Oddly shaped: Why is La Salle County’s southern border askew?

KSAT viewer wanted to know, so we set out to find answer

LA SALLE COUNTY, Texas – When doing research on South Texas’ small towns, there is no shortage of fascinating finds.

It was in the midst of that research that a viewer, Ken Hummel, emailed to ask why La Salle County’s border seemed a bit off.

I had never noticed the oddity, but sure enough, the southern border of the county is not parallel to its northern companion. Several of the surrounding counties are perfect rectangles, so it begged the question: why? To answer this question, we would need to do some investigating.

At first blush, we thought perhaps it had to do with the town of Encinal. Maybe the line just south to keep the town of Encinal from spilling over into Webb County. But if that were true, it is lost on the residents of Encinal. No one there seemed to know why.

Encinal is located in far southwest La Salle County
Encinal is located in far southwest La Salle County (Copyright 2020 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

Perhaps a better place to look was the Texas General Land Office in Austin.

“We have 35 million documents," said James Harkins, GLO director of Public Services for Archives and Records.

The archive is full of documents and valuable maps. In fact, you can find Stephen F. Austin’s original 1837 map of Texas housed here. So, if anyone was going to know the answer to the question of La Salle County’s border, it would be these guys. Harkins had to some serious digging to do for this one.

“Within our files, we’ll see all sorts of errors, mistakes that happen," Harkins said.

A few lines within a historical record seemed to point towards a mistake as the reason the county line is angled. But this mistake was a little more dramatic than most.

“Usually we don’t find too many that are this, maybe this big of an error," Harkins said.

As the story goes, the drawing of the county line in the 1850s required two surveyors. One surveyor, G.H. Mills, of La Salle County, was there as was planned, but a Webb County surveyor did not show up. So, Mills had to navigate the rugged brush land alone.

“Back then, the land was surveyed by pulling metal chains, as opposed to GPS," Harkins said.

All alone with snakes, mesquite, and rocky terrain, it’s not surprising that one wrong calculation sent the surveyor on a mistaken angled line.

“You have to make sure the math adds up," Harkins said.

But who has not been tripped up by some algebra in their life?

That one minor mistake is still evident today; an equation that makes La Salle County unique.

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