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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Texas, Oklahoma line
ever-shifting until 1930

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
A study of a Texas Panhandle survey map of private property reminds the examiner of a jigsaw puzzle.

Originally, all survey lines were square sections laid out by the State Land Office in 1876.

What happened since to these originally neat, square metes and bounds is recorded in the "Shattuck, Oklahoma, History Book." The town is on Wolf Creek very near the Texas-Oklahoma state line and experienced many boundary problems.

History states the entire area was home to the Indians until the 1500s when the Spanish Conquistadors began passing through in the years 1541, 1601 and 1634. England, Spain and France all claimed the area at various times until the Louisiana Purchase in 1819, making the United States the new and final owner.

During all changes in previous ownership, the boundaries had been loosely defined, but in 1819 the first defined wording was introduced. A part of the eastern boundary of the purchase was described as "starting at a point on the Red River where the 100th meridian crosses the stream, thence north to the Arkansas River."

The description was universally accepted but with no natural landmarks like mountains or rivers prominent from end to end, and as the line crossed open, rough grasslands the actual location of the boundary became a problem. Since this was the line between two countries and would eventually become the line between the states of Texas and Oklahoma, the actual location of the meridian became significant.

Webster's Dictionary says "a meridian is a great circle on the surface of the earth passing through the poles and numbered for longitude." Actually, it is an imaginary line, involving higher mathematics and fixed stars, like fixing a ship's position at sea.

Five different surveys were made by state and federal entities in 1853,1859,1892, 1902 and 1930. As may be expected, all placed the meridian at different locations. Between 1859 and 1930, the line was "officially" moved four times. During this period Texas had become a state and most land sold to settlers all started at the 100th meridian. Imagine the confusion in trying to find the correct property line with the starting point being constantly moved.

The controversial site of the "moving meridian" was settled by a survey finished in 1930. An astronomical and geodetic engineer named Samuel Gannett started in 1927, worked mostly at night to avoid daytime shimmering heat waves and finished the survey in 1929. He took fixations on the stars, then placed concrete markers every .66 of a mile along the 134 miles of boundary. It is touted today as the most scientifically accurate boundary line in the United States.

In 1930, 111 years after the 100th meridian was designated as the boundary by treaty, the Supreme Court ruled the "Gannett Line" was the true meridian location. Oddly enough, the new line was placed almost exactly at the original survey line made in 1853, giving some 85,750 Oklahoma acres back to Texas.

A humorous footnote states that for 45 years, one early settler in the "strip" lived in the same house that never moved, yet the man "officially" lived in one territory, two states and three counties during that time.

Delbert Trew

"It's All Trew" >
August 8, 2006 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.
 
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