Who was Pelham Humphries? Thousands of people seem to want to know more about him. At least thousands, perhaps tens of thousands have come to the General Land Office here to search the archives for records on Pelham Humphries.
Many of these thousands of inquirers have claimed to be the heirs of Pelham Humphries or agents of the alleged heirs.
The interest in this mysterious early Texas settler wasn't at all keen until January 10,1901. That was when the monster Spindletop Oil Field was brought in on the outskirts of Beaumont, Texas, within 4,228 acres which are styled on the Jefferson County land maps, the Pelham Humphries League.
In 1885 the Pelham Humphries League was sold to William P. H. McFaddin of Beaumont. The McFaddin estate's title to the Pelham Humphries land has been proven bustproof in dozens of court cases involving thousands of plantiffs since 1901.
Now old Pelham Humphries name has cropped up in a 1967 controversy drawing national attention called the Medders case. Mr. and Mrs. Medders of Meunster, Texas, are very much in the news right now because of finanicial troubles. A Mr. and Mrs. Medders are listed among around three thousand or so plantiffs claiming to be Pelham Humphries heirs in a suit filed in 1961. In this lawsuit the plaintiffs were seeking to exact a half billion dollars in damages from the W. P. H. McFadden estate.
The case was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1965. As in many of these cases no payment was made to the plaintiffs. These setbacks don't seem to discourage other claimants to the Pelham Humphries League. Still, people keep coming to the General Land Office and to the Texas State Library (housed in the same contemporary state office building on the Capitol grounds) to do their research on the Pelham Humphries records.
The archives division of the Texas State Library has mimeographed some materials to give to people who show up and ask about Pelham Humphries or who writes letters about him. This reads:
"The comptroller's military service records show that P. W. Humphries served as a first Lieutenant in the Texas Navy (of the Republic of Texas) from May 23 to August 8, 1836. A joint resolution in the 7th legislature recognized P.W. Humphries as a commander in the late Navy of Texas at the date of the annexation of Texas to the United States."
"There was agrant of land of one league to Pelham Humphries, February 14, 1835, when Texas was a Mexican province. It is situated in what is now Jefferson County. This information in the General Land Office, Austin,Texas."
"There are several documents in the State Archives pertaining to a Pelham Humphries, a William Humphries, a P.W. Humphries, and Pelham Humphry, but none of these give any biographical information..."
Actually, there is considerable biographical material in the Archives on P. W. Humphries or Parry W. Humphries. He was born in Kentucky in 1811. He didn't come to Texas until 1836, after the revolution against Mexico, when he was made an officer on the Republic of Texas warship, Invincible. Later he was chief clerk of the Texas Navy, and he was living in Corpus Christi in 1874. He had such influential friends as former governor E. M. Pease and Phineas DeCordova when he applied for a military pension in 1874. He was NOT Pelham Humphries of the fabulous league of land.
"An old fellow from Orlando, Florida who came here for 20 years doing research on Pelham Humphries told me that he found in Tennessee that Pelham had been an Indian trader, apparently among the Cherokees, before he came to Texas," said Virginia Taylor, the Spanish translator for the General Land Office.
Virginia Taylor showed me Pelham Humphries' 1835 title, written in Spanish, to the league of land. Or was his name William Humphries? At the start of the Humphries petition someone has made a crude attempt to change "Pelham" into "William". In the Spanish language decree, field notes on the league, and ancient title of possession, the owner's name contiinues to be "Pelham Humphries" with no attempt to change "Pelham" to "William."
The translation of the Spanish league petition to the state of Coahuila and Texas reads: "Honorable Special Commissioner of the Enterprise of Citizen Lorenzo de Zavala (who soon was to be elected vice-president of the a-borning Republic of Texas): "I Pelham (William Inserted) Humphries, a native of the United States of the North, with due respect appear before you and say:"That, attracted by the generous terms of the colonization laws of the state, I have come with my family consisting of two persons, to establish myself in the aforesaid Enterprise of his Excellency, Lorenzo de Zavala, if you should see fit, in view of the certificate I send you herewith, to admit me as a colonist, being pleased to concede to me one league of land in the vacant tracts of said Enterprise; for which favor I shall be eternally grateful, San Augustine, September 27 of 1834.
It is as William Humphries that a character reference is attached in English, dated September 2, 1834, and signed by the alcalde of San Augustine, Benjamin Lindsey.
The petition for the land though is signed "Pelham Humphries," although not by the new owner who was apparently illiterate. He made his "senal de cruz" or "sign of the cross" or "mark" and someone else signed his name.
The next document in the Pelham Humphries file tries to establish that his real Christian name is William. This is a deposition made in San Augustine on October 6,1835. It reads: "Personally came and appeared before me, A. Hotchkiss, P. Judge of the Municipality of San Augustine, William Inglish, Saml. McFadden, Johnathan Anderson, and E. Rains, and after being sworn sayeth that they known Wm. Humphreys and that he obtained an order of survey from George A. Nixon when in San Augustine in which his name was inserted Pelham Humphreys in place of William which we believe to be the best of our knowledge."
