A Red River Rivalry That Has Nothing To Do With Football

How a two-bit bridge, a secret deal and a federal injunction triggered a Texas-Oklahoma border war.

By Casey Cheek & Michael MarksJuly 11, 2017 6:04 pm| ,

The Texas Revolution, the Mexican War and the Civil War were great international conflicts of the 19th century. Their legacies are carved into the memory of Texans everywhere. And in that way, they’re unlike the Red River Bridge War.

You probably don’t know about a conflict along the Texas border that almost became deadly. It almost became a literal war between the states – two of them anyway. And even though only happened 86 years ago this month, there may be a reason Texans don’t remember.

But Rusty Williams does. He’s a historian who wrote a book about the conflict called “The Red River Bridge War: A Texas-Oklahoma Border Battle.

In the summer of 1931, a toll-free bridge that would connect Oklahoma and Texas by allowing motorists to drive across the Red River, was slated to open. But news leaked that the governor of Texas had struck a secret deal to buy the bridge. The project was put on hold by a federal judge’s injunction. The brand-new bridge, ready-to-use but closed to traffic, taunted Texans and Oklahomans alike as they continued to pay tolls to cross the state line.

“People on both sides of the river were pretty angry,” says Williams. “It lasted that way for weeks.”

The frustration intensified to the brink of conflict as the Texas Rangers arrived to guard the south bank and the Oklahoma National Guard patrolled the north.

“The Texas Rangers did some target shooting down in the river bed,” says Williams. “But those were the only shots fired.”

The Red River Bridge War is all but forgotten in Texas. The same isn’t true for those living in Oklahoma.

“You know, it’s a funny thing. Texans just don’t know about the Red River Bridge War,” says Williams. “But I can talk to a group of Oklahomans, and man they hoot, holler, throw both hands in the air. They know, because Oklahoma won.”

 

Written by Taylor Buchanan.