Peterson: Texas-sized risk to acquire ‘free’ land

Of course, when I see an ad for “20 acres of Texas Land FREE,” I’m going to check it out.

What the heck? What’s the hook?

You have to buy 40 to get 60 at 0 percent down and $168 a month. There’s an outline of Texas, filled with the print “own a piece of Texas.” I feel as though I should add an exclamation point.

I’ve been to Texas once, and that was about 40 years ago when the Spanish Club at Central Lee High School made a weeklong trip to Mexico, one of the traveling highlights of my life. I distinctly remember landing in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, where we transferred to a flight to Mexico City.

But it is my belief that laying over in an airport does not count as actually being in the city, unless you catch a cab to visit a landmark. The hard truth is, I’ve never really been to Texas.
And one airport looks like another, kind of like if you were kidnapped, a bag put over your head, and driven for some hours, only to be released in the office supplies section of Walmart, left to wander the store for an hour or two. You could be anywhere in America, and you wouldn’t know where.

But these 20 acres of free Texas land are advertised regularly in the classified section of this newspaper, and I couldn’t help myself when I saw it for the first time. I had to call for more information. Instead of a Texan, I got a recording to leave my name and address and a packet of information would be sent to me.

That’s key, getting an information package in the mail. I enjoy getting mail, especially if it is from practically a foreign country, which Texas would like to be. And within a week, the 9-inch-by-12-inch envelope arrived. Eleven wild horses – mustangs? – were pictured in full color on the front of the white envelope – running across brush with high hills in the background – under the stamped words “TEXAS LAND.” The Miami return address was kind of disappointing.

The envelope contained two color brochures about the land, and a contract to buy 40 acres plus 20 free for $22,900, or about $380 an acre, with payments of $168 a month stretched over 17 years. See the land first? No need. This was the stark Texas highlands west and south of El Paso by about an hour, in the Sierra Blanca-Van Horn-Dell City triangle, tucked between Mexico and New Mexico.

Before seeing the ad, I had no intention of ever moving to Texas. Too hot. Too expansive. Too many guns. Too much death penalty. Too independent. Too many Bushes. But I haven’t stopped thinking about Sunset Ranches, which used to be a cattle ranch. It is 12 miles from Interstate 10, which follows the Rio Grande and the U.S.-Mexico border, and 10 miles off “paved” Highway 111, about 10 minutes from Sierra Blanca, population 533 and falling.

The land consists of gently rolling hills with mesquite trees, some mountains and many colorful plants and native flowers, according to the brochure. According to the pictures and online video, it pretty much looks like a desert.

Little things such as water and electricity are important. “You have water rights,” the brochure says. Which means you can drill a well, but water also can be trucked to you, which diminishes the idea of well water being tapped. I can’t imagine having my own water tower. And electricity isn’t actually available, unless you have a propane gas-powered generator. Or solar and wind power.

Luckily, you can call 911 “if you’re under attack,’’ which was a video remark that is somewhat disconcerting. Attack from what? Aliens? It’s not that far from Roswell, N.M. Drug smugglers? Wild beasts? Varmints?

And “you have to wear boots.” Rattlesnakes, of course, and I well remember the episode of “Bonanza” in which Little Joe got bit by a rattler and temporarily lost his vision but not his life. “Buyer will tour the property at his own risk,” the brochure says. Are we talking more than rattlers?

The sun shines 300 days a year, a hundred more than here. The average temperature in July is about 95, 10 degrees hotter than here. And the altitude is about 4,500 feet, compared with 971 feet in Woodstock, or about three-quarters of a mile higher than Woodstock. Ground level is two and a half times higher than the Willis Tower. Dizzying. The population of Hudspeth County is 3,423, compared with 309,000 in McHenry County.

Twenty FREE acres? That’s hard to turn down sight unseen, pardner. It’s those details like water, electricity and attack that kind of take the edge off the natural inclination in me to stake a claim.

I’ll wait for the ad for 20 FREE acres in the Northwoods.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He may be contacted at

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