OPINION

Bridges: Greer County was an early battle between Texas, Oklahoma

KEN BRIDGES

  Texas is an immense landscape, and the land seems to stretch on forever.  The question of the Texas border has resulted in many disputes.  One infamous land dispute in the late 1800s resulted in a piece of Texas called Greer County becoming a part of Oklahoma.  

Bridges

 The dispute arose over a portion of a fork in the Red River.  On the border of what is now Wilbarger County, the Red River forks into two distinct rivers.  One fork, called at one time the South Fork and now often referred to as the Prairie Dog Town Fork, continues westerly into the Panhandle.  Another fork, called the North Fork, goes straight northward from the main branch of the Red River before curving back westward and into the Panhandle along what is now Interstate 40. 

In 1819, the United States signed the Adams-Onis Treaty with Spain, which set portions of the Texas border at the Red River.  Years after Texas gained its independence from Mexico and then joined the Union, it claimed the North Fork of the Red River as part of its boundary with the 100th Meridian marking the eastern edge of the Panhandle.  The areas to the north of the Red River were set aside as the Indian Territory, lands reserved for Native American tribes. 

A series of surveys was completed by the federal government in the 1850s to further define the border.  As the surveys were completed, Texas officials moved to secure their claim by organizing the entire region between the North Fork of the Red River and the 100th Meridian as Greer County.  

The county was named for veteran Texas politician John Alexander Greer.  Greer had a respected career that included serving as the last Secretary of the Treasury of the Republic of Texas under President Anson Jones in 1845 and later served as the second lieutenant governor of Texas from 1847 to 1851.  He died in 1855.  The Texas Legislature named the county in his honor in February 1860. 

After the interruptions of the Civil War and Reconstruction, settlement in the area picked up steadily in the 1880s.  In 1879, when Congress created a new federal judicial district for North Texas, Greer County was included rather than being pushed into the Indian Territory.  By 1886, the town of Mangum was established as the county seat, with schools and ranches being established across the area. 

After the Indian Territory was opened to settlement and Native American claims stripped away, the federal government took interest in Greer County.  Where Texas had claimed the North Fork as the border, the federal government claimed the South Fork as the border, putting Greer County in the newly rechristened Oklahoma Territory.  A protracted legal fight erupted.  In 1895, the Supreme Court heard testimony from both sides but ruled that the southern fork was the real boundary, ruling in United States v. Texas in 1896.  Congress formalized the ruling later that year, giving Oklahoma full rights to Greer County. 

Since Oklahoma was admitted as a state in 1907, Greer County was subdivided into four counties: Greer, Beckham, Jackson, and Harmon.  The area today is thinly populated, and the economy is mostly devoted to ranching. 

Border disputes between Texas and Oklahoma continued for more than a century.  By 2000, Texas and Oklahoma agreed to a formal river boundary at the vegetation line on the south bank of the Red River and Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River.  The fight over Greer County proved to be just one of many battles that Texas and Oklahoma had to face with each other. 

Ken Bridges is a writer, historian and native Texan. He holds a doctorate from the University of North Texas. Bridges can be reached by email at drkenbridges@gmail.com.