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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 16, No. 1
March, 1938

Emma Estill Harbour


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The purpose of this history is to give to the reader an adequate knowledge of the history of the Red River Country, as well as the relationship of this history to the great Southwest and to the United States; also to trace the growth and history from the Louisiana Purchase, in 1803, to the present day, with a background of Spanish and French explorations and settlements.

The historical significance and development of the Red River Country cannot be overestimated. From the explorations of Coronado in 1541, through the Oklahoma-Texas boundary question in 1921, the country has been the subject of international as well as national controversy. Into the Red River Valley, after the Louisiana Purchase, came the pioneer farmer, the adventurer, the trader, and the army. These people deserve the credit for the advancement of the Red River Country. The geographical conditions were excellent. The soil was very fertile, the natural resources were abundant, and a new agricultural era sprang up. Many new problems arose. The Five Civilized Tribes were moved to the West. The wild Indians objected, for it was their homes that were taken from them. This brought on wars, which afterwards moved the government to attempt to create a friendly feeling among the tribes.

The Red River was the highway of travel into the West. Because of the diplomacy of John Quincy Adams, the Treaty of 1819 between the United States and Spain made the south bank of the Red River the boundary line. As one of the eleven largest rivers in the United States, the Red River has always been considered of utmost value to the country. It was the great highway for

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travelers northwest and southeast. The Spanish settlers realized the importance of the location of the Red River. The French of Louisiana considered it their highway to the northwest and a way to the Indian and Spanish settlements, where they sold and traded their goods. The immigrant considered it an avenue to enter the West where he might acquire a home and build up a new country. To the frontiersman the river was an outlet for his goods as well as an inlet for the entry of his friends. During the Civil War the river was a carrier between the trans-Mississippi states and the East for the Federal Government.


The Red River is located in the southwestern part of the United States, flows in a southeastern direction, and enters the Mississippi at Red River landing in Louisiana.

Early reports differed on the length of the Red River. These estimates varied from one thousand to two thousand miles. For a conservative estimate, we may accept General Jadwin's report of 1926, "that the Red River has a drainage area of some 72,000 square miles, about 41,500 square miles of which lie west of Arkansas." There are about eighteen thousand square miles in the basin of the Ouachita system, a tributary of the Red River. Other tributaries of the Red River are the Black, Pease, Blue, Little River, North Fork of Red River, Sulphur, and the Kiamichi.

The Red River Valley is really divided into two parts; the upper being that part of the valley beyond Fulton, Arkansas; and the lower, that portion of the valley from Fulton to the mouth. The valley is in what is known as the interior coastal plain region. In some parts of the valley the rainfall is abundant, whereas in western Oklahoma and Texas the rainfall is very slight. For that reason the western region is devoted to grazing. In the valley are many large areas easily cultivated and there are also sandy regions covered with forests, which often yield valuable lumber. Because of the warm, moist climate of Louisiana the forests there are different from those of Oklahoma and Arkansas. There is a notice-

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able change in crops and occupations along the Red River from Arkansas westward through Oklahoma and Texas.

The mountains of the Red River Country, which are not very high, are found mostly in Oklahoma. They are the Ouachitas, the Arbuckles, and the Wichitas. The alluvial bottom lands along Red River are several miles in width and have a soil so fertile that cotton grows too rank to yield the best fiber. The soil of the Red River bottoms is the richest in Louisiana and the paradise of cotton planters. From seventy to eighty-five per cent of the valley in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma is in farms.

The Staked Plains, having an altitude of 4,000 feet, is a high level district lying west of the Central Basin. Red River crosses its northern part. After the Civil War the cattle business was the main industry, until the discovery of oil brought this part of Texas into prominence. However, the native grasses are well suited for grazing, and cattle-raising is an important industry of the Red River region.

The historical background of the Red River Country is very colorful because of the explorations of both the Spanish and French and the influence that both countries left on the southwest region.

The Spaniards were the first white people to enter the Red River Country. Upon the two expeditions of Coronado and De Soto, 1540-1543, Spain, in part, based her claim to the Red River Country. When Nunez Cabeza de Vaca made his appearance in Mexico in 1536, with definite news of a hitherto unknown North, he created a strong desire to explore that region; but nothing of importance was accomplished until 1539. In that year Fray Marcos, of Nice, with Estevan, the negro companion of Cabeza de Vaca, penetrated into southern Arizona and returned with glowing accounts of what he had seen. In 1540, Viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza sent Francisco Vasquez de Coronado with an army of thirteen hundred Spaniards and Indians to explore the North. Coronado went up the west coast of Mexico to the present state of Arizona. He was disappointed in the country and sent expeditions to the west and east. The western expedition under Cardenas

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discovered the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, while the other brought back reports of the Rio Grande and Gran Quivira. Coronado camped at Tiguex, and in April, 1541, set out to explore and search for Cibola, guided by a friendly Indian, the "Turk." After they had traveled two hundred and fifty leagues from Tiguex without finding the rich cities, Coronado realized that they had been deceived by the "Turk." Without doubt Coronado saw the Red River in his journey across Texas and Oklahoma. His return journey took him southwest to New Mexico; hence, he passed north and west of the stream.

The eastern portion of the Red River Valley fell within the region of De Soto's expedition. Landing on the west coast of Florida in 1539, De Soto marched into the interior searching for the country of Cale. He went northeast to the Carolinas, southwest almost to the Gulf, and then northeast to the Mississippi, near where Memphis is today. He crossed the river and moved into Oklahoma, then followed down the Arkansas to its junction with the Mississippi, where he died in May, 1542. His lieutenant, Moscoso, set out overland for Mexico. Crossing the Arkansas, the expedition reached the Red River. They passed near the Salines of the Washita, where they supplied themselves with salt. Moscoso and this troop marched over seven hundred miles and, in so doing, traversed a considerable part of the valley of the Red River before they reached Mexico. Thus, Coronado and De Soto first made known the Red River Country.

