10.13.2008,10:07 PM
Red River Bridge War
It was well-known in the rest of the fledgling nation that the Butterfield Overland mail route was a precursor of the expanding rail network. As if an experiment, the stage coach trail blazed a route through the ‘wild frontier’ of the southwest. Not far behind the stagecoaches tracks were laid for several railroad companies. One of these was the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (commonly referred to as the ‘Katy’); it was the first railroad to enter Texas from the north.

The Katy built a bridge spanning the Red River and parallel to the Texas Road. After the first passenger train crossed the bridge into Texas, on Christmas day of 1872, all freight wagons stopped using Colbert’s ferry service. Their traffic was reduced to half.

Shortly thereafter, Colbert and his head ferryman, John Malcolm, considered building a toll bridge to replace the ferry service.

“He and I had several conversations in regard to it that spring and he went to Washington to see about getting a charter. Gov. Throckmorton of Texas and others assisted him in getting it. When he came back he told me that he got an introduction and shook hands with the President, and he was surely proud of it. I asked him if he would not have to get some authority from Texas. ‘No,’ he said, ‘the Chickasaws claim to the high water mark on the south side of Red river and when I sold my land over in the bottom I reserved the right for a boat or bridge landing and a way out.’ Finally he got his charter that Fall.”
The bridge was finished in 1874 or ‘75, costing $30,000. Unfortunately, it lasted barely a year.

“In August '75 or '76 there came the biggest overflow that was known on Red River. The railroad bridge went out first. One span of it floated down and lodged against the north pillar of the wagon bridge, but did not even shake it. There was a heavy drift of logs and trees coming down and much of this lodged around the middle pier. Sometimes it would break loose then big cotton-wood trees would strike it endwise and bounce back like rubber balls.”
Both bridges were lost in the flood. With no other way across the river, Colbert’s men and the rail company built large barges to transport traffic across the river until new bridges were built a few years later.

Colbert sold his charter to the Red River Bridge Company that he helped found. This company rebuilt the toll bridge in 1892, which was destroyed in another flood (1902). Resorting to the ferry service once more, another toll bridge was quickly built. This bridge remained in use until 1931 and was one of the two bridges that made national news in the “Red River Bridge War.”

The notorious conflict between Texas and Oklahoma was over the opening of a toll-free bridge over the river. In July 1931 the newly completed free bridge, built jointly by the two states, opened for traffic between Denison, Texas, and Durant, Oklahoma. A few days afterwards the Red River Bridge Company filed a petition in the United States district court in Houston for an injunction preventing Texas from opening the bridge. In 1930, the Texas Highway Commission had agreed to purchase the toll bridge for $60,000 and pay the company a sum for their unexpired contract should the free bridge open before then. The Governor of Texas, Ross Sterling ordered that the new free bridge be barricaded at the Texas end.

In response, Governor William (Alfalfa Bill) Murray of Oklahoma opened the bridge by executive order, claiming that the land on both sides of the river belonged to Oklahoma dictated by the Louisiana Purchase treaty of 1803, and that the state of Oklahoma was not named in the injunction. Oklahoma highway crews crossed the bridge and demolished the barricades.

Governor Sterling then ordered a detachment of three Texas Rangers to rebuild the barricades and defend the Texas Highway Commission workers enforcing the injunction. The next day, Governor Murray ordered Oklahoma highway crews to demolish the Oklahoma approach to the toll bridge, rendering that bridge impassable. No traffic crossed anywhere!

A special session of the Texas state legislature passed a bill allowing the Red River Bridge Company to sue to the state over the issue. The next day, Governor Murray declared martial law along the northern approaches to both bridges, called in the Oklahoma National Guard, and appeared at the site armed with a revolver. An Oklahoma court issued an injunction prohibiting Murray from blocking the northern toll bridge approach. Murray directed the guardsmen to allow anyone to cross either bridge.

“On July 27 Murray announced that he had learned of an attempt to close the free bridge permanently, and he extended the martial-law zone to the Oklahoma boundary marker on the south bank of the Red River. Oklahoma guardsmen were stationed at both ends of the free bridge, and Texas papers spoke of an "invasion." Finally, on August 6, 1931, the Texas injunction was permanently dissolved, the Oklahoma guardsmen were withdrawn.”

The famous bridge that appeared in Time Magazine was dynamited on December 6, 1995, and replaced with the one we rode over twice the day before.

Next: Ferry Ghosts

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posted by Macrobe
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