This Land Is Your Land — Or So You Thought

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A complicated and historical issue is rising to the surface once again in Texas. Following a controversial dispute between the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy, a new hot topic has Texas officials and landowners shaking in their boots for the sake of their land — or what they believe to be their land.

The controversy surrounds a border dispute between Northern Texas and Southern Oklahoma. Historically, this has been a source of concern for over 100 years, with multiple attempts and court cases supplying fuel to the fire over that time period. The land in question is composed of nearly 90,000 acres along the banks of the Red River, according to Fox News, and has been, supposedly, bought and purchased by private landowners for several generations.

Land Ownership and the Heart of the Issue

What it comes down to is this: who, in fact, has the lawful entitlement to the riverbanks of the Red River that separates and acts as the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma? And if, and when, the riverbeds change and move (as a body of water tends to do), does the border also change and move? The Bureau of Land Management argues that much of the land surrounding the Red River actually belongs to them, which, you can imagine, leaves current landholders and cattle ranchers on both sides of the border nervous for their homeland. And, by looking at the Oklahoma v. Texas court case of 1922, I’d say they may have a case. But read it for yourself, and see if you can figure out what was decided. However, as the land has changed, so have the riverbeds and time. Through all of that, much of the land that the BLM believes they have a right to has been purchased and sold within the two states to various, private landowners. This, then, really becomes a jurisdiction dispute between not Oklahoma and Texas, but the Federal Government and the States.

When Texas Lost, They Lost Big

As with everything in Texas, the losses they’ve incurred throughout the years have been of no mean size. Many government officials in Texas are quick to cite a court case in the 1980s that left one of their own, Tommy Henderson, without 140 acres of land that he purchased from his aunt in the 1970s. The land, he says, had been in the family since the early 1900s, but following a loss with the court in the 1980s, Henderson was forced to give up his land, despite having paid the taxes on the property for the years in his possession. The BLM has since claimed this land as “public domain” and open for their use, should they decide to use it for animal trapping or as recreational land.

Texas officials are now worried that the Henderson case will be used against other landowners to seize additional property along the riverbanks. Jim Malewitz, from the Texas Tribune, supported that idea when he said that “The BLM, citing a 1924 U.S. Supreme Court opinion and court rulings on two landowner disputes during the 1980s, says the land in question belongs neither to Texas nor Oklahoma — even if locals have bought it from one another and continue to pay taxes on it.”

Time and careful deliberation can only tell who does, in fact, have the rights to the land surrounding the Red River. But who knows? Just when it may look like it’s settling, the Red River may just decide to make a few land alterations of its own.

 

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Ali Lawrence is a content specialist for a tech company and blogs about communication in her free time.
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