The French sent out several expeditions to explore the Mississippi. La Salle was one of the leaders. He arrived at the mouth of the Red River on the 27th of March, 1682; then he proceeded south and discovered the mouth of the Mississippi and took possession for France. In 1684, La Salle returned from France to seek the Mississippi, but landed on the coast of Texas, where he established a fort on the Lavaca River. La Salle was killed in Texas. However, the establishment of the fort caused Spain to make a settlement on the Neches River in 1691. The next French explorers were Bienville and St. Denis, who visited the Natchitoches Indians on March 30, 1700. Bienville and St. Denis returned down

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the Red River in canoes, being the first white men borne upon the bosom of the Red River.

St. Denis's reports of the Red River Country made La Mothe de Cadillac desirous of establishing trade with Mexico. In 1713, he sent St. Denis with goods to a presidio on the Rio Grande. St. Denis marked a trail, and Captain Don Ramon traveled along this route. Later it became known as the "King's Highway," and today it is known as the San Antonio Trail.

After the establishment of Natchitoches, French expansion continued up the Red River. Bernard de La Harpe obtained a concession on the Red River in 1718. He attempted to enter into trade with the Spanish but was ordered out of the country. He, refusing to get out, made his way to the Towakonis on the Canadian River, where he set up a post. La Harpe left the Towakonis and returned to New Orleans.

In 1718, the Brossart brothers brought out a colony from Lyons, France, to settle at Natchitoches. There were many others; and, as a result of French expansion on the Red River, the Spanish decided to occupy Texas.

Spain had erected in 1716 six struggling missions scattered from the Neches River to within a few miles of the Red. Thus, before the middle of the century, Spain regarded Texas as extending to the Red River, while one point of the eastern boundary was tentatively fixed a little west of the Red River at Arroyo Hondo and Gran Montana.

The French danger continued to disturb the Spanish. In 1752, as a result of the orders of a junta general, held in Mexico, Governor Barrios was ordered to investigate the Louisiana-Texas boundary and to expel the French from any territory they might have usurped. The French traders and official explorers, by 1754, were desirous of gaining New Mexico; but Spain and the Indian tribes were in their way. The Spanish decided not to expel the French from Natchitoches, since there was still some doubt as to whether the Red River or the Gran Montana was the boundary.

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The northern Indians had long been managed by the French through the fur trade; and after the acquisition of Louisiana in 1763, Spain decided to put the Red River district in charge of Anthanase de Mezieres as Lieutenant-Governor of the Natchitoches district. This included the Red River Valley and adjacent parts of northern Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. De Mezieres immediately began to create a friendly feeling between the Red River tribes and the Spaniards.

On the lower Red River were settlements of the French. The first to be seen on ascending the river was Avoyelles, whose settlers consisted of some French and some immigrants from the United States. Farther up was the town of Du Rapide, then Alexandria, and about four hundred miles from the mouth of Red River was Natchitoches, which was the principal settlement. Spain did not consider the country of much importance at this time and, therefore, allowed France to build the Fort of Natchitoches on the right bank of the Red River.

The purchase of Louisiana opened the question of boundary between the United States and Spain. Because the western limits of the Purchase were not defined, Jefferson thought the boundary should be established. The Spanish claimed that the western boundary of Louisiana was the Mississippi River as far north as the Red River. Spain made every effort she could to get information about the western boundary of Louisiana. When John Quincy Adams became Secretary of State in 1817, he found the most important issue to be the Louisiana boundary question. Onis, the Spanish minister to the United States, began negotiations with Adams. Proposals and counter proposals were made. Onis tried to get the north bank of the Red River as a boundary, but Adams held out for both banks of the Red River. Finally Onis accepted the terms, and the boundary of the Louisiana Purchase was settled by the Treaty of 1819, the treaty being ratified by Spain, February 22, 1821.

France and Spain were each trying to build a vast empire. The result is that their influence in the southwestern part of the United States is noticeable today.

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The Dunbar-Hunter expedition in 1804 was the first official exploration of the Red River Country after the Louisiana Purchase. This expedition was the result of a letter written by Dr. John Sibley in 1803 and printed in Raleigh, North Carolina. In this letter he gave a very glowing description of the land and fertile soil. Dr. Sibley had settled in Natchez in 1802 and had obtained permission from the Spanish authorities to travel in Louisiana. In 1804, President Jefferson appointed him surgeon's mate for troops at Natchitoches. In 1805, the War Department appointed him Indian Agent for the Orleans Territory under Claiborne. It was in this capacity that Dr. Sibley proved himself highly efficient in furnishing geographical and ethnological data concerning the lower valley of the Red River. On his explorations he had gained much information from the French people about the channel of Red River and the land on both sides.

An expedition known as the "Exploring Expedition of Red River," consisting of Captain Sparks, Dr. Custis, Mr. Freeman, and several soldiers embarked in April, 1806, with orders to ascend Red River to its source. They arrived at Natchitoches on May 19. They left the river about one hundred miles above Natchitoches, to avoid the Great Raft, through which, they were told, it would be impossible for them to pass. The expedition, having had some trouble with the Spaniards, turned back about six hundred and thirty-five miles above the mouth of the Red River.

In the same year, 1806, General Wilkinson, Commander-in-Chief of the United States army, commissioned Lieutenant Zebulon Pike to explore the sources of the Red River with a view of defining the water-shed that divided Louisiana from the United States. Pike and his men, while searching for the source of the Red River, were taken prisoners by the Spaniards for having erected a fort upon the Rio Grande del Norte. They were taken to Chihuahua and later deported by way of Texas. Pike did not discover the true position of the Red River, but did give the geographical position of the source of the Red River.

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Major Stephen H. Long commanded an expedition which, in 1817, explored the southern part of Arkansas, as well as the Louisiana border of the Red River. The object of the expedition was to select a position for a military post on the Arkansas River, near where the Osage line strikes the river. In 1819, Major Long was sent in charge of an expedition to the Rocky Mountains to explore the head waters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers.

In the same year Major Bradford and a company of soldiers were sent out from Fort Smith by the government with orders to remove all white residents from the territory of the Osages. Thomas Nuttall, an English botanist, accompanied the expedition. Nuttall in his journal gives in detail the route they took and describes the great plains of the Red River and the swampy country they crossed. He said, "Nothing could exceed the beauty of the plains of Red River" and that "the flowers were of unusual brilliancy."

