The Greer County dispute between Texas and the United States began as a result of the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 between the United States and Spain, defining the border between the United States and Spanish territory in North America. Article III of the treaty described part of the boundary as following the Red River west to the 100th meridian and then north to the Arkansas River. At the time of the treaty the upper sources of the Red River had not been mapped. The treaty used a map published in Philadelphia in 1818, known as the Melish Map, to establish the territorial boundaries. The Melish Map was based on secondary sources and showed the Red River as a single channel. The fourth article of the treaty provided for a more accurate location and marking of the boundary line, but this article was not acted on at the time.
When Mexico became independent of Spain in 1821, a treaty was signed recognizing the boundaries of 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, again recognizing the same boundaries. Texas entered the Union in 1845 with all the territory belonging to the former republic. In the spring and summer of 1852 Capts. Randolph B. Marcy and George B. McClellan were sent to explore the upper Red and Canadian rivers. Captain McClellan used astronomical observations to establish the 100th meridian. However, he made a mistake and 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 river. Captain Marcy evidently considered this to be the main channel of the Red River, as the expedition followed it to the source. Marcy then turned and reached the south fork. He failed to find the source of this channel and on his maps named the south fork Ke-chee-ah-quo Hono, Comanche words for Prairie Dog Town River. This opened the way for a great deal of confusion and litigation in eventually deciding which was the true Red River of the Treaty of 1819.
The error in the placement of the 100th meridian was discovered in 1857 by United States surveyors Jones and Brown while establishing the western boundary of the territory given to the Choctaw and Chickasaw by the treaty of 1855. However, neither the Choctaw nor Chickasaw ever made use of this area, and there was no pressure to further clarify the boundary. Several surveys were made in the following years, but the state of Texas never officially accepted or rejected any of the results.
Texas was by now firmly claiming that the area between the North and South Forks of the Red River east of the 100th meridian belonged to the state of Texas. This claim was based on Marcy's identification of the north fork as the true Red River as well as the fact that the federal government had not seemed to seriously dispute that claim. Several fact-finding commissions were established and bills passed to settle the conflicting claims, but nothing ever came of these efforts. The Civil War and ensuing domestic problems occupied the attention of the federal government, and the Red River boundary dispute was left an open issue.
On February 9, 1860, Texas created Greer County, named in honor of John A. Greer, once lieutenant governor of the state. The new county's boundaries were the area east of the 100th meridian and between the north and south forks of the Red River, thus tacitly recognizing the true 100th meridian as the eastern boundary of the Texas Panhandle but claiming the North Fork as the main branch of the Red River. Texas held sovereignty over Greer County for almost forty years. From the 1860s through most of the 1870s the new county was still a grazing area for the remaining buffalo herds and a hunting ground for the Kiowa and Comanche.
Texas's case for ownership of Greer County seemed to be strengthened when an 1879 act of Congress created the Northern Judicial District of Texas, which included Greer County, thus establishing federal courts in the county. In 1879 Texas appropriated all vacant public domain within Greer County and set aside one-half of the land for public school benefits and one-half for payment of future public debt. The state then issued land certificates of 640 acres to veterans who had served in the Texas Revolutionary Army and the Confederate Army. A good number of these certificates were located in Greer County.
In the early 1880s the Day Land and Cattle Company of Texas began buying many of the veterans' certificates and then leased more land from the state of Texas, thereby establishing a large ranching presence in Greer County. Several other ranchers and a few settlers also moved into the area. This presence attracted the attention of the federal government. In 1884 Pres. Chester A. Arthur became more active in pursuing the federal claim that Greer County belonged to the United States and was not part of Texas. In 1885 Lt. C. J. Crane led a body of troops from Ft. Sill to the area and issued orders for the settlers and ranchers to leave. However, no effort was made to enforce this order, and settlers continued to enter the county for the next few years.
Congress soon authorized the president to appoint a commission to meet with delegates from the state of Texas to settle the boundary dispute. The Joint Commission began meeting on February 23, 1886. The Texas representatives maintained that the stream called the North Fork of the Red River was the main channel, while the United States commissioners just as firmly maintained that the south or Prairie Dog Town Fork was the main channel and therefore the true boundary between Texas and Indian Territory. The commission remained deadlocked and adjourned on July 16, 1886. The inhabitants of Greer County met at Mobeetie, Texas, in July 1886 and formally organized themselves as a county of the state of Texas, with Mangum as its county seat.
On May 2, 1890, Congress passed the Organic Act for the Territory of Oklahoma. One section of the act required that the attorney general of the United States file a suit in equity in the U.S. Supreme Court to officially settle the disputed boundary. Attorneys for the United States searched the archives of Mexico and Spain. Testimony was taken in 1894, and the case United States v. Texas was argued before the Supreme Court in October 1895. On March 16, 1896, the Court ruled that the southern branch of the Red River was the true Red River of the 1819 treaty. By this decision 1.5 million acres were added to Oklahoma Territory. Congress passed a bill to establish a government for Greer County, Oklahoma Territory, with Mangum as its county seat, and the president signed the bill on May 4, 1896.
Settlers in Greer County quickly took action to protect the claims they held in the new Oklahoma Territory county. U.S. Rep. Jeremiah Cockrell of Texas introduced a bill to open the county for homesteading. An important provision of his bill was that any settler already in Greer County had six months to file for any quarter section of land at a cost of only the land office fees. Each settler also had to right to purchase another quarter section of land for one dollar per acre. Cockrell's bill was approved by the House in 1896 and by the Senate during the next session and was signed on January 27, 1897. The Mangum land office opened on June 24, 1897. There were one hundred original homestead applications. By the end of 1898, there were three thousand applications. By 1902, 95 percent of Greer County was occupied.
The 1906 Oklahoma Constitutional Convention divided the county into Beckham, Jackson, and Greer counties. In 1909 Harmon County was created out of a part of southwestern Greer County. Mangum remains the seat of the smaller, new Greer County.
History and the Supreme Court were not through with Old Greer County. In 1929 a new survey was run to locate the true 100th meridian using more modern and accurate methods of triangulation. This survey established that the present meridian was located 4,040 feet too far west at the Red River and 880 feet too far west at the north end of the Texas Panhandle. On March 17, 1930, the Supreme Court confirmed the new line as the official boundary between Texas and Oklahoma. There were no cities or towns on this narrow strip, but some five hundred people suddenly found themselves citizens of Texas once again.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Berlin B. Chapman, "The Claim of Texas to Greer County," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 53 (July 1949). Emma Estill-Harbour, "Greer County," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 12 (June 1934). Bailey Spencer Ethridge, "History of Greater Greer County" (M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1937). Grant Foreman, "Red River and the Spanish Boundary in the Supreme Court," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 2 (March 1924). Gaston Litton, "No Man's Land and Greer County," History of Oklahoma at the Golden Anniversary of Statehood, Vol. 1 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc., 1957). Joseph Thoburn and Muriel H. Wright, Oklahoma: A History of the State and Its People, Vol. 2 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc. 1929).
John D. Heisch
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