New Mexicans are not astounded by large land ownership and most of them like the vast untrammeled areas of open space made possible by huge tracts of public and private land. But there was a grant so outrageously large that its confirmation might have provoked a rebellion.
The Arkansas Colony Grant (also called the Beales Grant) covered 35 million acres in New Mexico, 13 million in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, and 4 million in Colorado. Its total area of around 52 million acres was 30 times the size of the Maxwell Grant, and almost the size of the state of Kansas. Amazingly the grant was not a hoax but appeared to have been legitimately made not only once but twice. It even had a survey of sorts.
The story begins in May of 1824 when the Mexican congress created the sovereign state of "Coahuila y Texas" with its capital at Saltillo. A provision was made to split Coahuila from Texas as soon as the population of the latter had grown to sufficient numbers. A year later the Coahuila legislature passed a colonization law for Texas. While Mexicans received first consideration, foreigners were not excluded and soon a host of them poured into Texas to colonize, Stephen Austin being the best known and most successful.
Among these latter-day conquistadors was Stephen Julian Wilson, an American living in Mexico, to whom the governor of Coahuila-Texas on May 27, 1826 granted a kingdom size piece of real estate. The initial point was defined as the intersection of the 102nd meridian with the 32nd parallel, a point just east of present Midland, Texas. Thence the boundary went west along the 32nd parallel to the east boundary of New Mexico [see note]. It followed the New Mexico boundary north to a point 20 leagues (52 miles) south of the Arkansas River, where it turned east to run parallel with the Arkansas to its intersection with the 102nd meridian, thence south to the point of beginning.
To survey the grant Wilson turned to Alexander Le Grand, a native of Baltimore whom he had met in Mexico City. Le Grand has been called a surveyor, but he was educated as a lawyer and is more accurately described as an adventurer. In 1824 he had led a wagon train from Missouri to Santa Fe and had travelled the Camino Real to Mexico. For a sum of $10,000 Le Grand agreed "… to survey, examine, and measure the lands in the foregoing grant…" On a map he divided it into a grid of 12 sections, each 50 miles north to south and 100 miles east to west, of which he said he would run the exterior lines.
Le Grand stated that he executed the survey from June 27 to October 30, 1827. "Well supplied with money" and with a large party of men he was seen near present Texarkana from where he disappeared into the great unknown. When he surfaced again in Santa Fe on November 15 he claimed to have run 1,305 miles of line. There are serious doubts. His map (the original has never been found) and field notes are so far removed from the true conditions in that huge area that even major terrain features are dozens of miles out of place. But his employer was satisfied and used his "Journal" to attract prospective colonists.
By 1832, through a chain of sales and inheritances, the sole ownership of the grant had fallen to John Charles Beales, a New York physician practicing in Mexico City. Because the original grantee had failed to settle 200 families on the grant, a condition of ownership, Dr. Beales had it granted again on March 13, 1832. The hostilities that lead to Texas independence prevented colonization and Dr. Beales returned to New York where he died in 1879, he did however in 1870 record the grant in Santa Fe. In 1880 his heirs petitioned Congress for confirmation, but the petition died in the Committee on Private Land Claims where nobody took the claim seriously.
For a number of years afterwards various speculators, including the well-known rancher Charles Goodnight, attempted to resurrect the grant but in the end nothing came of it. Neither Spain, nor Mexico or later the United States recognized the authority of the governor of Coahuila to make grants in the area in question. With the passage of time the Arkansas Colony Grant slipped into the footnotes of lists of land grants. As for "surveyor" Alexander Le Grand, he settled in Galveston, became a major of infantry in the army of the Republic of Texas, and died in Houston in March 1839.
[NOTE] Because there were almost as many east boundaries of New Mexico as there were mapmakers the total acreage of the grant has been variously stated by different writers. Le Grand said it contained 48 million. For ease of computation I have used meridian 106-30 between latitudes 32 and 34 degrees, 106 up to latitude 35 degrees, and 105 from there north.