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Oklahoma's state boundaries change with events in history

Mary Phillips Published: June 28, 2013

Imagine if you looked at a map of Oklahoma and saw a smaller, square-shaped state still bordered by the Red River at the south. That’s what we could be seeing if events had not forced the changes that reshaped our borders.

An article by M.E. Melvin in The Oklahoman on April 23, 1944, provides a history.

“Oklahoma represents the ‘left-overs’ after the garment of the public domain had been cut to fit the pattern of the other states by the congressional ‘tailors.’ But abundant compensation came in this: that when the ‘seams’ of boundary lines were closed, Oklahoma had woven into its fabric some of the warp and woof of four differing cultures around it. And this makes Oklahoma unique among states.

“Congress in 1824 fixed the western boundary of the then Arkansas Territory to begin ‘at a point 40 miles west of the southwest corner of Missouri and run south to the right bank of the Red River.’ This line barely missed Muskogee and ran through the present site of Wilburton. The government was then busy moving the Indians east of the Mississippi into this area. Conflicts between white settlers and Indians were inevitable. The Choctaws complained to Washington.

“Then occurred one of the boldest and most high-handed acts on the part of the executive department of the government in our history. In less than one year after congress had fixed the boundary line, John C. Calhoun, secretary of war, with the consent of the president, by executive order set aside the act of congress in a treaty with the Choctaws and later in 1828 by another treaty with the Cherokees. These two treaties together named the crooked boundary of west Arkansas as it now stands …”

Oklahoma’s western boundary, based on the 100th Meridian, originally ran east of Fort Sill. It took 87 years and several failed attempts to locate the real meridian. In 1929, after two years of surveying at night, a government surveyor located the meridian and the Supreme Court ruled in 1930 that this was the true 100th Meridian.

The northern boundary was settled in 1861 when Kansas became a state and lawmakers used the 37 degrees latitude instead of the 36 degrees 30 minutes line of the Missouri Compromise. This decision was made to keep from dividing the Cherokee country of Indian Territory.

No Man’s Land — the Panhandle of Oklahoma — was sold to the government in 1850 by Texas. Being a slave state, Texas did not want its northern border to extend above the 36-30 line. Until 1890 when it was attached to Oklahoma Territory, it was a lawless land.

Oklahoma’s southern boundary, the south bank of the Red River, was not officially settled until 2000 with the signing of the Red River Boundary Compact.

“Oklahoma profited from the beginning on all four sides. Twelve thousand square miles that might have gone to Arkansas, a strip across the north 34 miles wide that came from the slavery issue; all of the southwest corner affected by the supreme court decision of 1896; all of the forgotten ‘No Man’s Land;’ and last, the south half of the bed of the sandy and sluggish Red.

“But acres and miles of territory constitute the least that Oklahoma gained. By virtue of its location, surrounded by four differing cultures, it received substantial strength from each. And this makes Oklahoma unique among her sister states.”