Oklahoma Texas: Battle at the Red River – How BLM Gives and Takes Away

I do not have background on this story (Oklahoma’s side) but want you to see this video that opens up questions of how state borders, not interiors, are settled — or not, by the BLM. The video is dated April 9, 2014 (striking while the iron’s hot). Three Texas towns are mentioned for reference, Vernon, Nocona and Bonham. Loosely, Vernon sits at the southwest edge of the border between the two states, with Nocono and Bonham down river to the east, respectively. I do not think Vernon and Nocono borders are shown in the photo below. The narrator is Ed Wolff of the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB). Transcript and video below.

Red River looking east, north of Bonham, Texas: Texas is to the right, Oklahoma is on the left, and the border between the two states runs along the south (right) bank of the river.

Red River looking east, north of Bonham, Texas: Texas is to the right, Oklahoma is on the left, and the border between the two states runs along the south (right) bank of the river.

NARRATOR: Most people think the border between Texas and Oklahoma is the Red River; unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that, especially along the river where Tommy Henderson’s family ranch.

Tommy lost a lawsuit 30 years ago that moved part of the northern Texas border over a mile to the south. The Bureau of Land Management took 140 acres of his property and didn’t pay him one cent. Now they want to use his case as precedent to seize land along a 116 mile stretch of the river.

TOMMY HENDERSON, CLAY COUNTY RANCHER: They’re wanting to take the boundaries that the courts placed here and extend those east and west to the forks of the river north of Vernon and east down to the 98th meridian which is about 20 miles east of us.

NARRATOR: BLM, which oversees public land in the United States, claims this land never belonged to Texas. The Texas landowners who have lived and cared for this land for hundreds of years beg to differ. But BLM plans to take the land anyway. Property owners will be forced to spend money on lawsuits to keep what is theirs. For many, the property has been in their family for generations.

HENDERSON: How can BLM come in and say ‘hey, this isn’t yours even though it was patented from the state, you’ve always paid taxes on it. Our family has paid taxes on it for over 100 years on this place. We’ve got a deed to it, yet they walked in and said it wasn’t ours.

NARRATOR: Ever since the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, there has been controversy over where Oklahoma ends and Texas begins. In layman’s terms, the boundary is the vegetation line on the south side of the Red River. Over time, the river moves. This movement north towards Oklahoma is the sticking point. The sandy soils erode in a process called accretion, which wipes-out the bank, so the property line follows the river, but BLM claims that the river moved by another process called avulsion. With avulsion, the land may be changed by flood or currents, but the property line isn’t. BLM claims when the river moved back north, the property line stayed put.

It doesn’t help that Oklahoma defines avulsion differently than Texas and the U.S.

HENDERSON: Originally here, the river was out there where it is now and it eroded and accreted up to here, and then it eroded and accreted back. Well, their interpretation is that it eroded up to here, but avulted back.

So when you listen to them, it’s always erosion to the south, cause the property line follows it then, but it’s always avulsion when it goes north, so the boundary can move south, but it can never move back north.

NARRATOR: About 90,000 acres could be seized by BLM, disappearing across a new state line. If they are allowed to take the land, it could also affect farmers and ranchers down river, like Scott Carpenter, who ranches north of Nocona.

BLM couldn’t take his land but there would be nothing to stop his neighbor across the river from claiming some of Scott’s property belonged to him. That’s just one of the reasons Scott wants to help.

SCOTT CARPENTER, MONTAGUE COUNTY RANCHER: We have numerous places that’s been in our family for over a hundred years, and you hate to see that land, that people have worked hard for, you would lose. We’re producers. We’re always on the defense. We have to make decisions to help ourselves and help one another.

NARRATOR: Both ranchers have been in contact with U.S. Congressman Mac  [R-TX-13th] who has been working to stop the land grab.

Tommy’s land probably won’t be affected this time, and he’s hoping that what happened to him won’t happen to his fellow landowners.

Texas Farm Bureau (TFB News Ed Wolff)

End video.

My only observation: how is it that a border is based on a river’s water edge, rather than a specific coordinate on a map?

Oklahoma Texas Border Battle at The Red River – Bureau Of Land Management (video)
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Linked at BadBluesmart news, uncensored 24/7. Read it here.

  • Jack Shaw

    I have lived in OK 20 years and always heard the river was the boundry, interesting information.

    • Jack Shaw, I guess the river is still the boundry, but it all depends on where the river is. That’s not workable.

  • Rebecca

    Unreal. New rules for property ownership….You can own it in one state, but not the other….

  • GoneWithTheWind

    There are literally thusands of cases every year about contested property lines and a handful of cases where states are arguing over a border. This has been gong on since 1776 and before. Sometimes when a river changes the new land given up is the property of the landowner on that side of the river and the landowner on the other side is just out of luck. The real test is how the court decides, not so much what they decide because obviously someone wins and someone loses and each side is convinced they are right. But if the court follows law and precedent and there is no back room tricks then that is the officla legal result. Sometimes these cases go in favor of the BLM or the big private landowner and sometimes not. That anyone, rich or poor, government or private decides to take it to court does not make it a conspiracy or trying to steal land. Each case is different and each case is decided by different courts and in different states so it’s not suprising that inconsistencies occur. I do not know or necessarily believe that the government is trying to steal anyone’s land but I do believe they aggressively proceed on these cases because any precedent that goes against them could affect thousands of other cases. As a law abiding citizen of this country I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    • Rebecca

      I don’t know why the BLM is managing this particular piece of property, but if they had jurisdiction on both sides, it would seem they wouldn’t care who owned it-it would be them. A property dispute is between two people/entities. BLM is one, the rancher the other. Not TX verses OK. Has to do with fees and grazing rights.

  • Rebecca and GoneWithTheWind, the courts decided in the early case the Oklahoma won. I live in Tulsa. When a border “moves” and depends on the sway of the river, there’s no way a landowner, or land leaser can work the land in a stable manner. There should be a way to do this. Pick the middle of the Red River, give it a GPS point and call it a day. That’s my opinion. This is 2014.

    Now the other issue comes with water rights and Oklahoma just won a big one over Texas at SCOTUS last summer.