Ponce de León Land Grant

By: John G. Johnson

Type: General Entry

Published: December 1, 1995

Updated: August 4, 2020

The Ponce de León grant has been the subject of numerous lawsuits because most of downtown El Paso occupies it. Juan María Ponce de León petitioned for and received a grant of a tract of land on the north side of the Rio Grande in 1827. He was granted two caballerías that belonged to the city of El Paso del Norte, bounded on the south by the Rio Grande and valued at eighty pesos. Ponce de León improved and farmed the land and built a house that was washed away in the spring of 1830 by a flood. Because of the flood damage, he petitioned for an additional grant and was awarded the alluvial accretion between the old and new riverbeds. After the Mexican War it became obvious that the United States military would play a part in the area. Recognizing this, Benjamin Franklin Coons offered to purchase the grant for $18,000; fearing that the grant might not be recognized by Texas, Ponce de León accepted the offer. On November 7, 1848, the United States government ordered the establishment of a post at or near the pass, and on September 8, 1849, the Third Infantry leased the main buildings on Coons' Rancho, plus six acres, for $4,200 a year. In 1851 United States troops were transferred from the area, and this plus other business losses made Coons unable to make payments. Ponce de León repossessed the land and managed it until his death on July 1, 1852. Title passed to his wife and daughter, with the property managed by his son-in-law, Mariano Varela.

Varela established a freighting business with William T. Smith, who offered to purchase the grant for $10,000. Still fearing that the title would not be recognized by Texas, the owners sold the land. The grant comprised slightly more than 599 acres. From time to time Smith sold small unsurveyed tracts to persons who had settled on the land. Confirmation of the grant was included in the Relinquishment Act passed by the Sixth Legislature, but this was vetoed by Governor Elisha M. Pease. In 1858 Smith and others in the area were able to get a special relief act passed that acknowledged the validity of the grant. For various reasons, mostly attempts by persons with no claim to the land trying to discredit boundary lines because of the land's increasing value, the grant was embroiled in lawsuits throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century. On June 15, 1872, the United States Circuit Court for West Texas held that the grant included only the original approximately 215 acres. In a suit filed on February 24, 1873, in the Twenty-fifth Judicial District Court of Texas and upheld by the Texas Supreme Court, it was found that the grant was larger because the river had changed course, that the original grant was 247 acres, and that the accretion grant of 1830 was approximately 352 acres. On February 21, 1877, a jury in a hearing at the United States Circuit Court agreed. Several later attempts to redefine the grant's boundaries were defeated. In the early 1900s, a small portion of the grant became involved in the Chamizal Dispute, a disagreement over the United States-Mexico boundary that resulted from changes in the course of the Rio Grande. The squabble was settled on October 28, 1967, when 7.82 acres of the Ponce de León grant was awarded to Mexico, a ruling that finally settled the southern boundary of the grant.

J. J. Bowden, The Ponce de León Land Grant (Southwestern Studies Monograph No. 24, El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1969).

Time Periods:
  • Mexican Texas
  • Spanish Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

John G. Johnson, “Ponce de León Land Grant,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ponce-de-leon-land-grant.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995
August 4, 2020

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