Fresh off the Scanner — The Public School Lands and University Lands Bound Volumes
Note: This post was originally published on January 24, 2018.
The Archives of the Texas General Land Office is home to over 36 million documents detailing the history of the public lands of Texas. For over 15 years, the GLO has focused on digitizing these records to make them available for free online with the twin goals of conserving the original records and providing the best free access to these important documents. In 2017, amid progress on scanning other records, a significant goal was achieved to benefit surveyors, landmen, and anyone researching the history of West Texas public lands: the digitization of the bound volumes containing Permanent School Land and University Land field notes.
Throughout Texas’ history, land has been a plentiful public asset used to encourage immigration, pay and reward soldiers, raise money for public works, and encourage the building of railroads all through various land grant programs. Public education was also a major beneficiary of the state’s abundant land resources. In the late 1830s, Republic of Texas President Mirabeau Lamar made some of the first overtures towards establishing an endowment of land to be set aside for a public system of schools and a public university. By 1840, the Texas Legislature passed various acts granting four leagues of land to each county for the purposes of generating revenue for public schools within the counties through the parceling and sale of these lands. An initial grant of 50 leagues was also made to help fund a state university.
After the Republic era ended with statehood, Texas continued its program of using land to fund education. To this day, one of the biggest boons to education was the establishment of the Permanent School Fund (PSF) and the Permanent University Fund (PUF), which were accounts set up to receive proceeds of various state land sales and leases. Money generated by sales and leases of state land was deposited into these accounts and, with very few exceptions, was left there to grow. The interest generated by these accounts would then be spent on public schools and the public university system. As the nineteenth century progressed, numerous land grant programs were established by the Texas Legislature. Additionally, various iterations of the Texas Constitution allocated certain percentages of the public domain for the PSF and PUF, and money generated by sale and lease of public lands was directed into the relevant education funds.
Within the archival holdings of the Texas General Land Office are 39 bound volumes of Public School Land (PSL) field notes and 17 bound volumes of University Land (UL) field notes. The majority of PSL and UL surveys were made in West Texas because, by the time many of the state’s education-related land programs and laws were established, the only large swaths of vacant public domain left in the state were in this sparsely populated region.
At first, many thought these lands would not be worth much; however, after the discovery of oil and gas, they became extremely lucrative. Because of the vast acreage surveyed into equal square-mile sections (640 acres) , it was most efficient to have the field notes collated together into bound books, organized by county, and then by block and section. These bound volumes were then submitted to the General Land Office for approval, and finally to the relevant county for recording.
Most of the PSL field notes in these bound volumes were created by various appointed State Surveyors by virtue of an “Act of February 23, 1900.” This Act was passed by the Twenty-Sixth Texas Legislature and was designed to ensure the Public School Land accounts — in terms of both acreage and monies — complied with the public education and land provisions from the Texas Constitution of 1876. The majority of these PSL field notes were created in 1901, 1902, and 1903, with some areas including corrected field notes from later dates depending on whether corrected fieldwork was done in a particular area. Since the original surveys were virtually identical, most of the field notes are very basic and simply call for four equal sides of 1900 or 1901 varas. As such not every section was individually surveyed. Rather, large connecting lines were surveyed and run from known points within a county and the simple 1900 vara-square surveys were calculated from this connecting line.
The University Land surveys were similarly collated into bound volumes based upon an “Act approved March 29, 1929” which provided for the sale of oil and gas “in and on University lands.” Most of these field notes date from 1935 or 1936 and, like the PSL land, the UL surveys call for square-mile sections organized into blocks and sections within West Texas counties. Unlike the PSL lands, most of the University Land field notes were based upon actual fieldwork conducted by Frank Friend, a Licensed State Land Surveyor and state-appointed University Lands surveyor. As a result, the field notes of the University Lands vary quite a bit from section to section, with many calls to witness trees and other features consistent with on-the-ground survey work.
Both the PSL and UL field notes are invaluable to any surveyor or landman doing land-related work in West Texas. Until recently, obtaining copies of these field notes required a GLO staffer to locate the relevant sections and then manually make photocopies of field notes. As of 2017 however, all the bound volumes of PSL and UL field notes have been digitized by the General Land Office and posted in the online “map store” as large PDFs. The best way to view these and other bound volumes that have been digitized is to select the “Bound Volume” category filter in the GLO online map store. Making these field note volumes available online represents the latest achievement in digitization efforts by the General Land Office and provides wider-spread access to these important records while simultaneously reducing wear and tear to the physical volumes.
Conservation efforts at the GLO Archives are bolstered by purchases of document and map reproductions and donations from generous Texas history lovers around the world. To learn more and purchase a map reproduction or make a donation, please click here.
 Thomas Lloyd Miller, The Public Lands of Texas 1519–1970 (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1972), 109.
 Miller, p. 101, 111. One instance of the state dipping into the PSF was authorized in 1856, when loans to railroad companies, funded from the PSF, were issued at the rate of $6,000 for each mile of track completed. According to Miller’s research, some of these loans were never repaid, but the interest generated resulted in the PSF approximately breaking even on the loans.
 PSL field notes in bound volumes cover the following counties: Andrews, Callahan, Cochran, Coleman, Crane, Culberson, Dallam, Dawson, Ector, El Paso, Gaines, Hansford, Hartley, Hockley, Hudspeth, Hutchinson, Jeff Davis, Kent, Loving, Lubbock, Lynn, Pecos, Reeves, Runnels, Sherman, Terry, Ward, Wheeler, Winkler, and Yoakum. UL field notes cover the following counties: Andrews, Collin, Cooke, Crane, Crockett, Culberson, Dawson, Ector, El Paso, Fannin, Gaines, Grayson, Hudspeth, Hunt, Irion, Lamar, Loving, Martin, McLennan, Pecos, Reagan, Schleicher, Terrell, Tom Green, Upton, Ward, and Winkler.
 Sections were generally laid out as square-shaped 640-acre surveys; however, due to various factors including geography, county and state boundaries, accommodation of senior surveys, and measurement corrections, it was not uncommon for sections to vary from the 640-acre ‘standard.’
 D.H. Hardy, General Laws of the State of Texas passed at the First Called Session of the Twenty-Sixth Legislature convened at the City of Austin, January 23, 1900 and Adjourned February 21, 1900 together with the Governor’s Proclamation and Messages. (Austin, Von Boeckmann, Moore & Schutze, State Printers, 1900), 29
 One vara = 33 1/3 inches. One mile = 1900.8 varas
 H.P.N. Gammel, The Laws of Texas, [Volume 26], Supplement Volume to the Original Ten Volumes 1822–1897 (Austin, Gammel’s Book Store, 1929), 616