Up to 1852 there is no record that any traveler had reached the sources of the Red River, or that the country upon the headwaters of that stream had been explored. For that reason, the expedition of Captain R. B. Marcy was the most significant. In his report to the Secretary of War, Marcy covered in detail his expedition. He described the various Indian tribes and villages, the climate and soil, the beautiful scenery, the Llano Estacado, the discovery of the North Branch of the Red River, together with the story of their navigation of the Red River, and finally their success in locating the source of that stream.


The early explorers of the Red River Country found that the country was frequented by numerous tribes. These had been pushed farther and farther west as eastern Indians and white settlers had encroached upon them. Among these tribes were the Quapaws, Kiowas, Comanches, Wichitas, Wacos, Choctaws, Panis, and Natchitoches. Some of the Indians were friendly and hospitable, while others who were very war-like resented the presence

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of the white man in their country. A few tribes had certain lands they claimed as their own.

After the Louisiana Purchase, President Jefferson sent out a number of expeditions to the territory. One important object of all these expeditions was to conciliate the numerous tribes of Indians then inhabiting the country and to establish amicable relations with those in the immediate vicinity of the frontier settlements.

The difficulties confronting the Federal Government in its efforts to settle the eastern Indians west of the Mississippi was the hostility of the Indians already occupying the country. As Louisiana was claimed by white settlers and Texas was Spanish territory, there was no territory south of the Red River that offered a home for the eastern Indians. The Quapaws were recognized as the owners of the land between the Red River and Arkansas for a distance of several hundred miles west of the Mississippi. The United States, in 1818, acknowledged, by treaty, the Quapaw ownership of these lands.

The United States made the first cession of lands to the Choctaws in a treaty concluded near Doak's Stand, Mississippi, October 28, 1820. Major Andrew Jackson of the United States Army and General Thomas Hinds of the State of Mississippi, as commissioners on the part of the United States, and the three celebrated chiefs, Apokshvnntvbbi, Pashimmvlhtaha, and Amosholitvbbi, together with one hundred head men and warriors representing the Choctaw Nation signed the treaty. The second article of the treaty defined the boundaries. According to this description the Choctaws were ceded the country which lay between the Red River, its southern boundary, and the Canadian and Arkansas rivers, which formed its northern boundary. It was assumed the one hundredth meridian was the western boundary, as that was the boundary between the United States and Spanish possessions in the Southwest.

In 1821, John C. Calhoun appointed Henry D. Downs as special commissioner to survey the eastern boundary of the Choctaw country. His line, however, was not accepted.

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Efforts were made in Congress in 1823 to change the western boundary of Arkansas; and finally, on May 23, 1824, a bill was passed which moved the western boundary of Arkansas so that it began at a point forty miles west of the southwest corner of Missouri and ran due south to Red River. The Choctaws were not consulted in regard to the changes. As a result, in the fall of 1824, a delegation of Choctaws went to Washington to negotiate a new treaty. A treaty was agreed upon and signed January 20, 1825. Under the first article all the Choctaw lands lying between the lines surveyed in 1821 and the new eastern boundary, containing 5,030,912 acres, were ceded back to the government. The work on the eastern boundary of the Choctaw Nation was completed on January 6, 1826.

Public opinion in Louisiana was against the removal of the Indians to the Red River Valley. The people thought an injustice was being done to them by the government. The final and definite removal treaty of the Choctaws was made at Dancing Rabbit Creek in Mississippi. The Choctaws finally consented to the removal of their people from Mississippi and the relinquishment of all their tribal lands in that state. No additional land was given them other than that assigned them in 1820.

The story of the treaty made at Dancing Rabbit is typical of the early days. Money was used in the entertainment and bribery of the Choctaws, and the grounds were surrounded by crowds of white rowdies with faro tables and saloons.

The country assigned the Choctaws was beautiful but very malarial. Most of the bands settled along the banks of the Arkansas and Red Rivers. The first party came to the Choctaw Nation in 1832 and settled on Little River in the eastern part of Oklahoma. David Folsom was in charge of the party, and many of the Choctaws would have died had it not been for him, for the winter was very severe. By the end of 1833, most of the Choctaws had been removed to the new country.

The Choctaws and Chickasaws were related ethnologically, and members of the two tribes had intermarried to some extent.

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The government officials after 1826 urged the Chickasaws to settle in the Choctaw Country. The government was successful in making a treaty with the Chickasaws at their council house on Pontotoc Creek, Mississippi, October 20, 1832. The Treaty of Pontotoc provided that the Chickasaws sell all their land east of the Mississippi to the United States. The proceeds from these sales were to constitute a trust fund to remain under the direction of the government for the benefit of the Chickasaw Nation.

A treaty made at Doaksville, on January 17, 1837, united the Chickasaws and Choctaws. The treaty provided that the Chickasaws should have the privilege of forming a district in the Choctaw Country, to be known as the "Chickasaw District of the Choctaw Nation." The district was to have equal representation in the General Council. The Chickasaws were to have all the rights and privileges of the Choctaws and were subject to the same laws. Their finances were to be kept separate. The Chickasaws paid the Choctaws $530,000 for these rights. The Chickasaws were the wealthiest of the Indian Tribes. By January, 1839, practically the whole tribe of Chickasaws had arrived in the Indian Territory.

As the years passed the Chickasaws grew more and more dissatisfied with their political connections with the Choctaws. However, the Chickasaws continued to live as citizens of the Choctaw Nation until 1856. A new treaty made in 1855 separated the Chickasaws from the Choctaws and established their own government, to be known as "The Chickasaw Nation." The treaty also provided that all land between the ninety-eighth and one hundredth meridians was to be leased to the United States for other Indian tribes, and this land was known as the "Leased District."

The early records and descriptions of conditions in the Indian Territory comment highly upon the character and advancement of the Choctaw people. The Choctaws were interested in education, and before the Civil War they had a system of elementary education. Other schools that accomplished much among the full-blood Choctaws were the "Saturday and Sabbath Schools." The pupils were generally grown-up women and men and were taught

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in the Choctaw language. As a result, the full-bloods could read their Bibles, their tribal laws, and local newspapers.

