The Taylor Ranch War: Property Rights Die

  • Publish Date: 2006-03-24
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Author: Dick Johnston

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This book is an example of the past colliding with the present as an ultra liberal Colorado Supreme Court chief justice reached back 1,500 years to Spain's land grants and shared (communal) use of property and tried to mix them with the American concept of private property rights. She ruled in several opinions that, under a 160-year-old Mexican land grant (similar to colonial Spanish grants) and a 150-year-old ambiguous document, an initially undefined number of Costilla County, Colorado, residents would have free reasonable use of the 77,500-acre, privately owned, Taylor Ranch, mainly for livestock grazing and timber. A bare majority of the court's justices agreed with her. When the rulings were gradually implemented with a vengeance by a district judge, some 1,200 residents were granted virtually uncontrolled and unlimited use of the Ranch. The Ranch owners not only lost $23 million in market value of the property but were also ordered to pay at least $300,000 in court costs. The rulings were called stunning and unprecedented. As 2006 approached, the residents were assessing the perhaps marginal economic benefits of the access and wondering whether voluntary compliance with a locally-drafted land use plan would save The Mountain's fragile environment. For over 100 years, the mostly Hispanic population of the Culebra River basin adjacent to the Colorado-New Mexico border lived a very isolated Shangri La existence based on subsistence farming and hunting and fishing in the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In 1960, Jack Taylor, a tough timberman from North Carolina, purchased one of the last two major pieces of a one-million-acre Mexican land grant covering the mountains and told the local residents to stop trespassing on it. In 45 years of litigation over rights on the property, Taylor won victories in Federal courts but they were overturned in the State courts, and Jack Taylor's successors were hit hard. In reaction to Jack Taylor's arrogant attitude,

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