Milam Co.’s Paper Chase
Oxford City founded in 1870s by land swindlers
by Jeanne Williams
Temple Daily Telegram - September 27, 2010
MILANO — The Texas Land and Colonization Company lured inner-city laborers with offers
of $1 lots in the idyllic setting of a fledgling railroad town called Oxford City in
When the dust settled, Oxford City emerged as one of the most famous land swindles of
1876-77, and those who bought lots wound up with worthless property titles, empty
promises, broken dreams and a loss of money.
The Texas Land and Colonization Company bilked 7,000 to 8,000 northern residents until
newspapers dogged the perpetrators and published incriminating stories, fueling angry
victims to launch inquiries. Dealings of the land company led to investigations by the
Texas Legislature and Texas Attorney General.
The Oxford City scandal left in its wake a publicly embarrassed Milam County clerk, J.C.
Rogers, who apparently worked with the swindlers for a share of the proceeds.
Basil McGregor’s 1965 book “Milano, Texas: A History” places Oxford City in the area now
known as Seven Cedars Park, a one-acre Texas Department of Transportation roadside rest
stop east of Milano on U.S. Highway 79 built on land deeded March 24, 1955, by Texas
multimillionaire H.H. Coffield of Rockdale.
Oxford City, curiously, was given a measure of undeserved credibility by The Milano
Gazette, listing Oxford marriages and deaths in the 1920s. Oxford “at one time was laid
out in town blocks and lots” near the railroad tracks, McGregor’s history stated.
Lots were sold “to northern people who came down later trying to locate their property
and were surprised that they had nothing.”
Oxford City had one resident, and he might have been a shill planted by the company.
Iowa emigrant William Barnhouse wrote The Galveston Daily News praising the company for
founding a town site near a railroad on idyllic rural land furnished in oak, hickory and
wildflowers and watered by Pin Oak Creek, and defending the executives as honest people.
Barnhouse settled in Oxford, built a house, and was appointed postmaster on Jan. 24,
1877, but the post office was discontinued less than a month later. Barnhouse soon moved
away, McGregor’s history states.
The Milam County township was not the only phony city promoted to would-be Texans in
northern states. Lots in the fake Texas towns of Mineral City in Grayson County and
Empire City in Brown County were advertised. The swindle reached international
proportions with The Galveston Daily News reporting Nov. 11, 1877, that in England,
promoters were offering free lots in Oxford City, Texas.
“Colonists Beware” was The Philadelphia Times’ 1877 headline of a lengthy article
exposing the Texas Land and Co lonization Co. for fraud, perpetuated from offices at 156
W. Fourth St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, and branches in St. Louis, Chicago and smaller
Swindlers lured city dwellers with the promise of 25-by-100 foot lots in Oxford City for
the “remarkably small sum of $1 each” with a tax-clear warranty deed to Jan. 1, 1878,
and a “grand free excursion” train ride to Oxford City for all deed holders.
The dollar fee was “merely for the purpose of paying the cost of drawing and
acknowledging the deed,” The Philadelphia Times reported. Land representatives kept
postponing the train trip, and buyers became suspicious and vocal.
One land promoter was Cincinnati shoemaker M.O. Keefe, who promised mechanics and
laborers crowded in a small room above a saloon at 11th and Master streets, and at
curbside meetings that lots would be sold to a man, his wife and children.
Swindlers produced a Texas map pinpointing Oxford, but “some people did not hesitate to
say that the name had been stamped upon the map after it has been printed,” newspapers
charged. One reporter stated that “the nearest semblance to the town of Oxford that has
yet to be discovered is a house in Milam County on which a board is nailed bearing the
A spur from the nearby International and Great Northern Railroad connecting to Oxford
City was promised but never materialized.
The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported June 7, 1877, that a former partner interviewed by
the newspaper detailed the scam and incriminated Rogers for pocketing a 25 percent share
of the profits for each deed filed — from sales exceeding $500 a week.
Rogers, a former sheriff and judge, published an “explanation” in The Rockdale Messenger
stating he worked with the company as allowed by law not knowing dealings were
fraudulent. When Rogers learned land was not being developed as promised he severed
dealings with the group. The scandal did not tarnish Rogers’ reputation because Milam
County voters re-elected him county clerk in 1878.