The early life of the Choctaws and Chickasaws was very primitive. Rude huts formed their habitations, these being built near the streams and springs. However, with the growth of the Choctaws and as Chickasaw wealth and prosperity increased, there arose many a mansion in colonial style of architecture. The Choctaws, both men and women, adopted to a large extent the fashion of clothing worn by the white people. The largest farms in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations were found in the Red River Region. The Red River Country was well suited to the raising of cotton, which was the principal crop. There were also all kinds of grains raised there. The Chickasaws and Choctaws could well be called an agricultural people. Hunting was one of their chief pastimes, and the fall hunting parties brought home plenty of dried meats.

The Choctaw Council was composed of a House and Senate. Its laws applied only to the citizens of Choctaw Nation and laws needful for the growing interests of the nation. If a Choctaw were fined or penalized for anything, his word that he would appear was sufficient. A Choctaw seldom broke his word, and he always paid his debts.

Nearly all Indians were interested in sports. Ball playing, fox-chasing, and horse-racing created the most interest. Some exciting horse races for big stakes took place at Fort Gibson. The Choctaws took an interest in the religion which was brought to them by the Christian missionaries. Christian teachings were accepted to some extent. Both the Choctaws and the Chickasaws owned slaves. Among the Choctaws who settled in the Red River region were a number of owners of many slaves. These owners had large plantations along the river and they grew very wealthy from the cultivation of cotton, which became commercially important because of the rich bottom lands and also because of shiping facilities on the Red River. Among the Chickasaws and Choctaws no person with negro blood was considered socially equal to any citizen of those nations. The Choctaws had a law that, "no

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person who is any part negro shall ever be allowed to hold any office under the government." There was very little difference in the social, economic, and political life of the Chickasaws and Choctaws.

The Comanche and Kiowa Indians were nominally friendly to most whites, but they were very bitter toward the pioneers of Texas. Many innocent persons fell as prey to the Comanches and were treated with all the hostility possible. The Comanches felt that they had been mistreated. The government wanted to keep peace with these unfriendly tribes. Early in 1834, the Osage people held several captives from the Kiowa and Wichita tribes. This fact gave reason for the government to open negotiations with the tribes to which these captives rightfully belonged. Therefore, an expedition was organized under Colonel Henry Leavenworth and Colonel Dodge to proceed with their troops to a point on the North Fork of Red River. Colonel Dodge visited the Wichitas, Comanches, and Kiowas and urged the Indians to make peace with the whites and neighboring Indian tribes. The result of the expedition was very good. A favorable contact had been established with the three Indian tribes, and representative of two tribes went to Fort Gibson for a conference with the government officials. Peace with the Indians seemed nearer; and this conference was the beginning of the modern history of these tribes. In the upper Red River Country were the homes of the wild tribes of Indians. The treatment of the Indians by Texas had driven them to this region. It had also been necessary to remove the Osage and Comanche tribes when the Five Civilized Tribes had moved west. It was hard for these Indians to understand that their land had been taken from them. The wild Indians were probably affected the most by the Treaties of 1866.

It became necessary for Congress to do something to protect both the white people and the Indians. In July, 1867, Congress appointed a commission to work out a plan for helping the Indians. A meeting was called on Medicine Lodge Creek, October, 1867. The tribes present were the Comanches, Kiowas, Arapahoes, Cheyennes, and Kiowa-Apaches. All the tribes wanted peace, but

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the question of reservations was the most difficult to settle. The Comanche and Kiowa tribes gave up their land in the Panhandle of Texas for land in Indian Territory between the Red River and the Washita. The other tribes were given land of the Creek cession. The members of the commission worked for over a year. When they returned to Washington and made their report, Congress created a Board of Indian Commissioners to look after the affairs of the Indians.


The people who undertook to build up the Red River Country were hindered by lawless white men and Indians. Therefore, it was necessary for the government to build forts for the protection of the early settlers.

Because of the attitude of the Spanish, Fort Claiborne had been built by the United States troops at Natchitoches, in 1807. Fort Selden on Bayou Pierre was established in November, 1820, by companies of the Seventh Infantry from Arkansas. In March, 1822, General Gaines located Fort Jesup, Louisiana, for the protection of the settlers upon the frontier. The people living below the Kiamichi complained they were exposed to the depredations by Indians; whereupon General Scott, who was in command of the western frontier, ordered one company from Fort Jesup to join one at Sulphur Fork and take position at the mouth of the Kiamichi. These troops established Cantonment Towson in May, 1824. The troops were much needed on the Red River, for vagabond Indians then carried raids as far north as the Arkansas River. Cantonment Towson was never anything more than a temporary fort, and having served its purpose, was abandoned in June, 1829, the troops being removed on four flat boats down Red River to Fort Jesup. In November, 1830, after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit-Creek was made, the government gave orders for a permanent fort to be built in the Choctaw Country on the site of the old post at the mouth of the Kiamichi. It was called Camp Phoenix. The next year on November 20, 1831, it was officially named

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Cantonment Towson, and on February 8, 1832, Fort Towson. What Fort Gibson was to the Cherokees, Fort Towson was to the Choctaws and Chickasaws. Fort Towson was abandoned on June 8, 1854.

Captain R. B. Marcy was directed by the government to establish Fort Arbuckle somewhere near the one hundredth meridian on the Canadian River, to protect the Chickasaws from the hostile Indians and to protect travelers on their way to California. In 1850 Marcy built the fort on the right bank one mile from the Canadian River. The government did not approve of the site and ordered it removed south near the Washita River. The permanent Fort Arbuckle was established April 19, 1851, on Wild Horse Creek, a branch of the Washita. This fort became the gateway for peace commissions, for councils, for military expeditions to relieve the distressed settlers in the southwest. During the Civil War the Confederate forces took possession of the fort and shortly after the war the fort was occupied by Federal troops, but was officially abandoned on June 24, 1870, when the establishment of Fort Sill absorbed all the business that had been transacted at Fort Arbuckle. There is one reminder of the old fort that remains on a rocky hill one mile south of the site of the fort where a stone pillar marks the initial zero point, called the Indian Base, from which all lands in Oklahoma, except the Panhandle, are still measured. Camp Leavenworth was located in 1831 near the mouth of the Washita River on the bank of the Red River in Marshall County. It was at Camp Leavenworth that George Catlin painted some of his most noted Indian pictures. Fort Coffee was established April 22, 1834, five miles from the Choctaw Agency and was to be the point of debarkation for the Choctaw emigrants coming up the Arkansas by boat. The fort, which was a very important one, occupied a high cliff overlooking part of the Choctaw Nation. Fort Coffee was evacuated October 19, 1838. In 1843, at the request of the Choctaws, the Methodists used Fort Coffee for a school site. Fort Washita was established on the east fork of the Washita River, at the junction of the Washita and Red Rivers to comply with the promise to the Chickasaw

