Padre Island is an incredible slice of Texas history. The world’s longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island, it has ties to Karankawa people, Spanish shipwrecks, atomic bomb testing. Today, it might be inconceivable that one family could own Padre Island, but this was the case. In 1759, King Charles III of Spain gave the 209 square mile island to Nicolas Ballí. The land passed down through the Ballí family, then in the early 1900s, a transactional promise was made which was never completed.
The ancestors of Connie Gonzales were the Ballí family who owned Padre Island. Her grandmother used to tell her stories about visiting the land, as well as having to sell the land. The story was told like this: a man convinced some of the Ballí heirs in 1938 to sell their land to him in exchange for payment as well as retention of the land’s mineral royalty rights. Eleven deeds were signed by Ballí’s heirs, and although monies were received as payment, it’s said that no one ever received the promised royalties. This claim of injustice is not unique to United States history; the Ballí family’s persistence for what is deserved has been an inspiration for others who suffered similar fates.
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Connie began researching the history of Padre Island’s ownership in 1978, finally discovering in 1985 the original 11 deeds in the Kleberg County courthouse, which vindicated her grandmother’s stories. In 1938, Gilbert Kerlin, a Harvard-educated lawyer, had traveled from New York to Texas, on behalf of his uncle, to purchase roughly 22,000 acres of Padre Island. The deeds outline an agreement that the sellers would maintain the land mineral rights. The case went to trial in 2000 and argued for the mineral right royalties as promised in the deeds. A jury ruled in favor of the Ballí family after only nine weeks, but it was only after Kerlin’s 2004 death the estate settled and eventually, a settlement of $10 million was reached.