This Saturday the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas will play in a ball game the media calls The Red River Rivalry. The game rattles the nerves and boils the emotions of people in Oklahoma and Texas. What most don't realize is that there was a real Red River Rivalry that has lasted for 150 years. The Oklahoma and Texas border dispute which involves the Red River began with a navigating error by a soldier who would become a Civil War general, necessitated a U.S. President calling out federal troops to clear the disputed land of Texans, and ultimately would only be resolved by a decision of the United States Supreme Court.In 1803 Thomas Jefferson purchased land from Napoleon in a transaction that became known as The Louisana Purchase. The southern most portion of the land, including modern day Oklahoma, formed the United States border with Spain. The 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty with Spain established the Red River, the river that now forms the border between Texas and Oklahoma, as the southern boundary line between the U.S. and Spain. In addition, the 100th Meridian, north from the Red River to the Arkansas River (a river in the territory that would eventually become Kansas), was established as the western boundary of the United States. When Mexico became independent of Spain in 1821, the U.S. signed a treaty recognizing Mexico's boundaries as the same as the 1819 treaty. In 1837, Texas seceded from Mexico and proclaimed itself an independent nation. The following year the Republic of Texas concluded a treaty with the United States, and once again, the United States recognized the same boundaries.
Though the Red River and the 100th Meridian were considered the boundaries between the U.S. and Texas, nobody really explored the boundaries to set definitive markers until the summer of 1852. In that summer, two young U.S. soldiers stationed in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), Captain Randolph Marcy and Captain George B. McClellan, were sent by the government to explore the upper Red River to find its source and mark the 100th meridian. Captain McClellan, who himself would later (1861) become a general and be appointed by President Lincoln as general-in-chief of the Union Army, used astronomical observations to establish the 100th meridian. However, McClellan made a mistake in his navigation. He placed the meridian one degree east of its actual location. This made the meridian intersect the Red River at a point near the mouth of the North Fork of the Red River. McLellan and Marcy followed the North Fork of the Red River north, falsely believing the North Fork to be the Red River.
McClellan's mistake would not be discovered for five years, but by that time, Texans had already taken up residence in the area between the North Fork of the Red River and the real Red River (the light red colored land pictured in the map). On February 9, 1860, Texas called this land Greer County, named in honor of John A. Greer, the former lieutenant governor of Texas. The new county's boundaries were the area east of the 100th meridian and between the north and south forks of the Red River, Texas recognized the true 100th meridian as the eastern boundary of the Texas Panhandle but claimed the North Fork as the main branch of the Red River. Texas argued that General McClellan had claimed the North Fork was the main fork of the Red River back in 1852. Based on McClellan's error, Texas would claim sovereignty over Greer County for almost forty years.
In 1890 the United States sought to establish Oklahoma as a new Territory. A lawsuit was filed by the attorney general the United States to recognize Greer County as part of Oklahoma and not Texas. After hearing all the testimony and after examining all the documents, the Supreme Court held that the central issue was "what did the negotiators of the Treaty of 1819 believe the boundary to be at the time they were presenting the treaty for ratification by both national governments (Spain and the U.S.)." In the end, the Supreme Court ruled that the southern branch of the Red River was the main original border of 1819. As a result, the land between the North Fork River and the Red River belonged to the United States (and Oklahoma) and not Texas. In 1896 Greer County became part of Oklahoma Territory and in 1907 the new state of Oklahoma divided the 1.5 million acres into four counties: Beckham, Harmon, Greer and Jackson counties.
However, the border dispute between Texas and Oklahoma did not end. In 1918 wildcat oil men found oil in north Texas. Wells were drilled by Texans as close to the Red River as possible, peven actually drilling into the river. Oklahoma land owners asserted that oil was being pumped from the Oklahoma side into Texas pocketbooks. Oklahomans demanded royalty payments asserting that the middle of the Red River to the south bank was Oklahoma land. The State of Oklahoma filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court against the State of Texas. Eventually the courts decided that the entire Red River was in Oklahoma and the state of Texas only begins on the south bank. However, the bed of the Red River expands and contracts through the natural processes of erosion and accretion. The question eventually became "Where is the south bank of the Red River?" Determining the exact location of the south bank required a great deal of legal work and surveying. In 1991 the state legislatures of Oklahoma and Texas created Red River Boundary Commissions and charged them with establishing a fixed and permanent boundary. In the spring of 1999 the commissions decided "the vegetation line along the south bank of the Red River extending on a line from the 100th Meridian east to Lake Texoma as the northern border of Texas." The 1999 agreement required the Oklahoma/Texas border be marked with visible landmarks. Texas Gov. George W. Bush signed the resulting legislation into law on May 24, 1999 and Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating signed the agreement into law on June 4 of the same year. In Washington, D.C., Congress affirmed the agreement, which became federal law on August 31, 2000. 150 years of border dispute was finally resolved at the dawn of the 21st millenium.
The only remaining Red River battle will take place Saturday.