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Indians of protection against hostile tribes. In May, 1842, General Zachary Taylor named the post Fort Washita. During the gold rush to California, the fort was a very important place. The Federal Government used Fort Washita during the Civil War. In 1870 Fort Washita became Indian property. Fort Cobb was established in Indian Territory, October, 1859, on the Washita River in order to control the Indians to the south. General Albert Pike planned and built Fort McCulloch in the summer of 1862. It is in the southwestern part of the Choctaw Nation. Fort McCulloch had a most important position; it commanded the road to Fort Gibson on the north, Fort Smith on the east, Fort Washita on the west, and also the road to Texas. One of the most important forts in Texas was Fort Richardson. It was the first post to be built south of Red River after the Civil War. The fort was located on Lost Creek near Jacksboro, Texas, and because of its location near Indian Territory, proved to be very useful in protecting the frontier from the Indians and also in defending the cattle trade. The fort furnished escorts to cattle traders going north. Another important post was established north of the Red River, March 4, 1869, known as Camp Wichita, located on Cache Creek. The name was changed, July of the same year, to Fort Sill. Fort Sill was established to protect the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Indians. The fort was situated nearly in the center of the reservations with the agency for these Indians adjoining. Fort Sill is now one of the outstanding posts in the United States.

These military posts were for one great purpose—"protection." There were also many trading posts and settlements which were the business and social centers of the Red River country; that is, the meeting places of the important men and women who formed the character of that southwest.

One of the oldest trading posts was Monette's Ferry on the Cane River. The Bon Dieu Mission was established by the Catholics at the junction of the Carencrow and Yattasses. There was a store here which was the rendezvous for early settlers and Indians. The first trading post in the limits of the Kiowa-Comanche reservation was "Warren's Trading Post," built at the mouth of the

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Cache Creek in 1839. The post was ideally located in good trade territory. The trade the year around was mostly with Indians of various tribes. It was from this location that Captain Marcy started his exploration of the Red River. Nail's Crossing was an important meeting place on the military road that ran from Fort Gibson into the southwest. Here thousands of adventurers crossed the Blue, visited, heard the news, and then went on to the West. Old Boggy Depot was located in the eastern part of Chickasaw Nation; but when the boundary was changed, it was in the western part of Choctaw Nation. It was a thriving town, where some of the ablest statesmen of Oklahoma have lived. Holland Coffee, a trader, set up a store at what was called "Old Pawnee Village," on Red River about seventy-five miles above the mouth of the Washita River. Byarly's Landing on Red River was one of the important steamboat landings in 1860. Adobe Walls was situated on the Canadian River in Hutchinson County, Texas. It was the supply post for buffalo hunters. The Indians were alarmed at the disappearance of the buffalo, which meant lack of food for them, and they resented the work of these professional hunters. Quanah Parker led the Indians in an attack against Adobe Walls. This battle stands out in the history of the Staked Plains. Doan's Crossing on Red River was known as the jumping off place, the last of civilization between there and the Kansas line. Colbert Station was an important place in Indian Territory, which was at one time a sort of headquarters for some of the James gang.

There are many historical places on the Red River. Old Doaksville was established by the Doaks brothers, Oklahoma's first "Sooners" in 1821. Eagletown, an historical village, was settled by the Indians on their journey to the new country. The oldest mission, Stockbridge Mission, in Oklahoma, was established there. At Wheelock was an academy for the education of Indian children. It is here that the oldest church building in the state is located.

Throughout the Red River country there were roads and trails leading in all directions. Perhaps the most interesting ones were those made by the cowboys, the cattle trails. One was the mouth of Red River on Natchitoches. Nolan's trail led out from

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Alexandria across Bayou Rapides through western Natchitoches Parish. An Indian trail extended from Natchitoches across the country to Natchez. On the government maps there is Marcy's Road to Fort Belknap. In 1824, a military road was laid out that passed through the heart of the Choctaw Nation. This was a great help to the Indians in taking their products to market. The southern overland mail line went into operation about 1858. The cattle trails influenced the history of the Red River Country. There were four trails used in the northern drive. The Chisholm Trail is the best known. A number of our main highways and railroads follow the old cattle trails.


Since the Red River was a natural center for military operations, it could hardly be expected that the Civil War would be fought without a struggle in that region. Probably no other region except the Mississippi was of such great importance to the Confederates. For a long time the Northern armies left unmolested the western area of the Confederacy. The portion of the river that was virtually held by the Confederates from Vicksburg to Port Hudson, included the outlet of the Red River by which detachments of men, provisions, and stores from Louisiana and Texas, as well as arms and ammunition were forwarded through the trans-Mississippi country. The Red River was the highway by which Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas were connected with the central and eastern portions of the Confederacy.

An objective of the Federals was to destroy the power of the three trans-Mississippi states by cutting them off from the Confederacy and then by blockading them. In order to do this, it was necessary to get control of the country about the mouth of the Red River and also the mouth of the Mississippi.

Grant did not approve of the Red River Expedition. Considered as a local policy, the expedition up the Red River to Shreveport presented important advantages, but, considered as a national policy, its value was comparatively little. However, it was de-

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cided upon, and the army and navy attempted to carry it out. The officers in command of the Federal army and navy of the Red River Expedition were Rear-Admiral Farragut, Rear-Admiral Porter, and General Banks. They concentrated their forces near Natchitoches and were delayed because the Red River was so low that the gunboats could not pass the rapids that obstructed the navigation of the Red River just above Alexandria. General Kirby Smith was in command of the Confederate forces. The Federal Army moved into the Red River Country, where it was met with such an attack by the Confederate army that it was compelled to retreat. As a military movement, the Red River campaign was conducted without capacity or discipline. It has been said, "No one knew who got up the Red River expedition."

The Confederate Government made treaties with the Indians; and there is little doubt that the Chickasaws and Choctaws did everything in their power to help the Southern Cause. General Stand Watie tried to help the many destitute Confederate families and often took them with him on marches until they could find shelter.

