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Bought and Sold

A search for an inherited plot of undeveloped land in New Mexico inspires this sprawling history of lies and broken promises involving railroads and ranchers, land grants and land grabs.

"When my father died on Christmas Day in 1989, he left his Deming Ranchettes to me in his will. Select Western Lands, Inc., a company that endures today primarily in the archived records of the lawsuits filed against it, had subdivided pristine New Mexican desert fifteen miles east of the city of Deming, population eight thousand at the time my parents bought their ranchettes, into a crazy quilt of eighty thousand half-acre lots. Infrastructure—paved roads, water, utilities—was nonexistent. I was the sudden new owner of two of those lots."