Friday, 01 June 2012 18:58

Manifest Destiny continues to have a negative impact on the Western States

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How Manifest Destiny continues to adversely affect the Western States

The following figures reflect the amounts in acreage and percentage of land owned by the federal government in the ten states with the most government land:

State                                         Acreage                                             Percentage

Alaska                                   171.8 million                                             47.0%

Nevada                                   56.1 million                                             79.3%

California                               44.8 million                                             44.7%

Utah                                       33.9 million                                              64.3%

Idaho                                      33.0 million                                              62.3%

Oregon                                   31.8 million                                             51.64%

Arizona                                   31.3 million                                             43.1%

Wyoming                               31.0 million                                              50.0%

New Mexico                          26.2 million                                             33.7%

Montana                                 25.5 million                                             27.3%

Washington                            12.0 million                                             28.0% 

The following figures reflect the amounts in acres and percentage of land owned by the federal government in the eleven states with the least government land:

State                                             Acreage                                             Percentage

Iowa                                         29.6 thousand                                             .08%

Delaware                                 1.9  Thousand                                             .15%

Connecticut                              6.9 thousand                                            .22%

Rhode Island                            3.1 thousand                                             .49%

New York                              196.6 Thousand                                            .64%

Kansas                                   349.7 thousand                                             .67%

Maine                                    193.2 thousand                                             .97%

Nebraska                              514.9 thousand                                            1.05%

Ohio                                      279.6 thousand                                            1.07%

Massachusetts                      52.1 thousand                                            1.04%

Texas                                        2.0 million                                                  1.2%

Is it any wonder that the Western States are so poor? Consider how much better off we would be if the government only controlled one percent of the land in these states. Severence Tax revenues? Property tax revenues? Other income syphoned off by the federal government which is unavailable to our states during the past 100 years?

Read 3359 times Last modified on Saturday, 02 June 2012 14:43
Mike Scarborough

I grew up in Española,leaving there in 1960,spent eight years in the air force, flying as a navigator. Moved to Santa Fe in 1968 when I left the service, graduated from the College of Santa Fe and UNM law school. Served on the Santa Fe city counsel from 1970 to 1974. practiced law for twenty-five years. The passed five years were spent researching and writing "Trespassers on Our Own Land" an oral history about Juan Valdez, a member of the 1960's Alianza and about the political history of land grants in Northern New Mexico which I published recently. The web site can be found at: And my blog can be found at: Thank everyone here at voces for allowing me to become a member of this great web site. Mike Scarborough

More in this category: A Different Time--A Different View »


  • Comment Link Mike Scarborough Tuesday, 19 June 2012 12:55 posted by Mike Scarborough

    No need for an apology, friend. Thank you for your contribution to the discussion. Now it's time for a cup of coffee, how about New York Deli at your convenience. GEmail me at if interested.


  • Comment Link Mike Scarborough Monday, 18 June 2012 22:26 posted by Mike Scarborough

