Oklahoma-Texas border dispute has ranchers worried

Oklahoma-Texas border dispute has ranchers worried

Credit: Texas Farm Bureau Credit: Texas Farm Bureau
April 10, 2014

BYERS, Texas (RFD-TV) Most people think the border between Texas and Oklahoma is the Red River. Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that, especially along the part of the river where Tommy Henderson and his family ranch.

Henderson lost a lawsuit 30 years ago that moved part of the northern Texas border over a mile to the south.

The Bureau of Land Management [BLM] took 140 acres of his property and didn’t pay him one cent.

Now, they want to use his case as precedent to seize land along a 116-mile stretch of the river.

“They’re wanting to take the boundaries that the courts placed here and extend those east and west to the forks of the river north of Vernon and east to the 98th Meridian which is about 20 miles east of us,” Henderson explained.

BLM, which oversees public land in the United States, claims this land never belonged to Texas.

The Texas landowners who have lived and cared for that land for hundreds of years beg to differ.

BLM plans on taking the land anyway. Property owners will be forced to spend money on lawsuits to keep what is theirs.

For many, that property has been in their family for generations.

"How can BLM come in and say, "Hey, this isn't yours." Even though it’s patented from the state, you've always paid taxes on it. Our family has paid taxes for over 100 years on this place. We've got a deed to it. But yet they walked in and said it wasn't ours," said Henderson.

Ever since the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, there has been controversy over where Oklahoma ends and Texas begins.

In layman’s terms the boundary is the vegetation line on the south side of the Red River.

Over time the river moves. This movement north toward Oklahoma is the sticking point.

The sandy soils erode in a process called accretion, which wipes out the bank. So the property line follows the river.

BLM claims that the river moved by another process called avulsion. With avulsion, the land may be changed by flood or currents, but the property line isn’t. So BLM claims that when the river moved back north the property line stayed put.

It doesn’t help that Oklahoma defines avulsion differently than Texas and the U.S.

“Originally, here the river was out there where it is now and it eroded and accreted up to here, and then it eroded and accreted back. Well, their interpretation is that it eroded up to here but avulsed back. So when you listen to them it is always erosion to the south because the property line follows it then, but it’s always avulsion when it goes north. So the boundary can move south but it can never move back north," said Henderson.

About 90,000 acres could be seized by BLM, disappearing across a new state line. If they are allowed to take the land, it could also affect farmers and ranchers down river like Scott Carpenter, who ranches north of Nocona.

BLM couldn’t take his land, but there would be nothing to stop his neighbor across the river from claiming some of Scott’s property belongs to him. That is just one of the reasons Carpenter wants to help.

"We have numerous places that have been in our family for over a hundred of years, and you hate to see land that people’s worked hard for would lose,” said Carpenter. “As producers we are always on a defense. We have to make decisions to try to help ourselves to help one another."

Both ranchers have been in contact with U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry, who is working to help stop the land grab. Henderson’s land probably won’t be affected this time, but he’s hoping what happened to him won’t happen to his fellow landowners.

This report is from our partners at the Texas Farm Bureau.

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