Red River Rivalry

Ranchers along a 116-mile stretch of the Red River could lose some of what they paid for to the federal government
April 29, 2014 8:31:57 PM PDT
In a cycle of drought, the Red River may seem little more than a slipstream of mud and clay, but along this nature-made border between Oklahoma and Texas, there is a well-spring of worry among dozens of Texas ranchers.

"We always said when John Wayne stepped out of the river and he said, 'I'm back in Texas,' he wasn't really back in Texas yet," said Texas rancher Tommy Henderson. "He still had another mile to go. He just didn't know it."

That's because where Oklahoma ends, Texas doesn't technically begin.

For a 116-mile stretch along the river -- some 90,000 acres -- Texas starts where the vegetation starts. That no man's land in between the federal government Bureau of Land Management claims belongs to the United States.

"We hold private title to it, private deed," said Henderson. "It was patented to us from the State of State in 1863. It's been handed down and sold down through generations. But it's not Texas. But it's not Texas, they say."

The fear that the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, is set to claim the land and take it from more than a hundred ranchers had many of them, along with local and state politicians, meeting to talk options.

"We feel like if this can happen here in Texas, it could happen just about anywhere, you know," said Michael White with the Texas Farm Bureau.

For its part, the BLM issued a statement late last week, stating that categorically it is not expanding federal holdings along the Red River and referencing a 30-year old lawsuit that has the ranchers believing they could lose their land.

"They're saying trust us, we're gonna come up with a good plan for you guys," said rancher Terry McAlister.

"Do you trust them?" we asked him. "Absolutely not," he told us.

The meeting, in the town of Byers, was attended by no fewer than a half dozen state lawmakers, including Tomball's Debbie Riddle, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, and Lt Gov David Dewhurst.

Dewhurst called the possibility of a "land seizure" more than ridiculous. He vowed help for the landowners, as did other elected officials.

Texas and Oklahoma (and the Feds) settled a dispute over the border between the two states nearly 14 years ago when both states formed Red River Commissions. They ratified an agreement. Ranchers believe the BLM is overstepping and ignoring that border agreement.

Representatives from the BLM were there as observers and took individual questions after the meeting ended.


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