"Red River War" (Time Magazine, August 3, 1931)

“Red River War” - (Time Magazine, August 3rd, 1931) {Slightly Edited for Classroom Use}

Texas and Oklahoma are not independent Balkan powers. If they were, they would have been at war last week, with a frontier bridge across the sluggish Red River as causa belli. As it was, Oklahoma’s bewhiskered Governor William Henry (“Alfalfa Bill”) Murray declared martial law and called out guardsmen on his side of the river. Half a mile away on the other side, Texas’ corpulent Governor Ross Shaw Sterling posted a detachment of his Rangers for military duty. The real fighting, however, was done in the columns of the Press.

For years across the Red River from Durant, Okla. To Denison, Tex. has stood a private toll bridge, now in receivership. Early this year Texas and Oklahoma finished building a free span close to the toll bridge. The toll bridge receivers went into Federal Court in Houston and obtained an injunction against Texas’ opening the free bridge until such time as the Legislature authorized them to sue the State for $180,000 in damages to their property. Obedient to the injunction Governor Sterling had the Texas end of the free bridge barricaded.

Alfalfa Bill MurrayWearied by this red-tape delay and not bound by the injunction against Texas, Governor Murray fortnight ago ordered his highway workers to clear away the free bridge’s barricades and plow up all approaches to the toll bridge. Incensed, Governor Sterling dispatched his Rangers to the Texas bridge head, curtly informed Governor Murray: “You have exceeded your jurisdiction beyond all reason.” Replied Governor Murray: “I bow to your authority over the State of Texas. You could probably muster more manpower than I could in case of war.”

With Rangers blocking the free bridge, Governor Murray was determined that no one should use the toll bridge. Therefore he declared martial law – the first in eight years in Oklahoma – over the road to the latter span, summoned 32 guardsmen, including a colonel, three captains and a lieutenant, to halt all traffic a mile and a half away. After being duly photographed and interviewed, this force took up its patrol with orders from the Adjutant General: “Hold the fort but keep the cost down.”

While motorists made a twelve-mile detour to another bridge, the Texas Rangers under mighty Captain Tom Hickman answered Governor Murray’s criticism that “all they can do is cuss and shoot craps” with a public demonstration of their marksmanship. Captain Hickman shooting from the hip hit 18 out of 20 matches at 50 ft. Ranger Goss, firing his piston upside down, split a playing card at 20 yd.

Meanwhile Texas was working fast to end the state of siege against Oklahoma. Its Legislature passed a bill for the toll bridge company to sue the State. The Governor’s secretary sped 200 mi. by motor from Austin to Houston, dashed into a banquet of Texas attorneys, presented the measure to Governor Sterling who signed it amid cheers. Next day the Federal Court suspended its injunction until Aug. 3 when another hearing would be held. At Denison Captain Hickman and his men cleared away the cumbersome barricades from the free bridge, opened it to traffic.

An epilog to the Red River war occurred when the toll bridge receivers secured a belated Federal injunction against Governor Murray’s military blockade of their property. Defying the Federal Court and refusing to withdraw his troops, Governor Murray packed an old-fashioned horse pistol in his bag, set out for Durant to take personal charge of his siege. When he arrived, he found the free bridge already open. He closed it for five minutes and then officially reopened it in the name of Oklahoma.

After drilling his army of 32 guardsmen, posing for photographs, eating a salt pork and cabbage meal, he ordered the toll bridge also opened, although he refused to withdraw his men. Asked if he had lifted his blockade because of the Federal injunction, he snorted: “I said ‘Hell no’ yesterday, say ‘Hell no’ today and will say ‘Hell no’ tomorrow. The free bridge is open now. If folks are fool enough to want to pay 75ȼ to cross the toll bridge, let ‘em.”

Red River Bridge War

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