Refugee camps were formed in many towns in northern Texas and in settlements in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. Cherokee refugees went to the southern part of Oklahoma and Cherokee soldiers were detailed to build shelter for them. Most of the Cherokees became a mass of starving fugitives depending upon charity. The Confederates could not keep their obligations to the Indians. Just before the close of the war the Confederate Government tried to meet its obligations to the Indians by paying the annuities in cotton. Boudinot tried to secure this in Congress but failed. When General Watie surrendered, his most important problem was to secure food for his starving people. The United States Government took up the work of caring for the southern refugees during the winter of 1865-1866.

The Red River Campaign caused much debate in the Senate. On December 6, 1864, a resolution was passed in the House of Representatives that a committee on Conduct of War inquire into

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the disastrous results of the Red River Campaign. The evidence shows that the campaign was a failure because the expedition had been undertaken without direction of anyone. However, the expedition did bring to the notice of the United States Government the importance of the Southwest and the Red River.


Long before the time of steamboats, there had been many kinds of boats on the Red River. With the invention of the steamboat began a new era for river transportation. Captain Henry Miller Shreve brought the first steamboat into the Red River, the Enterprise, in April, 1815.

Fulton and Livingston claimed the sole right to navigate the western waters. They brought suit against Shreve and as a result, the United States District Court for the Territory of Orleans, held that the monopoly that Livingston claimed was illegal. This decision with the one Chief Justice Marshall rendered in Gibbons vs. Ogden, and laws passed by Congress, released every river, lake, and harbor in the United States from the interference of monopolies.

Travel on the Red River as far as Natchitoches soon became a regular thing. Red River was described as one of the most remarkable streams in this country. Since the flood plain of the Red River was formed by alluvial soils, the swift current frequently caused the river to change its course, forming new and shorter channels, called "cut-offs." During floods, huge trees were uprooted and carried down-stream. Thousands of trees lodged together and masses extended for miles up the river and choked its channel. These were called rafts and were the real dangers and problems at the time when rivers were the highways of travel in the Southwest. They affected commercial activity on the Red River for many years. There were a great many floods and overflows, which over a period of years, built up the high lands in the Red River Valley.

The greatest danger threatening the boats on the river was fire. Boiler explosions were also a great danger. The people

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traveling on the steamboats were in constant fear. As the steamboat traffic became greater, there were horrible accidents, and public sentiment became so aroused that laws became necessary as a means of regulating the steamboats. Louisiana was the first state to set the example. Most of the states soon passed laws similar to those of Louisiana.

Besides explosions, fires, floods, racing, and other accidents, there were many accidents caused from natural conditions which were much worse on the Red River than on the Mississippi. Snags were one of the chief causes of danger on the Red River, being more dangerous than rocks. There were other obstructions, as the falls at Alexander, the bar at the mouth of the river, and the great raft above the Natchitoches. A resolution was offered in Congress in 1843, asking that an appropriation be made to remove the obstructions at the mouth of the Red River in Louisiana. Legislation was passed but nothing much was accomplished. The Civil War put an end to water improvement for a number of years. Steamboat navigation on the Red River was delayed more than anything else by the "Great River Raft" that obstructed the channel in Northern Louisiana. The Great Raft extended for more than one hundred and fifty miles. It not only delayed the opening of trade on the upper Red River, but also interfered with the settlement of some of the richest lands in the Red River Country on account of floods which it caused. As early as 1825, a resolution had been offered in Congress to estimate the cost of removing the raft. The first bill for the improvement of the Red River and the removal of the raft was passed in Congress, May 23, 1828. Some traffic had been carried on above the raft before any effort was made to remove it. Several expeditions had passed the raft on the way to upper Red River. The raft was finally removed by the Federal Government in 1878.

There were many steamboats plying the river by 1850. Freight was six dollars a bale for cotton to New Orleans while "up freight" was three dollars a bale. The river trade was not favorable to the growth of many towns. In 1833 there was no settlement on Red River from forty miles below the raft up to Fort

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Towson. The most important landing in the Choctaw Nation was the Fort Towson landing about six miles from Doaksville.

The Red River served as an emigrant's highway to Texas. It was from Natchitoches on the Red River that Moses Austin made his way to San Antonio to seek land from the Spanish. It was by way of the Red River that Stephen Austin and his first band of colonists departed for Texas. David Crockett, Sam Houston, James Bowie, and many others famous in Texas history went to Texas by the Red River route.

Texas exerted herself to the utmost diplomatically in an effort to get the United States to sign a treaty agreeing to a plan whereby Texas might have the right of free navigation of the Red River and the Mississippi to its mouth. On May 19, 1842, a "Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation between the United States of America and the Republic of Texas" was signed by Daniel Webster and James Reily.

As trade increased on the Red River the country was rapidly filling up with settlers; the land possessed great advantages, being very rich and easy of access by water. By 1875 the Red River trade was very good. In 1880 it was better and in 1886 was still advancing.

There has been a great effort of recent years to revive the navigation of the Red River, and the states which are affected are putting forth every effort for improvement of the Red River. From 1910-1931 many reports have been submitted to the Federal Government on the subject of navigation in Red River. However, the report submitted to the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors by the Louisiana State Board of Engineers entitled "Navigation in Red River" was the most comprehensive report on this subject that has ever been prepared. The report pointedly sets forth just what has taken place during the last thirty odd years with the control of the river and ultimate improvement falling on the shoulders of the local interests. It also sets forth the tremendous annual volume of traffic that would be affected by Red River navigation. It says that the annual saving of transportation costs

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would be immense. The Board of Louisiana Engineers reported there were several permanent ways to improve the navigation of the Red River.

While steamboat traffic stopped during the Civil War, railroad building went on, and the steamboat was a thing of the past. After the Treaties of 1866, corporations began to build two railroads, each designed to cross Indian Territory to the Red River. By 1888 several railroads had been built through the Red River Country. The most important invasion to the river trade was made by the construction of the Texas and Pacific Railroad. It was the first road in the region parallel to the Red River. The railroads brought much business to the territory.