    Well, Arthur, I believe it is time to “wrap” this discussion as we are still millions of acres apart in our opinions regarding the facts relating to the federal government having helped itself to land which rightly belonged to New Mexico Territory, Indian Tribes and Spanish and Mexican Land Grants between 1891 when the Court of Private Land Claims and Forest Reserve Act became law and 1912 when New Mexico was finally granted statehood.
    I will attempt to answer the questions set out in your last post.
    First, you ask: from which agency do I propose to withdraw from federal control and put under state control?
    I do not propose that New Mexico should “withdraw” any land. I propose the federal government “return” some of the land unlawfully taken. I propose, that land within the National Forests and the Bureau of Land Management be “returned” to the state and to the Tribes and heirs of the land grants from which it was unlawfully taken.
    My opinion that the land was “unlawfully” taken is not something that just popped into my head one day. The Indian Claims Commission (which was established by Congress in the mid 1940s) heard hundreds of Indian Tribal claims regarding land that the government had taken from them and the final result was that the United States paid out over $800,000,000 based on those claims.
    It would not have paid out money had the government not unlawfully taken treaty protected land from their Tribes. As a point you might find interesting, the commission found in two of the claims here in New Mexico that the government had taken the land without offering compensation for it. Those claims just happened to be based upon President Theodore Roosevelt’s proclamations used to establish the Jemez and Taos Forest Reserves. Remember Taos Blue Lake?
    The Commission’s ruling in the case involving the Jemez Forest Reserve found that the government had unlawfully taken land from the Pueblos of Jemez, Zia and Santa Ana. Unfortunately, the unlawful taking within the same Jemez Forest Reserve, of over 700,000 acres of Spanish and Mexican land grants, was not considered because Congress had limited the Claims Commission jurisdiction to Indian claims, denying the land grant heirs equal access to the Commission.
    I realize, as you say, that claims of Indian Tribes and land grant heirs have been “argued for centuries” and that they would “clog the courts for more centuries, be a boon to lawyers, and probably of no benefit to the heirs. It is as clear to me as it is to you that filing cases in court and requesting Congress to do the right think would get the States, Indian Tribes and heirs—nowhere.
    On the other hand, Presidents have been using their executive power for over 150 years to establish Indian Reservations and alter the size of others. This same process should be used to resolve the issues I present.
    You state further along in your post that, “if I recall correctly, this issue prompted a violent episode… by the itinerant Mexican preacher …. And, “I believe the presiding judge when this occurred was Judge Paul S. Scarborough.”
    I realize it is a small point, but since Mr. Tijerina was born in Texas might it be more accurate to refer to him as an “itinerant Mexican American preacher? If you read my book, Trespassers on Our Own Land, which took five years to research even though I grew up in Rio Arriba County, you will conclude that I am certainly not an apologist for Reies Lopes Tijerina, other than to suggest that had there been no Reies Lopez Tijerina we would not be having this discussion.
    As for Judge Scarborough, his name was James M. Scarborough. His name appears on my birth certificate as “father.”
    The discussion we’ve had has been entertaining and hopefully educational. But as all too often happens—it’s time to move on.
    Thank you for your contribution and have a good day!

    Mike Scarborough

  • Comment Link Arthur Scott Monday, 18 June 2012 19:56 posted by Arthur Scott

    You are right, time for a wrap. However, I do want to truly apologize for getting your dad's fist names incorrect. Rusty seventy-five year old brain cells. Just one point for any that are interested in land use concerning military bases. Not including AK, in 1995 there were 3,003,410 acres of land area used by the military east of the Mississippi and 12,337,420 west of the Mississippi. The discussion has been fun and eucational.Best of luck in your endeavors.

  • Comment Link Arthur Scott Thursday, 14 June 2012 20:20 posted by Arthur Scott

    Mike, this subject interests me and I believe deserves a few more comments. I will try to respectfully respond in the same order as you presented your comments:
    First, you stated, “However, if the federal government were to return a significant portion of the land it took in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s it would go a long way in helping resolve the economic woes the west is faced with year after year.” You also agree that most National Parks, wilderness area, and Forest Service lands should remain under federal control. Here is the most comprehensive break down by state of publicly owned land. I could find. I will only address NM.. Surprisingly the State of New Mexico ranks eighth of all states in percentage of state-owned land. These are 1995 numbers from the National Wilderness Institute (numbers are in thousands of acres except percentages and rankings):

    Federally owned 22,854
    Percentage of total land area 29.4
    Ranking 9
    State owned 8,700
    Percentage 11.2
    Ranking 8
    Federal ownership by agency:
    BLM 12,771
    USFS 9,327
    NPS 373
    NWR 384
    COE 34
    Military 2, 384
    Tribal 7,523

