How Texas got its shape
Apr 19, 2009 | 3098 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I DROVE southeast on Hwy. 31 through Elysian Fields, De Berry, and Deadwood. Forty miles from the city limits of Marshall, a few miles beyond Deadwood, I saw a marker that is one of a kind.

It’s been there since 1840. The Sons of the Republic of Texas have put a marker beside the marker to explain it.

RIVERS PLAYED a big role in the ultimate shape of Texas. In 1840, a boundary commission was appointed by the presidents of the Republic of Texas and the United States. Its purpose was to establish the boundary between the U.S. and the Republic of Texas. The surveyors followed the meandering of the Sabine River north from the Gulf to the point where the Sabine turns back west at the 32nd parallel, then left the Sabine and went north to the Red River.

The marker near Deadwood is the only permanent marker in the contiguous United States marking an international boundary. The white marble block says, “US” on one side and on the other side, “RT.” It also indicates, to the best of my understanding, that it is seven miles from the 32nd parallel where the line quits following the Sabine River.

The Red River borders the north side of Texas. The other border river is the Rio Grande, which, along with the Gulf of Mexico, marks the southern border of Texas.

TEXAS WASN’T always the Texas-shape of today. At one time her panhandle ran into what is now Wyoming and Colorado. Oklahoma had no panhandle, because it was a slice of Texas. Texas also claimed about half of New Mexico. The Rio Grande starts in Colorado as a small stream and heads south through the middle of New Mexico. That’s what Texas used to claim as its western border.

After Texas became a state and after the Mexican-American War, the U.S. claimed a large area on the western and northern side of Texas.

“But wait!” said Texas, “we claimed that area when we were a Republic.”

“But you never occupied and governed it,” said the U.S., “and we had to fight and pay for it.”

“We helped fight,” said Texas.

SO A BITTER verbal battle raged. Finally Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky proposed a compromise; the U.S. would pay Texas $10 million for their claims. Texas needed money desperately and took the deal. It changed the shape of Texas immensely, and although we lost the panhandle of Oklahoma, we now have another panhandle.

The East Texas Historical Association provides this column as a public service. Ben Z. Grant, a former member of the Texas legislature, lives in Marshall. Scott Sosebee is Executive Director of the Association and can be contacted at
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