The agrarian body of law created by government legislators and jurists in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), sought to restore pueblos’ juridical standing by allowing communities to hold land collectively in the form of ejidos. Yet, state efforts to restructure property relations in the countryside often articulated with local alternative territorial projects that challenged the implementation of these redistributive legal measures. During the course of 50 years, cattle ranchers from the community of El Huanal in Nautla, Veracruz, defended private property, resisted land expropriation, and prevented the establishment of an ejido in the community. How did rancheros achieve this? How did they respond to the pressures of ‘peasant’ mobilisation? How did post-revolutionary legal discourse come to frame this struggle over land? What changes did this failed attempt to implement land reform trigger in the region? Looking closely at the conflicts, interactions, negotiations, and everyday practices that unfolded among a variety of actors around the interpretation and the applicability of ‘the law’, this article demonstrates how the agrarian reform, despite never having been implemented, altered both the material landscape and the social configuration of this community of coastal Veracruz.