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Drawing a Line in the Sand

March 13, 2002

Historian's Notes

The boundary dispute between Texas and Oklahoma is interesting on several different levels. Socially, I think that it is fascinating to read of people whose state of residence changes minute by minute without them ever leaving their living rooms. You could be sitting in your recliner reading a newspaper and change from a Texan to an Oklahoman and back again without ever knowing it! On the geophysical level the dispute is interesting as well. One thinks of a river as being a fairly easy landmark to see and follow, yet that isn't always the case. During the ongoing Oklahoma - Texas border disputes, geologists for both sides were called in to determine if the "official" course of the river is where the water was currently flowing or if perhaps that was a temporary channel with the traditional permanent channel/border now lying elsewhere and if so, which channel should be used to determine the border. There are a lot of diverse elements to consider in this case, many of which lay slightly "below the surface" of the more obvious issues.

Resources

Chronicles of Oklahoma. Autumn 1966 volume.

Almanac Transcript

Drawing a line in the sand this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I’m Steven Knoche Kite.

The Red River serves many important purposes for the state of Oklahoma, most importantly the river separates us from Texas. For many years, however, exactly where along the river the separation from Texas occurred was a heated issue. Most parties involved agreed that the Red River was the border between Texas and Oklahoma but which part of the river was the real issue. Was the border on the north or south bank or right down the middle, and what happened to the border if the river shifted its course?

The river was first used as a border between Spain and the United States in 1819. At that time it wasn't even clear what Red River was being discussed as the river actually branches off into two separate streams at one point. Depending on whether you used the north or the south branch meant a difference of hundreds of square miles of land. In 1859 Texas attempted to annex a large portion of what is now southwestern Oklahoma by claiming that the northern branch constituted the boundary. A court case US vs. Texas ended apparently with no official verdict.

The first conflict between Texas and Oklahoma over the river boundary, and there were many, occurred in 1892 when Texas again tried to claim that it was the northern branch of the Red River that constituted the boundary. At the time of this first border conflict, the contested area was known as Greer County, Texas and contained numerous residents and a number of communities. A decision in the case of Texas vs. United States declared officially that it was the south bank of the south branch of the Red River that constituted the border of Texas and that Greer County, Texas was now Greer County, Oklahoma Territory. With the handing down of the decision, residents of the area were citizens of Texas one day and of Oklahoma the next.

The case of the mistaken border was settled until 1918 when Texas began arguing as to what specifically constituted the “bank” of the river. It was in this week, March 12th, of 1923 that yet another court case resulted in a decree stating that the official northern boundary of Texas lies along a series of stakes driven into the sand on the south bank of the south branch of the Red River. The matter still wasn't settled and actually goes on to this day. In 1996 a Texas/Oklahoma committee set out to better define the south bank border, and controversy still rages over how to establish a border through the middle of Lake Texahoma.

Borderline bafflers this week on the Almanac.

I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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