Thirty years later, farmer regains land from BLM

Three decades after losing 94 acres of property that had been in his family since the Civil War in a dispute with the Bureau of Land Management, Clay County farmer Tommy Henderson regained his acreage, and many landowners along the Red River have taken note.

Henderson’s property is a small portion of the long-disputed 30,000 acres that span 116 miles along the Texas/Oklahoma border. Federal officials claim that the land has been under federal control since the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Landowners, however, say that the feds have only surveyed around 6,500 acres, and used methods that differ greatly from the accepted gradient boundaries survey method established by the Supreme Court in the 1920s. In addition, landowners along the stretch hold deeds to and continue to pay taxes on the land they and their families have worked for generations.

For Henderson, the boundary dispute that had dragged on since 1984 came to a favorable end in early August after he had worked with the Texas Farm Bureau, Clay County officials, representatives from the BLM and U.S. Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon). At the Clay County Courthouse, Henderson signed a federal patent for the land, actually purchasing the land for $1 per acre under a “Color of Title” stipulation that enables landowners the chance to purchase after showing a clear title, payment of taxes, improvements and “good faith” possession. Henderson was encouraged after the diligent struggle, claiming that his case will help his neighboring landowners.

“This blazes the trail,” he said. “I hope it will help remove a cloud that’s been over these titles.”

Congressman Thornberry was also satisfied and encouraged by the event.

“It is good that Mr. Henderson was finally able to get back a portion of his land that he lost in the 1980s, but it never should have happened in the first place,” Thornberry said.

Thornberry, who represents the 13th Congressional District of Texas that stretches from the Panhandle to the outskirts of the DFW Metroplex and spans the Texas side of the Red River, has strongly come down on the side of Texas landowners in their struggle with the BLM. He said he plans to continue to pursue legislation he and U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) filed to help protect these citizens and the land they hold dear.

“I am continuing to pursue legislation that I introduced with Sen. John Cornyn to protect private property rights and clear up the uncertainty that many landowners along the Red River currently face,” Thornberry said in a released statement.

The legislation, known as the Red River Private Property Protection Act, has been adjusted from the original bill filed during the last session of Congress following several town halls along the river and input from landowners. Officially known as H.R. 2130 in the U.S. House and S. 1153 in the U.S. Senate, the legislation aims to protect private property rights along the Red River from federal ownership claims. By providing legal certainty to landowners, the Act also seeks to end questions about the federal government’s ownership of other disputed land along the Red River. Landowners are applauding their local congressman’s efforts thus far.

“Mac did a good job about contacting everybody because it is going to take landowners participating in this process to make this work,” said Jimmy Smith, another landowner along the river who finds himself in a similar situation to Henderson. “If Mac can get this passed and get this through and surveyed by a private surveyor like he was talking about and they can get it done it, would alleviate the BLM from being in our backyards,” said Smith.

To follow the legislation as it works through the 113th U.S. Congress, click here.