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Matagorda Island



A True History


Hugh Walker Hawes (1798 - 1883), my great grandfather, first came to MGI from Kentucky in 1839.  He was a fairly wealthy man for his time and, by the mid 1800s, had established a lucrative receiving and forwarding business on Saluria bayou, on the NE end of MGI, where deep draft ships could unload their cargo without plying the shallow bay waters to their destinations.

Hawes also entered the ranching business, seeing the big advantage of the MGI grasses and year-round grazing.  When the Civil War ended, his fortune decimated, his improvements and his home lay in ruins.  He continued and expanded his ranching operation.

Hugh Hawes 1798 -1883

He died in 1883 and is buried near his homesite on the NE end of MGI; a large white tombstone overlooking Pass Cavallo marks his grave.  After his death the ranching operation on the island continued on by family members until, without warning, a devastating blow was dealt to owners of all the property on the NE 28 miles of MGI.

The US government served papers (CA-55) and took away their lifelong heritage, and for many, their only livelihood.  This was in November 1940, a time of national emergency and the threat of war.

On February 6th, 1941, at a hearing addressing the condemnation, at the Victoria, Texas courthouse, General Gerald C. Brant told the owners that they would get their land back when it was no longer needed for military purposes, the stated purpose for which taken.  General Brant was spokesman for the government, and the landowners had to believe what he said to be fact; and binding.  Interesting point- the minutes of the Feb. 6th, 1941 hearing disappeared from the Federal Court records though we do have depositions from some very prominent individuals who were present at the hearing.  This hearing was conducted by Maj. L. H. Hewitt, Corp. of Eng., Galveston district.

In November 1940, some 19,000 acres on the NE end of Matagorda Island were condemned and taken for military purposes.

The stated and accepted procedure for acquiring undeveloped real estate for military usage is to negotiate with the owners and if an agreement cannot be reached, then and only then, initiate condemnation procedures.

The MGI taking (CA-55) was just the opposite; the first the longtime owners knew of the seizure by the government was when they were served papers by a US marshal, and the posting of condemnation notice (CA-55) at the county courthouse.

The owners were given ten days to remove all livestock and personal belongings; any livestock left would be shot, they were told.

The irony of this livestock removal order was that the wealthy, politically powerful and influential owners of the adjoining land on the SW end of MGI (the T.L. Wynne - Clint Murchison interests), whose land was not taken, used and grazed the condemned land all during the war an even after (1941-1947) while displaced former owners were deprived of their livelihood and suffered both physical and financial hardships.

The Wynne int. 11,502 acre property on the SW end of MGI adjoining the seized land was not taken.  Some two years after the A.F. Range lands were taken the Wynne int. was afforded a limited lease, and continued full use and enjoyment of their property.

In the late 1980s, the Wynne property was sold to the U.S. government through The Nature Conservancy for 13.6 million dollars - nearly 1200 dollars per acre.  NOTE: Former owners of the adjoining condemned A.F. Range were paid a court award of about seven dollars per acre, improvements and all; this, three to four years after being put off their property.

The need for the MGI lands for military training was understandable; and the owners took their hardships in stride.  What they didn't understand was why their property was taken in fee, instead of leased, as was all the other training facilities in the area.i.e.

Matagorda Peninsula, just across Pass Cavallo, was taken along with Matagorda Island (CA-55) and almost identical facilities were built and used for the same pilot training.

The Peninsula property was returned to former owners and a lease was paid for its use, while MGI owners suffered the loss of their property.

Almost all the young Hawes men in this area were in the service in WWII; one, Col. Edwin H. Hawes, died in combat leading an air attack on a Japanese carrier.  In 1981 another, Hugh A. Hawes, said it all when he told a National Geographic correspondent "We went into the service.  This was our part of America.  This was what we were fighting for.  Now, after forty years, we still haven't got our land back".  Imagine coming home to see the base or MGI on caretaker status, being used for high-brass recreation, with no signs of relinquishment.

NOTE: Hugh did his gunnery training on MGI and was highly perturbed to see the Wynne cattle grazing the entire Range, while his parents and displaced owners were struggling to save some of their herd on leased land on the mainland.

One has to ask the question "did President Franklin D. Roosevelt's visit to the Wynne-Murchinson complex on the SW end of MGI have any bearing on the government's taking of all 28 miles of MGI right up to the Wynne fence?"

The overpowering question on the MGI taking is and always has been; "Why would the government condemn and take the MGI property in fee to build a temporary training facility? -- other than the possible Wynne int. involvement; PLUS

On the NE end of MGI near Pass Cavallo was located a Lifesaving (Coast Guard) station built about 1879 on .29 acres of land.

In the 1920s Air Corp officers of Brooks Field, San Antonio, Texas, began using the Coast Guard station as guests of C.G. personnel, enjoying the excellent hunting and fishing of MGI and, in 1929, when the station closed, the Air Corp officer presence was expanded to include pilots of practically all A.E. stations in Texas; calling themsleves the 'Matagorda Hunting and Fishing Club.'  The station was used as a club house and expanded usage included vehicles, guides, etc., even though they had no land.

This increased Air Corp recreational use of MGI continued right up to the condemnation and taking of the MGI property.  When a training base was constructed the old Coast Guard station was burned; as was the two story ranch house of former owners just north of the Lighthouse.  Many of these officers were generals of WWII.

Most are of the opinion that this attachment to Matagorda Island as a hunting and fishing paradise, and the Wynne int. involvement, were the reasons this land was taken in fee and not leased instead, and turned back to the former owners after WWII, as was all other lands taken in this area.

The Surplus Property Act of 1944 was enacted to provide an orderly method of disposal of the huge amount of property acquired by the U.S. Government to carry out its wartime mission, when the property became surplus to its needs.

According to the Congressional Record, legislators were adamant in assuring that taken property be returned to former owners and put back in production as soon as practical after the war.

Roughly, the Surplus Property Act of 1944 gave the former owners of surplus property priority in reacquiring their property at the taking price or the market value, whichever the lesser.

By all evidence and fairness, the MGI property should have been surplussed, or at least Grandfathered, under the Surplus Property Act of 1944.

The MGI range was inactivated and on caretaker status from 1945, the end of the War, to 1949, used for recreation (hunting and fishing) for the military.

Since the Surplus Property Act  was changed in 1949, owners were never afforded the opportunity to reacquire their land under this Act; an Act enacted for just such cases.

In Texas the mineral estate and the surface estate are separate, and the mineral estate is superior and dominant to the surface.

When the MGI lands were taken (CA-55) the fee simple absolute title was taken; but, because of legal objections by owners and oil companies, plus the value of the
mineral estate, the government elected to revest the mineral estate to the former owners, but found this could not be done without special legislation, so Public Law No. 752 of the 77th Congress was enacted to permit the taking of the surface only, and the mineral estate was revested in the former owners.

Leaving the dominant mineral estate to the former owners further shows the intent of Congress was to reunite these separate estates when the surface was no longer needed or used for the purpose for which taken - namely to build a temporary training facility for the WWII era. 2006
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