, Vermont, to come to Texas and become an agent with the land company. Hobart accepted the offer and arrived in Palestine on November 8, 1882. Increased business activity subsequently required that the office be moved to Austin, where official records were more accessible. In 1886 Evans placed Hobart in complete charge of a million acres of land in the Panhandle.qv
From an office in Mobeetie a crew began the job of locating and surveying the Panhandle lands. Hobart observed an increase in eastern and foreign capital coming into the area and saw that sales were aided where pastures were fenced and water was available. Though it was contrary to normal procedure, he devised a plan of leasing land to large cattle concerns for grazing at the rate of four cents an acre and applying the first year's rental to improvements. He reasoned that improved tracts would sell at a sufficiently higher price to justify the time and expense. He submitted the plan to Evans, who gave his approval. Execution of the plan required hundreds of miles of barbed wire,qv thousands of fence posts, and the labor to build the fences, drill wells, erect windmills,qv and construct earthen dams to impound water. Finding a source of fence posts in the plains country posed a problem until Hobart employed Ben and Sebe Merry, bachelor brothers who lived together in a dugout and shanty near the rim of the Palo Duro Canyon. The canyon provided timber from which the Merrys cut thousands of fence posts, for which they were paid from seven to nine cents each. The brothers were both about seven feet tall; lesser men could hardly have done the job. By 1890 the program was well under way. As the number of settlers increased, so did demand for smaller tracts. By 1897 most of the large cattle concerns had been divided into smaller units, and it became harder to lease large tracts. The leasing of smaller parcels, however, at from five to eight cents an acre continued to provide funds for improvements. By the turn of the century all of the company's Panhandle lands had been improved and sold at prices ranging from $1.75 to $3 an acre, and the program was judged a huge success. Some of the largest sales included the North Fork Pasture of 190,000 acres, the Sam Lazarus Pasture of 100,000 acres, and the Nick Eaton Range of 88,000 acres. With the Panhandle assignment completed, Hobart resigned from the New York and Texas Land Company in January 1903 and became general manager of the White Deer Lands.
In 1901 former governor James Stephen Hoggqv acquired an option to buy 4,100 acres of the company's land in Brazoria County for $30,000. A survey established the tract at some 4,176 acres taken out of the Martin Varner and Josiah H. Bellqqv leagues. The sale was completed in Austin on May 23, 1901, with Ira H. Evans signing for the New York and Texas Land Company. The acquisition included an old plantation home known as Patton Place. Governor Hogg soon changed the name to Varner Plantation (see VARNER-HOGG PLANTATION STATE HISTORICAL PARK). Convinced of the presence of oil on the property, and wanting to protect the future interests of his children, he provided in his will that the land should not be sold for fifteen years, except under the most dire circumstances. In 1918, thirteen years after his death, the Tyndall-Hogg No. 2 struck a prolific oil-bearing sand. The field produced twelve million barrels in 1921, the first full year of production, with the price of oil at $1.53 per barrel, compared to the two to four cents per barrel in 1901. This field became known as the West Columbia oilfield.qv The company transactions so far noted account for only 1,161,616 acres; some four million acres must have been sold but reported only in the deeds of record books in many courthouses across the state. Sometime before the company was officially dissolved in 1918 the event was celebrated with a barbecue in Austin, to which all principals and current and former employees were invited. While enjoying food and fellowship, the group was treated to the spectacle of a thirty-year accumulation of company records, papers, files, and letters going up in flames. With no stockholders and accountable only to themselves, the principals mutually agreed upon this method of disposition as a solution to the problem of storing such a mass of material no longer needed. Obviously, the historical value was not considered. In 1965 former governor Price Danielqv found an antique door with the company's logo in gold on its headpiece, but the headpiece was subsequently lost.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lester Fields Sheffy, The Francklyn Land & Cattle Company (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963). Lester Fields Sheffy, The Life and Times of Timothy Dwight Hobart (Canyon, Texas: Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, 1950).
H. Leslie Evans
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Article submitted by Alex Phelps Penry