The story goes that there was a convention of landowners – mega farmers and big ranchers – up in Denver. There were four men sittin’ around in the bar there in the fancy resort, enjoying happy hour. Three of them were swappin’ stories about their farms and ranches and generally braggin’ about their land holdings. A fourth man, a Texan, was off to the side a bit. You knew he was from Texas because of the Lone Star hatband on his Stetson. He was not much involved in the conversation, just readin’ the paper and half-listenin’ to the others.
One of the talkers said, “I have about 8,122 acres of land along the Western Slopes of the Rockies here in Colorado. Have over 1,000 horses, I bet, if I could ever manage to count ‘em all. Probably the highest ranch in the Western U.S. – we call it El Cielo Ranch because it’s so close to Heaven.”
Next man said, “Sounds real nice. I have kind of the opposite. I own El Diablo Farms in Southern California’s Imperial Valley. Always hotter then the Devil down there. But we have over 9,500 irrigated acres. It is a desert, but just add water and watch the miracles happen. We grow produce faster than you can harvest it. Like a license to print money!” he said, laughing loudly.
Third guy said, “I don’t have nearly that much land. I have about 6,000 acres in the fertile Willamette Valley. Have the largest dairy operation in Oregon. Over 3,000 registered Holstein cows. Scottish Dairies it’s called. Supply milk to half of Portland. Only problem is the Willamette River runs right down the middle of my farms and makes navigating my own property difficult. It’s a beautiful problem to have, though.”
The Texan was still sittin’ quietly and then one of ‘em says, “Hey, Tex, how about you? How much land do you have?”
He said, “Well, down in Texas it’s considered unseemly to ask a man how much land he owns or how many head of cattle he runs. We talk about land in terms of sections, not acres, but, since you gentlemen revealed your cards, I guess I can oblige your curiosity. I suppose, all told,” he said, looking up at the ceiling, as though mentally counting, “I have 200 acres.”
The three men burst out laughing. The Californian said, “200 acres! What the hell you doin’ here at this gathering of big ranchers and farmers? What do you call your little ranchito, Tex?”
And the guys laughed some more.
“Well,” drawled the Texan, “I don’t have a name for it myself, but people all round Texas like to call it – Downtown Dallas.”
Things got mighty quiet. You could hear minds bein’ blown. You could hear jaws droppin’ – hittin’ the metaphorical floor.
The Texan drank the last bit of his Shiner Bock, got up and said, “Any you boys want to sell your land, let me know. I’ll dip into my petty cash account and buy you out.”
With that he tipped his Stetson politely and said, “Y’all have a nice evenin’, now.”
W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.