    From which agency do you propose to withdraw from federal control and put under state control? Based on your discussion of severance tax I assume you only want income-producing land such as oil, gas, minerals, and timber
    I don’t really understand your discussion on severance tax for schools. If, NM alone were to withdraw $350 million dollars from the current federal budget and other states with like amounts it would be a disaster the all of us which we would have to make up. I don’t understand the convoluted disposition of school funds based on school district area. Logically it should be distributed by school population. And, again I ask from which agency would you withdraw the lands from public use?
    You also advocate that “...a significant percentage of control should be “returned” to the Spanish and Mexican Land Grant heirs and Indian Tribes” This has been argued for centuries. It would clog the courts for more centuries, be a boon to lawyers, and probably of no benefit to the heirs. I would argue that Spain and subsequently Mexico had no rights to the land they granted and legitimately it should all be under Tribal control.
    If I recall correctly, this issue prompted a violent episode in which a deputy was shot in the raid on the TA courthouse by the itinerant Mexican preacher, Reyes Tijarina. If my old memory serves me well, I believe the presiding judge when this occurred was Judge Paul S. Scarborough. Are you any kin? I had the pleasure to be on several criminal-case juries under him and found him to be exceptionally considerate of his jurors. After one
    particular case, a group of us met in his chambers .and when the discussion was finished someone asked about the raid. He said he feared for his life and tried to hide in safety. Also that from that time on he always carried a pistol under his robes.
    Lastly, concerning military bases, there is no correlation between the numbers of troop population and the area occupied by the base. For example, Fort Bragg, NC, is the army’s largest base population wise, about 40,000 troops but it only occupies 19.0 sq mi, slightly smaller than DC. Whereas White Sands Missile Range, the army’s largest base by area covers 3,200 sq mi and has about 2500 troops and contractors on base. And adjacent Fort Bliss, TX occupies about 1700 sq mi and is home to only about 8591 on-post civilian and military according to the 2010 census.
    As a colleague of mine said, concerning just or unjust historical events, it is almost impossible to put toothpaste back in the tube. In most cases we can only learn from the mistakes of others of others and hopefully not repeat them.

  • Comment Link Mike Scarborough Tuesday, 12 June 2012 15:21 posted by Mike Scarborough

    Thank you for your comment, Arthur: I appreciate your participation and apologize for taking so long to respond. I certainly agree with your statement that the western states are poor for reasons other than, and in addition, to the fact that a large percentage of western land is owned/controlled by the federal government and that the lack of water restricts the expansion of agriculture and heavy industry.
    However, if the federal government were to return a significant portion of the land it took from the western territories and states in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s it would go a long way in helping resolve the economic woes the west is faced with year after year. For example, it the federal government would grant additional school sections to the states it would help considerably. New Mexico and Arizona were each granted four sections per township when they became states (compared to most of the other western states having received just two sections).
    By granting four additional school sections, if my understanding of the math is correct, it would (could) double the oil and gas school tax by approximately $350,000,000. Likewise it would (could) increase the severance tax by a like amount. This additional money could go along way it bettering our educational systems
    I agree wholeheartedly with your comment that most of the National Parks, wilderness areas and National Forests are within the western states and join you in the belief that it would be appropriate that a substantial portion of those lands remain under federal ownership. I would suggest however that a significant percentage of control should be “returned” to the Spanish and Mexican Land Grant heirs and Indian Tribes.
    As for your statement that “there are also probably a higher concentration of job and income producing military bases located in western states” I initially agreed with the statement--felt that it was probably accurate. After reviewing all of the military installations in the states I feel compelled to mention that further research suggests that the total personnel on military installations outside the west total 1,179,000 while the total in the western states is 492,000, almost a three to one differential.
    Anticipating the possibility that the total number of personnel associated with national laboratories might be skewed favorably to the west I also take a “moment” to review those figures. Other than stating that there are eight national laboratories in the west and nine in the other states I did not determine the total personnel involved.
    I do acknowledge though that the national laboratories located here in New Mexico add very significantly to our economy and that without them we would be in a far worse economic situation that we presently are.