It became necessary for Congress to pass a law authorizing Oklahoma and Texas to build free bridges over Red River. They connect Federal highways and are free to the public. It is maintained, however, that Congress has authority to control the building of bridges over the Red River between Texas and Oklahoma.


Dr. John Sibley describes the lower Red River Country as high, rich and a beautiful country, which would produce corn and cotton in great quantities. The upper Red River was just as good for crops and grazing. The fertility of this country, the vast quantities of products which it could yield, with the possible productions of minerals, as well as the great areas of unclaimed and vacant lands, rendered the acquisition of it by the United States of primary importance.

The different explorers, Sibley, Dunbar, Freeman, all reported about the valuable land, crops and cattle they had seen on their expeditions. Thomas Nuttall spent much time in the Red River Valley, gathering botanical specimens and observing the plant life, which he said was of unusual variety and growth.

By 1820, as far up the Red River as Natchitoches, there were many flourishing plantations. Cotton, it was said, yielded two bales to the acre and wheat eighty bushels to the acre. A lively

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trade was conducted by merchants of Natchitoches with San Antonio and Mexico City. The Natchitoches Indians worked on salt works on the Saline. The making of salt became a big industry by 1805. Natchitoches, an important settlement, was the gathering place of people on their way to Texas, Arkansas, and southwestern territories. All roads led to Natchitoches.

The Louisiana Purchase furnished territory for the frontiersman who wanted to move west and as soon as federal authority was extended over the province of Louisiana, there was a rush of Americans from the East and North. The westward movement was caused in part by the hard times of 1833 and 1834. There was also, during this period, natural expansion southward and westward in the Red River Country of planters, into the fine cotton region of the upper Red Washita, Beach, and Tensas rivers. In 1843, nearly one-tenth of the whole amount of cotton of the United States was shipped from the Red River Country to New Orleans. In 1843, New Orleans became alarmed for fear of losing the trade of the Red River. From some improvements which were to be attempted, the course of the river was likely to be changed and its waters forced into the Gulf by way of Atchafalaya.

Settlers for the western frontier of the United States descended the Mississippi to the mouth of the Red River and, ascending the stream to Shreveport, proceeded by a direct route into the eastern portion of Texas. Emigrants liked the fine rolling uplands and alluvial soil of Red River Valley when they found the climate and productive soil adapted to the agriculture common in Tennessee and Kentucky. An important attraction was that the river was a navigable stream.

While the Red River bottoms were among the best cotton lands in the world, not all of the Red River Country is included within the cotton growing country; but most of it does produce some cotton now (1933), which is of the upland variety. Much of the land in the western Red River Country was used for grazing. Large herds of cattle were kept upon the plains and sent from here to the north. As the years passed, more attention was

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given to improving the breeds of cattle and developing small farms, especially since 1910.

One of the most important resources of the Red River Country is the timber obtained from the forests of the Kiamichi Mountains, as well as from the slopes of the Arbuckle Mountains. Logging and saw-milling are important industries in southeastern Oklahoma. The State Forestry Department cooperates with the lumber industry in furthering conservation and reforestation.

Various kinds of mineral resources are found in the Red River Conntry in great quantities. The greatest resource of Oklahoma is the vast amount of oil, from which many complications have arisen in the Red River Country. The first oil company in Oklahoma was organized by the Chickasaws and Choctaws in 1872. A great amount of oil was found in northern Texas, 1914-1916. The trend of oil-bearing sand extended to and under the lands contiguous to the Red River and even under the stream.

The population of the Red River Country was composed of the same mixture of people in 1930 as it was in 1820. The 1930 census shows that the population for the upper Red River Valley was 1,242,578, most of the persons being white, while the population of the lower Red River Valley is 359,760.

Natchitoches, Alexandria, and Shreveport are the principal Red River cities in Louisiana. Shreveport, the largest city on the Red River and the second largest city in Louisiana, is a most important marketing and distributing center. There are many distribution centers in southeastern Oklahoma and northern Texas. Some very astounding economic facts are established to indicate the great wealth of the Red River Country.

The early explorers predicted that the primary interest of the settlers who should occupy the Red River Country later would be agricultural. They were right; for the Red River Country is of untold value to the Southwest, since its vast resources, its great wealth, and the cosmopolitan population of the upper and the lower Red River make this region the garden of the Southwest.

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In the southwestern part of Oklahoma lies the territory formerly called Greer County. Greer County lies between the two forks of the Red River. On the north is the North Fork of the Red River, and on the south, Prairie Dog Town Fork, which has since been declared the main stream. The one hundredth meridian forms the western boundary.

From the annexation of Texas, the boundary between that state and the territory of the United States was in dispute. The United States maintained that the South Fork of the Red River was the main stream and formed the boundary. The State of Texas maintained that the North Fork of the river constituted the main stream and thus formed the boundary line.

Greer County was the grazing ground of the great buffalo herds and a hunting ground for the Plains Indians. After the Civil War, the cattlemen of Texas began to seek new ranges for their cattle, and by 1880, they had located on the grazing land of Greer County. The beef-contractors kept their herds here. The Day Land and Cattle Company of Texas bought up land certificates issued by the state to the veterans of the Texas War of Independence (1836), and for them, there was allotted to the Day Company, on the twenty-eighth of March, 1884, 144,640 acres of land in Greer County. In 1884, the Federal Government took cognizance of the presence of the ranchmen and herders in Greer County, and President Arthur issued a proclamation warning them against trespassing.

For the next four years settlers came to the country from all parts of the United States, but mostly from Texas. In 1888, the government again warned these cattlemen against trespassing. The settlers paid no attention to the proclamation, for they felt that the Texas authority would protect them. Greer County was organized as a county of Texas, February 8, 1860. The legislature of Texas, on February 25, 1879, appropriated money for schools, even though the ownership of Greer County was disputed by the United States and Texas.

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The controversy concerning the status of Greer County was carried on between the Federal Government and Texas for many years. Finally, the Organic Act for the territory was passed by Congress in May, 1890. One section of this act made it mandatory that the Attorney-General of the United States file in the Federal Supreme Court, a suit in equity to determine the long standing dispute. The archives of Mexico and Spain were searched, depositions taken in many places, and copies of old maps procured in preparation for the trial. Nearly six years passed between the Organic Act and the rendering of the decision of the Supreme Court.

