I ran across an article written in 2010, somewhat facetiously, about some lesser known “civil wars” which were largely the result of border conflicts between states or territories. These conflicts loosely come under the topic of military history in some respects, but they all involved disputes which required intervention either by state or local militias or police and/or National Guardsmen.
One of the amusing aspects of some of these stories is that they were between states which today are fierce college football rivals.
The Red River Bridge War
I’ll write about this little month-long war today because it is said to be the basis of an intense college rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas, and they actually call it the “Red River Rivalry” (or “Red River Shootout”). Today is a good day to write about this little “war” because two days ago the annual “shootout” was held at the Cotton Bowl.
In July 1931, a controversy erupted over the opening of a free bridge which paralleled the span of a toll bridge operated by the Red River Bridge Company. The free bridge had been built jointly by both Texas and Oklahoma.
On July 3, Red River Bridge Company filed an injunction to stop the Texas Highway Commission from opening the bridge, claiming that the state had agreed to purchase the toll bridge for $60,000 and then pay $10,000 a month for fourteen months (for an unexpired contract). On July 10, a temporary injunction was granted and the Governor of Texas, Ross S. Sterling, ordered barricades to be placed on the Texas side of the newly constructed bridge.
Now, it’s Oklahoma Governor William “Alfalfa Bill” Murray’s turn to fire a shot. On July 16, Murray declared the bridge open by executive order, claiming that the bridge ran north and south across the Red River and that Oklahoma held clear title of both sides of the river by virtue of the boundaries set by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Also, the state of Oklahoma was not named in the Texas injunction.
The Oklahoma highway crews crossed the bridge and destroyed the barricades on the Texas side, which prompts the Texas governor to send in the Texas Rangers (well, three of them, accompanied by an Adjutant General of the Rangers and Texas National Guardsmen) to rebuild the barricades, protect the highway crews and enforce the injunction.
On July 17, Governor Murray orders his highway crews to tear up the northern approaches of the toll bridge. Traffic over the river comes to a screeching halt. Meetings (heated ones I’m sure) were held July 20 and 21 in Sherman and Denison, Texas, demanding that the bridge be re-opened. By July 23, the Texas Legislature had passed a bill allowing the bridge company to sue the state. Satisfied that their interests were addressed, the bridge company joined the state in asking that the injunction be vacated. On July 25, that occurred and the free bridge was opened on the Texas side.
Now you would think this should have settled everything because the new bridge could be opened and used. However, Governor Murray was still blocking the northern approaches of the toll bridge, and the bridge company had subsequently filed a petition in federal district court in Muskogee to stop the blockage. Murray claimed that his authority as the commander of the Oklahoma National Guard superseded that of the federal district court. So he ordered a National Guard unit to the bridge and even went down there himself “armed” with an antique revolver (the papers called it a visit to the “war zone”).
The injunction against the state of Oklahoma wasn’t being enforced but on July 24, since the free bridge was to be opened, Murray ordered his Guardsmen to allow access over the toll bridge they had been blocking. Then, on July 27 Murray claimed to have heard of an attempt to shut down the free bridge forever, so he extended martial law to the Oklahoma boundary marker on the south bank of the river. Consequently, Oklahoma Guardsmen were posted at both ends of the free bridge and Texas now claimed an “invasion” (or the papers did at least).
By August 6, the whole controversy was over when the injunction was vacated and the Oklahoma Guardsmen were withdrawn. War over. According to this web site, Oklahoma claims to have won the “war”:
In 1995, the bridge was blown up and replaced by a new one (no controversies this time).
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Since I was born in OK and have been “citizen” of TX for over 75 years maybe I should remain neutral!