  • Comment Link Arthur Scott Saturday, 09 June 2012 22:00 posted by Arthur Scott

    i have to disagree a bit with your premise that western states are poor because of the percentage of land owned by the Feds. I believe the southwestern states are poor because they lack a single resource--water. They cannot support extensive agriculture or heavy industry. I do agree that the Mexican War was President Polk's personal land grab, the largest land grab perpetuated by our nation, carried out by General Stephen Watts Kearney, and is a period of shame on our history. in the 1860's the largest private land owner in the nation was Lucien Maxwell with 1.7 million acres of NM and CO. And we must consider that the 1500's "land grab" of Spain from Peru to all of the current SW and SE US far exceeds the Mexican War. I also have to point out that the states with the highest percentage of Federal lands also contain the most National Parks Wilderness areas, National Forests,and there are also probably a higher concentration of job and income producing military bases located in western states. Although the way much of this land was obtained is shameful, I can't accept that these types of public lands are bad. I have to think that there is not much in Iowa as far as scenic or unique public interest is concerned. About two thirds of the state Maine is owned by private paper companies. Is this better?

  • Comment Link Mike Scarborough Wednesday, 06 June 2012 23:55 posted by Mike Scarborough

    The number of acreage taken from the three grants in Rio Arriba County should read 700,000 not 7000,000 acres.

  • Comment Link Mike Scarborough Wednesday, 06 June 2012 23:49 posted by Mike Scarborough

    I agree with all that you present Allan but for your suggestion that Theodore Roosevelt "began to quell the holocaust."
    during his term as president, he and Gifford Pinchot removed over 140,000,000 acres from western states, Spanish and Mexican Land Grants ant Tribal Reservations and proclaimed them as forest reserves. Once caught he returned land taken in Washington state declared it had been a clerical error and returned the land.
    There are a number of decisions of the Indian Claims Commission which found that he had taken millions of acres without paying for them. He was also involved in removing the acreage from the Taos Pueblo Grant some of which was the Blue Lake area returned to the Pueblo in the 1970's. He was responsible for taking in access of 7000,000 acres from three land grants in Rio Arriba County.
    I agree with you That he saved land from ravage, just not in the way he took it and his failure to compensate the states, reservations and land grants from which he took the land.

  • Comment Link Allan MacGillivray III Wednesday, 06 June 2012 20:32 posted by Allan MacGillivray III

    Manifest Destiny can best be described as Naked U.S. Imperialism. After the fabricated Mexican War the US annexed half of Mexico and during the gold rush. Americans wiped out indigenous peoples and animals, deforested the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas and washing our mountains away with hydraulic mining in search of gold.Luckily during Theodore Roosevelts presidency conservation began to quell the holocaust.

  • Comment Link Mike Scarborough Tuesday, 05 June 2012 17:07 posted by Mike Scarborough

    Thank you Jim.
    After I had completed the research and published trespassers I finally found time to research other subjects that had come to mind while finishing the book.
    The information I found convinced me that not only had the grantees and heirs of the Spanish and Mexican land grants been terribly maltreated by Manifest Destiny, but that our state had been terribly treated when it came to the federal government greed in removing millions of acres from state ownership.
    Although Arizona and New Mexico received four school sections from every township the federal government owned when they became states, the government retained then remaining thirty- two sections.
    It was the equivalent to a thief stealing thirty-six dollars then returning four and treating the theft as though the theft never occurred.
    I hope from time to time to post additional evidence of the very adverse affect Manifest Destiny has had and continues to have on our great state.
    Another area of research I hope to share is a brief history of our State School Board's limitation on allowing our high school students to study New Mexico history. Unfortunately, Arizona's book banning is not much worse that the limitation placed on the teaching of pre- statehood history to grades 9 thru 12 over the past several decades here in NM.

    Mike Scarborough

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