What Really Happened During The Red River Bridge War

Border disputes have long been a source of conflict and war, across the world and across all eras, as rival neighboring empires and nations fight over valuable land, from India and Pakistan, China and the Soviet Union, Israel and Palestine, Mexico and the United States ... and, one time, Texas and Oklahoma. According to Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), a conflict between the two states arose in July 1931 over a simple bridge built over the Red River. When a company running a nearby toll bridge filed a complaint claiming they had not received funds promised to them, an injunction was issued and Texas governor Ross S. Sterling ordered that barricades be erected on the Texas approach, sparking a conflict that nearly led to a Civil War.

Oklahoman governor William Murray claimed that the Red River bridge both began and ended in his state's territory, and ordered the barricade to be demolished. Texas Rangers were sent to the bridge as demonstrations on both sides demanded its reopening. Murray then ordered martial law in a narrow strip over the bridge which he claimed gave him power over the court's jurisdiction, and even personally showed up to the bridge, revolver in hand.

Texans called it an invasion

The standoff between the states lasted for weeks, although TSHA reports that Murray allowed people to cross the nearby toll bridge that started the whole affair. Press described the area as a "war zone," despite the fact that no shots were fired, and when an attempt was made to close the new free bridge, Murray extended the martial law area even further. When Oklahoma soldiers were stationed on the Texas side of the bridge, cries of an "invasion" grabbed the headlines in Texas. In the strife and uncertainty during the Great Depression, with Oklahoma particularly hard hit by the Dust Bowl, it's no wonder that such a minor issue could develop into such a farce.

By August, the Texas injunction was dissolved, and Murray needed his troops elsewhere to protect the oilfields. According to KVUE, the only remaining piece of this nearly-war rusts away in a field somewhere in Colbert, Oklahoma, having been blown up with dynamite to make room for a new bridge in the 1990s, evidence of what a fleeting affair the whole thing was and how easily two tense sides can break out into unnecessary conflict.