Texas-Oklahoma Rivalry Continues

Friday, October 6th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MARIETTA, Okla. (AP) _ Figuring out where Oklahoma ends and Texas begins ought to be simple. The Red River runs right along the border, after all.

But the river swells with rains, shrinks with drought and erodes with time, leading to two centuries of disputes that once brought the states to the brink of war over a toll bridge.

Finally, last month, Congress signed off on a boundary agreeable to both states. The rivalry, however, is as fierce as ever, symbolized by Saturday's college football showdown between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners in Dallas.

``The air is super charged with energy,'' said Jeff McLemore, a Marietta banker and University of Oklahoma alumnus. ``There's nothing else like it. It's not just an ordinary football game.''

Restaurants in Dallas, something of a halfway point where the annual game is played, have been known to divide their patrons into red (Sooner) and orange (Longhorns). People like McLemore, who live in border towns, enjoy the rivalry year-round.

After all, Oklahomans cross the border to shop in Texas, where there's no sales tax on groceries. And Texans slip over for the American Indian bingo.

``As far as Texas is concerned, it's good to have Oklahoma as the 255th county,'' quipped Texas state Rep. Tom Ramsey.

It was Ramsey who authored legislation that led to the Red River Border Compact, which ended the border dispute stretching back to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. A treaty signed in 1819 made the Red River's south bank the U.S. boundary with Spanish territory.

The Supreme Court in 1896 and 1923 defined the boundary as a line identified by wooden stakes on the river bank, a dubious solution because the posts were prone to washing away.

In the 1930s, Texas wanted to build a toll bridge along the border.

Oklahoma didn't like the idea, and Gov. William ``Alfalfa Bill'' Murray _ a native Texan _ sent state National Guard troops and a tank to face off with the Texas Rangers. The standoff was settled civilly.

The conflict was hardest on law enforcement agencies and tax collecting agencies, said Oklahoma state Rep. James Dunegan, who led his state's charge for the compact.

Others were affected, too, like duck hunters who sometimes found that their licenses were good for one side of the border-straddling Lake Texoma but not the other. Mineral rights and criminal jurisdictions came into question.

The agreement, which has been sent to President Clinton, officially establishes the border as the vegetation line along the 440 miles of the southern river bank, giving Oklahoma jurisdiction over the river.

And just in case the vegetation line erodes, the states can agree to change the boundary.

But most people say the rivalry will never end because there's too much at stake, like bragging rights over the final score Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.

``I have an uncle that lives in Texas,'' said Marietta waitress Phyllis Clevenger, ``and if I can rub a win in every once in a while, that's good.''