Oklahoma’s Infamous Bridge War With Texas
The story of Oklahoma is full of mostly unknown tales. Shameful events history wants to forget, others so obscure nobody can keep the stories straight. This is the tale of how Oklahoma and Texas went to war with each other, and the Sooner State prevailed.
Oklahoma had been a state in the great American union for twenty-something years when a border dispute erupted along the Red River. Our border had long been a sore subject for those on both sides, but this war was about the right to travel and the source of all evil, money.
While the Red River has been the universal border between Oklahoma and Texas since the great Greer County dispute when Texas had to cede land to Oklahoma in 1886, the tensions didn't end when representatives signed the dotted line. Like an open wound, it festered until a seemingly unrelated issue boiled over into a tenacious war in 1931.
At the center of the controversy was one of only a few bridges that connected the Sooner and Lone Star states south of Durant in the one-horse town of Colbert, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma was still in the early days of statehood in 1931. Bill Murray (yeah, that's his name) had been governor of our state for about six months when an argument over a bridge connecting Oklahoma to Texas heated up.
For years people had traveled between our two states on a toll bridge between Colbert, OK, and Dennison, TX. When Oklahoma completed a new bridge across the Red River just upstream that was free to travel, the company that operated the toll bridge petitioned the courts to keep this from happening.
A little more backstory... the new free-to-travel bridge was a joint venture between the Oklahoma and Texas Department of Transportation equivalents. Both states contributed to that new free bridge. This was unacceptable to those at the Red River Bridge Company
In mid-July, RRBC won an injunction against the Texas Highway Commission to prevent this new free-travel bridge from opening, and due to the court's ruling, the governor ordered the new bridge to be barricaded on the Texas side, forcing Texans to continue using the toll bridge just down the road. Naturally, this became a military matter.
While the Red River Bridge Company was suing the state over a small mention that Texas would purchase the toll bridge for $60,000... that's just over $1million adjusted for Brandon's inflation... the Texas state legislature was on a mission to find a solution to what was becoming a border dispute.
Oklahoma Governor Murray played the cards he was dealt but kept an ace up his sleeve. He deployed the Oklahoma National Guard to the border and they were met by the Texas Rangers. Both sides standing guard on a bridge Texas apparently had no claim to...
If you remember learning about Greer County, Texas, and the great OK/TX border dispute of 1886, a treaty signed by the USA and Spain set precedence on this border way back in 1819. It clearly states the river belonged to the USA, ergo, it belonged to Oklahoma. Because the Oklahoma governor had a federal treaty to support him, he escalated the situation in a swift decision to blow stuff up.
Since the matter was being handled behind closed doors in Texas, Oklahoma's Governor Murray decided he would personally lead our national guard down to see what was going on. He even wore his own revolver, peak-Oklahoma if you ask me, and he declared martial law across the area of the dispute.
The only shots fired in the Oklahoma-Texas Red River Bridge War were fired when Governor Murray ordered the toll bridge to be destroyed on the Oklahoma side. National Guard members set a charge, things went off without a hitch, and our guardsmen marched across the newly built free bridge to secure the Texas side as territory of Oklahoma.
As you can imagine, this only tightened the tensions between the two states.
In a move to avoid all-out war, the Texas legislature pressured the courts to dissolve the Red River Bridge Company's injunction, and the new free bridge was opened and put into use on Labor Day that same year.
It was a big win for Oklahoma and just another footnote for Texas in their long list of political and military losses.
If you're curious, the bridge remained spanned across the Red River for nearly 85 years before falling into disrepair. The Department of Transportation tore it down, but a section of it remains on display in the Colbert, OK city park since it is such a massive part of Oklahoma's weird history. If you're ever on the east side of Lake Texoma, you might hop down there to see it.
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