The case is known as "United States vs. Texas." Testimony in the Greer County Case was taken in 1894. The case was argued before the Supreme Court on October 23, 24, and 25, 1895, and the decision was handed down five months later (March 16, 1896). The question of boundaries, construction of treaties, titles, acknowledgment and acquiescence were considered and defined in the case.

Both Texas and the United States claimed title to the area in dispute under the terms of the treaty of February 22, 1819, between the United States and Spain. The Treaty of 1819 declared that the boundary lines between the United States and Spain were to be the same as given in Melish's map of 1818, and this map fixed the one hundredth degree of longitude west of Greenwich, below and east of the mouth of the North Fork of Red River as now known. Texas had, by legislation, often recognized the true one hundredth meridian as located by the United States. The legislature of Texas passed an act creating Greer County when there was no reason to suppose that the United States had given up any claim to the territory. It was claimed by Texas that the United States had in many ways recognized the claim of Texas to Greer County, and that upon the principles of justice and equity, should not question the title of the state to the territory. Much significance was attached by the State of Texas to the fact that as early as 1860, by legislative enactment, the state created "Greer County" with boundaries that included the whole of the territory in dis-

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pute, and that it had since asserted its jurisdiction over both that territory and the people in it, and by inadvertence, the United States, by act of Congress, February 24, 1879, included Greer County as a part of Texas in the northern Judicial District of that state, recognizing it, apparently, as an integral part of Texas. Much testimony was offered by the United States to show that the Indians had long been accustomed to occupy the disputed area--evidence that Spain had not claimed it. Mr. Justice Harlan of the Supreme Court handed down the opinion, March 16, 1896. By this decision, the South Fork of Red River was declared the boundary line and Greer County became a part of Oklahoma.

Four days after the decision, a bill was introduced in the House to provide for the government of Greer County, Oklahoma. Another bill was passed to provide for the opening of the Greer County lands to homestead entry, under the United States land laws. This act gave to settlers, already on the land, a preference right to any quarter section within the limits of lands so occupied, the land to be free except for the land office fees, and each settler was to have the privilege of buying an additional quarter section of land at one dollar per acre.

By the decision of the United States Supreme Court, there was added to Oklahoma Territory, one million five hundred thousand acres of land, out of which, in 1907, the Constitutional Convention of Oklahoma organized Greer County and Jackson County. Later, Beckham and Harmon counties were created. The farms in this section are large. Agriculture is the most important industry, excellent cotton being raised; the cattle business also is one of the chief interests of this part of the Red River Country.

Oklahoma might well be pleased that the decision was handed down in her favor, because it added to the state rich farming land, settled definitely the question of ownership of land in Greer County, and defined the southwest boundary of Oklahoma.

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When oil was discovered in northern Texas and in the bed of the Red River, the old question of the boundary line was again revived. There were great quantities of oil, consequently both states claimed the land and the parts of the river. The dispute arose over the right to drill oil wells in the bed of the Red River. Texas claimed the south half of the river bed as public property and gave oil leases to operators, who soon had producing wells. Oklahoma claimed this land belonged to the state of Oklahoma and would be leased by the School Land Commission. The United States then claimed to be the owner of a large part of the bed of the river and the numerous islands therein. Then certain Indian allotments were clamied to extend to the middle of the river. Up until this time, the river, most of which is not navigable, had never been any cause for dispute in regard to ownership. Treaties were studied, Spanish archives were searched, and one of the most interesting cases of recent years went to the Supreme Court of the United States. Involved in the case was the entire history of the Red River, from the time of the Louisiana Purchase. One of the points of negotiation at the time of the purchase was concerning the boundary lines along the Sabine and Red Rivers. Extracts from the history of the Red River show that conferences were held by John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, and the Spanish Ambassador, and that no adjustment was accomplished for several years. After many proposals on both sides, the Treaty of 1819 was accepted, although very unsatisfactory to the Spanish Government.

The Organic Act, approved May 2, 1890, described the boundaries of Oklahoma Territory and states that it is bounded on the south by Texas. When Oklahoma was admitted as a state, it acquired the rights, sovereignty, and jurisdiction over navigable streams that were formerly under the United States. On December 8, 1919, the state of Oklahoma filed an original bill against Texas and asked that the court establish the south bank as the same existed February 22, 1819, as the true boundary line between the states.

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On March 1, 1920, the state of Texas filed its answer, denying that the legal effect of the terms of the treaty between the United States and Spain was to locate the boundary on the south bank of Red River, but that the boundary was located at the center of the main channel of Red River. The evidence which was introduced related largely to questions of the assertion of rights and jurisdiction over property involved on the part of Oklahoma and Texas. That the Oklahoma-Texas boundary was the south bank of the Red River was conceded by various treaties: namely, the Spanish-American Treaty of February 22, 1819; the Mexican-American Treaty of January 12, 1828; by an act passed December 19, 1836, by the Congress of Texas; by an act of Congress passed in 1845, admitting Texas into the Union; by an act of Congress, passed May 2, 1890, describing the boundaries of Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory; by an act of Congress admitting Oklahoma into the Union and by the Constitution adopted by the people of Oklahoma.

The decision handed down by Justice Van Devanter, January 15, 1923, was that the south bank of the Red River was the boundary line as established by the Treaty of 1819. This decision definitely settled the Oklahoma-Texas boundary dispute, which was brought into prominence by the discovery of oil in the Red River.


The explorations into the Southwest, with the glowing reports, and possibilities of the Red River Country, caused many people to come into that country. It was gradually settled and became a very cosmopolitan region. At the present time, 1935, the Red River Valley constitutes one of the important agricultural regions of the United States. The soil of that portion of it which lies in Louisiana is very rich. The farms are small, but they produce excellent crops. In Arkansas there are large orchards and many rice fields. The Red River Valley in Oklahoma is unusually fertile. On the Texas side of the valley, cotton is the staple crop. In western Texas, the cattle business is one of the industries. There are a number of flourishing towns on the Red River today.

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Because of the great value of the land on either side, the Red River has been the cause of much controversy. The State of Oklahoma and the State of Texas have built three free bridges over this river. The controversies, which have been international and national, have interested several countries and states, which is a significant fact as to the importance of the Red River Country today.1

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