Las Pampas Ranch

One of the main factors that caused the 1910 Mexican Revolution was agricultural workers not being able to own the land they worked on. Mexico had far too many large, individual land holdings making the everyday farmer struggle to gain rights to their own land. After the revolution, the Mexican people were guaranteed land to work on through agrarian reforms including limits on the amount of land any one person could own, especially foreigners. With this background, it is particularly alarming that numerous claims have been made regarding Former United States President, Lyndon B. Johnson operating a ranch of 108,724 acres deep in the Mexican state of Chihuahua in the years following his presidency.

Local farmers filed the original complaint with the Mexican government in 1972 claiming that Johnson had an illegal land holding. The government looked into the issue, but concluded there was no issue since Johnson was not on record for owning any land within the country of Mexico. The names on file for the land holdings are Antonio Díaz Ballesteros, Manuel Barber, Salvador Lara Huerta, and a Mr. Torge. This, however, was not surprising because it was common for big ranchers in Mexico to put their land ownings in different trusted ranch hand’s names in order to circumvent the limits on the acreage of land that could legally be owned by a single individual. Many sources ranging from personal accounts from farmers on the ground, newspaper articles from neighboring towns, the United States National Park Service, as well as personal records from President Johnson have all shown indisputable evidence that Johnson was involved in Las Pampas Ranch. [1] This now begs the first question, how was this possible for Johnson and second, why would he even consider such a thing?

President Johnson had a unique friendship with former Mexican President Miguel Alemán and while they were never president at the same time, the two politicians found great company with each other. Johnson would annually spend every February with Alemán at his vacation house in southern Mexico and Alemán is recorded visiting Johnson’s own Ranch in Texas a number of times. Additionally U.S. sources have never shied away from the idea that Johnson had some sort of tie to Las Pampas Ranch, but they are always quick to say it was under the ownership of Alemán. This, however, is untrue because even though Alemán has been recorded visiting Las Pampas a number of times, his name is nowhere on any of the legal ownership documents. [2]

Regardless of who had official ownership of Las Pampas Ranch, there are substantial and undeniable sources that place Johnson as the person who had the utmost control over the happenings at the Ranch. Jewell Scott, Johnson’s close personal friend as well as secretary, post presidency, was interviewed in 1990 about many aspects of Johnson’s life after the White House and she substantiated the claims regarding Johnson’s involvement with Las Pampas Ranch. In her interview with the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, Scott discusses the Johnson’s effort that was put into Las Pampas ranch. There were thousands of cows on the land as well as a house that Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, decorated. Scott also speaks of the revenue the ranch brought in as well as the personal connection Johnson had to the ranch hands at Las Pampas. Scott’s interview justifies the first hand accounts and claims from the local Chihuahua residents about Johnson’s involvement with Las Pampas. [3]

Now we must address the question of why Johnson would even consider having such a large ranch in rural Mexico. First, Johnson has always been a ranch man, he was born on family ranch land and he died on family ranch land. Johnson spent so much time on his Texas ranch while president that it was renamed the Texas White House. However, local newspapers from towns near Las Pampas Ranch discuss the social impact that Johnson had on the people living near the ranch. Johnson was very passionate about helping the people near the Ranch. He provided them with clothing essentials and would ask his friends in Texas to donate used clothes for the people of Chihuahua as well. Additionally, what the people interviewed seem to place the greatest emphasis on was the interest Johnson had with spreading contraception to the people of the area. He was concerned with the lives of the children that were living there and wanted to help the people break out of the cycle of poverty and he believed contraception was the way to do it. With this emphasis on helping the people, it can be argued that Johnson was trying to make an impact on the people of Las Pampas in a way that he was not able to in the United States. [4]

The ruralness of Las Pampas Ranch allowed Johnson to be in his own domain and not have to report back to anyone like he had to in his United States presidency. Additionally, the way in which he was able to lay claim to the land, informally through multiple people, allowed him a sense of anonymity, almost like a blank slate. While the legality of Las Pampas Ranch still resides in a grey area, it is clear that Johnson’s unofficial ranch simply fulfilled his personal and emotional ties to Mexico.