Was this Samuel McFadden (who signed with his "mark") a relative of the William P. H. McFadden who bought the Pelham Humphries league a half century later? A 1967 member of the family, Caldwell McFadden of Beaumont, says no.
Along with this deposition made on October 6, 1835, at San Augustine is another which reads:
"I do hereby constitute and appoint William Inglish my agent to take a title out of the commissioners office in Nacogdoches and to alter from Pelham to William my true and proper name."
The George Nixon referred to was comissioner of Lorenzo de Zavala's land grants in 1835. He signs his name Jorge Ant. Nixon,comr. in Pelham Humphries' original Spanish title. In a Spanish language copy of the document his name is given as "Joseph Anto. Nixon." And on this copy there is a notation made by Jefferson County officials on December 26, 1860, that "Pelham" had been changed to "William" in the copy and also "on the original document."
The record on Pelham or William Humphries ends there in the General Land Office.
This was Posted in "The Dallas Morning News" SUNDAY SHOWCASE-March 5, 1967
Beaumont.. An appeal by Mrs. Coral B. Jones and hundreds of other alleged heirs of Pelham Humphries has been denied by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Judge Jack Brookshire of 58th District Court, Jefferson County, who ruled against the alleged heirs about two years ago, said he has received notification that the high court dismissed the appeal.
The Alleged heirs filed the suit several years ago inan effort to win title to the Pelham Humphries League of Land, which is in the heart of Spindletop oilfield here.
The plaintiffs claimed to be heirs of Pelham Humphries, who was granted the league of land by the government of Mexico in 1835. Oil was discovered on the property in 1901 and since then has become worth millions of dollars.
Defendants in the suit were members of the McFadden family of Beaumont and others who now hold title to the land, a number of major oil companieswho hold leases and numerous royalty holders.
Judge Brookshire granted a summary judgement in favor of the defendants on the ground that they have held exclusive, open and adverse possession of the property since 1884. He ruled that, under the statue of limitations, the plaintiffs should have made claim to the property within five to twenty- five years after that date. He held that their failure to do so left them with no legal claim to the land that is superior to that of the defendants.
The alleged heirs appealed Brookshire's ruling to the Texarkana Court of Civil Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court. Both appellate courts upheld Brookshire's ruling.
The plaintiffs then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court where the defendants filed a motion to dismiss.
Many similar suits by alleged heirs of Humphries and others have been filed but all have ended in failure
"The McFadden Family has owned this property since 1883 having purchased it in that year from the heirs of Humphries and others," said Caldwell McFadden. "It has been in the family ever since, fenced, constantly used, both for cattle and rice raising and all the taxes have been paid upon it. It has never been an abandoned league. There is absolutely no money, not one
red cent, piled up in any bank, and no one is looking for the heirs of Pelham Humphries except for a few professional operators who are trying to make money. All this can be established by undisputed evidence in the Jefferson County records."
Cadlwell McFadden showed me one tabulation of 970 plaintiffs, listed alphabetically, who have sued for a share of the Humphries League. When the information was known, these were also listed by states. Alabama led the list with 117, and Tennessee was a close second with 112. Only 48 were from Texas. Mr. Caldwell also has a newspaper clipping which said that in one state the alleged heirs to the Humphries League had formed themselves into a corporation.
"I can't work up much sympathy for the head of a steel company, not fromTexas, who put up $10,000 for one of the suits, which the plaintiffs lost as usual," said Caldwell McFadden. "But I do feel sorry for a woman who placed a $2,000 mortgage on her home to pay an instigator of one of the suits.
One suit listed 433 people, all residents of Tennessee, as plaintiffs. This one asked for damages of $500,000,000. No one made any money out of the suit except the Tennesseeans' lawyers.
The counsel for a major oil company wrote me: "By now, some 20 cases involving the title to this league of land as well as oil royalties have been successfully defended, and the number of plaintiffs in these suits in the thousands. No plaintiff has ever been successful in maintaining either heirship or title to any of this land as against the occupant, nor has any alleged grantee ever recovered even one dollar judgement or by compromise
or by settlement.
"Since scores of people have spent their life savings in traveling expenses, lawyer's fees, and court costs without success, you may want to warn your readers of what has happened to these numerous plaintiffs in these prior lawsuits."
* On Feb. 14, 1835, at Nacogdoches, Humphries was granted the future Spindletop land as a member of Lorenzo de Zavala's colony. As William Humphries he sold the property to one William English in 1836. Both Humphries and English who were probably kinsmen, were dead by 1853. Starting in 1880, there was some litigation, which resulted in two mistrials, over the league between Humphries and English heirs. In 1883, W.P.H.McFadden obtained deeds to the league from all the parties in the suits.