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Texas - Oklahoma Finally Draw the Line

Dateline: 07/31/00

The border between Texas and Oklahoma meanders peacefully along 540 miles of twists and bends of the storied Red River. Peacefully, that is, except for an area within Lake Texoma, about 60 miles north of Dallas, that has been in hot dispute between the two states for almost 200 years.

This riverbank ruckus that once motivated an Oklahoma governor to approach the Red River in an Army tank may soon be settled for good by the U.S. Congress.

For years, both states have agreed that the border would run along the south bank (Texas side) of the Red River. But, the exact location of the river's south bank within Lake Texoma has never been determined.

The lack of a clearly defined border through the lake has resulted in years of disputes over property taxes, water and mineral rights, court jurisdictions, and hunting and fishing licenses.

Many a Texoma duck hunter, for example, has been fined for hunting on the poorly defined "wrong side" of the lake.

The original Texas-Oklahoma border was based on an 1821 treaty between Spain and the United State which was upheld in 1896 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1923 (Okalahoma v. Texas), the Supreme Court attempted to settle the dispute by ruling that the boundary between Oklahoma and Texas be identified by wooden stakes set on the river bank. But, any surveyor will tell you that wooden stakes are easy to move and don't last very long at all -- especially along a river.

Earlier this July, both Texas and Oklahoma Legislatures agreed to a "Red River Boundary Compact," which sets the boundary between the States of Texas and Oklahoma as the vegetation line on the south bank of the Red River. Supporters of the Compact and leaders of both states agree that the resulting boundary is easy to identify and can be changed if and when the vegetation line erodes.

Also agreeing to the Compact were tribal leaders of the neighboring Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Tribes, the Chickasaw Nation, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

However, state border disputes like this are not over until the U.S. Congress sings. Article 1, Section 10 (Clause 3) of the U.S. Constitution requires that when two or more states wish to enter into any agreement that agreement is subject to the consent of the Congress.

Thus, H.J.RES. 72, "Granting the consent of the Congress to the Red River Boundary Compact," passed the U.S. House last Friday (7/28/00) on a voice vote and will almost certainly be approved by the Senate.

While not a single gunshot is known to have been fired, the long-festering disagreement has seen it's touchy moments. In 1919, Texas Rangers drove an Oklahoma oil well testing crew from the disputed banks of the Red River. The crew said it was in Oklahoma, the Rangers said they were in Texas, and the governors agreed to disagree.

Speaking in support of the Resolution agreeing to the Red River Boundary Compact, Independent Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont told the House, "'The U.S. Supreme Court has tried twice to settle this dispute, which at one point brought the governor of Oklahoma to the border in a tank. However, true to the slogan 'One Riot, One Ranger,' the good governor of Oklahoma and his tank was held off by a lone Texas Ranger on his horse.'"

Reference Links

Lake Texoma 
Online visitor's guide to this popular recreational lake "shared" by Texas and Oklahoma. (Maps of Lake Texoma)

Texas State Web Site
Gateway to the government services of the State of Texas.

Oklahoma State Web Site
Gateway to the government services of the State of Oklahoma.

Texas Rangers: One Riot, one Ranger
Texas Travel Guide Ronnie S. Hilliard traces the history of one of the oldest and most successful law enforcement agencies in America. Even today, Texas crooks fear Texas Rangers above all.

Rivers: From Source to Sea
Learn all about rivers and how they interact with the land around them with About Geography Guide Matt Rosenberg.

U.S. Maps and Atlases
About Guide to Geography Matt Rosenberg has compiled this truly impressive list of online/interactive maps of America.

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