In Chambers, Fall 2017

6 In Chambers | Fall 2017 In his newest book, Death on the Lonely Llano Estacado , 11 Neal solves the unredressed murder of J.W. Jarrott, a 40-year-old Texas lawyer who in 1901-1902 put together a group of 54 tenant-farming families near FortWorth to move westward several hundred miles to claim and settle homesteads within “The Strip” of the South Plains. That was the name for a “vacancy” or gap between prior official state surveys of a portion of the Llano Estacado, the semi-arid tableland that runs northward through much of the Great Plains.The Strip stretched for a length of 60 miles and a width of up to five miles, running from west of the nascent town of Lubbock to the boundary with New Mexico. On a tip from the Texas Land Commissioner, Charles Rogan, Jarrott learned of the gap and of Rogan’s intent to have it surveyed and opened to settlement.Without charging any fee, he recruited the farm families and served as their attorney in the legal work for each to acquire homesteads withinThe Gap under the “Four Sections Law” of 1895.That statute permitted individuals to purchase up to four sections, or 2,560 acres, of the state’s public-domain land for a nominal amount. Of course, the land was not completely “vacant” in its usage. For several decades, ranchers had grazed cattle herds on the same land in the belief that they held leases from the state; and they naturally opposed any enclo- sure of the range by the “nesters.” The resolution of the dispute occurred in two ways. First, the ranchers’ attor- neys filed challenges with the General Land Office and then trespass-to-try-title lawsuits against the settlers, all of which Jarrott successfully defended. Second, and extra-legally, their cowboys threatened the “sodbusters” with violence and cut their fences.Then onAugust 27, 1902, a hidden rifleman shot and killed Jarrott as he returned to his own homestead. Efforts over the next several years to determine and prosecute the responsible party were fruitless. But the settlers were not frightened away.They drilled wells into the Ogallala aquifer and began to farm the land; and over the following decades they and many others developed the dry and treeless South Plains into a highly productive irrigated-agricultural zone. 12

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