ABSTRACT. In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled against Texas and decided the ownership of Greet County, now located in southwestern Oklahoma. Prior to the ruling, Texas claimed and administered this region, treating it as an integral part of the state. Texas companies ran cattle in Greer County, and, more importantly, settlers from Texas comprised the bulk of early residents, establishing the county in the minds of many as a part of Texas' extended culture region. In the decades after the Court's ruling, Texans have revisited the issue informally, lamenting the injustice done and the severance of a Texas culture area from the homeland. One prominent historian even referred to Greer County as Texas irredenta. This study considers the Greer County case in the context of irredentism--the political claim of a state to a severed cultural territory. Based on evidence from government reports, court documents, and migration patterns, it seems clear that Greer County represented a peripheral area of mild cultural influence, not an integral part of Texas' culture region. The case thus fails to rise to the level of irredentism, relegating any lingering Texas attachment to Greet County more to nostalgia than to cultural geographical patterns.
March 16, 1996, marked the centennial anniversary of an obscure, but meaningful Supreme Court decision, one that decided the fate of a one and a half million-acre territory in what is today southwestern Oklahoma. This disputed region, perhaps the most contested piece of real estate of its size in the United States that few people have ever heard of, was known for years as Greer County. On the surface, the conflict over ownership of this territory between Texas and the United States appeared similar to any of a number of other boundary and territorial disputes in North American historical geography (Miller 1911; Bowman 1923; Paullin 1932; Thomas 1952; Comeaux 1982; De Vorsey 1982). Early delineation of the boundary drew on deficient geographical knowledge of the area. Later boundary surveys, nearly inept at times, did almost nothing to settle the dispute, and in fact actually worsened it. In the ensuing years after the dispute was settled, fewer and fewer people even recall that there was a border problem. While following all of these classic patterns, the Greer County dispute, however, exhibited unique and far-reaching implications. Certainly the case had many political and legal ramifications. After all, at one time or another Texas, the U.S. government, and the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations all claimed Greer County, and each side put forth detailed and credible arguments supporting its position. Texas, however, disposed of its own public lands, unlike other states, and had the potential to exert a very strong influence on an unsettled area for that reason. It ultimately took several cases for the Supreme Court to sort out all the issues of title and ownership of this sizable area, with the Court finally determining that Greer County belonged to Oklahoma Territory (Paullin 1932; Pool 1975).
The conflict over Greer County had even more important and interesting cultural implications, though they had no real impact on the legal proceedings. In this respect, though, the claim was seemingly much more one-sided on Texas' behalf. While the United States asserted a strong legal claim to Greer County, this led to little in the way of settlement or cultural geographical development. In fact, the federal government did all that it could to delay, if not prevent, settlement in Greer County. The U.S. interpretation that the area fell within Indian Territory meant that whites from the United States could not settle there, and officials repeatedly warned trespassers to stay out of Greer County. Yet, because of the confusion over ownership of Greer County, the federal government did not settle any Indian tribes there, either. Texas, on the other hand, in pressing its claim to the region, did affect settlement of Greer County, and thus exerted a cultural influence. But just how strong and durable was this influence? Texas is well known for its unique cultural identity, and the loyalty of its citizens to the Lone Star is nearly legendary. Was the loss of Greer County a painful one for Texas? Several sources in the decades since 1896 have indicated that it was, that Greer County was somehow unjustly severed from the Texas homeland. Most notably, Texas historian H. Bailey Carroll referred to Greer County as Texas irredenta, suggesting that the population of Greer County was Texan and rightly belonged within the domain of the state (1943, xxiv).
Geographers have generally connected the idea of irredentism to international border conflicts between sovereign states, defining it as "the desire to incorporate within the State all areas that had once been part of the State and/or areas of adjacent States that have become home to their ethnic kin" (Glassner and Fahrer 2004, 34). An irredentist population is literally unredeemed from the perspective of its titular nation-state and is worthy of efforts on the part of that nation-state to be liberated and rejoined to the homeland. In this context, the term seems to relate mainly to political geography, and few, if any, of its practitioners have applied the concept to border issues within countries, including the United States.
The element of "ethnic kin" in the notion of irredentism, however, suggests some application within cultural geography, as it clearly imparts an appreciation for cultural regions, group identity, and even nationalism. But are there, or have there been, irredentist populations in the United States? Or, more specifically, was Carroll right in calling Greer County Texas irredenta? Texas certainly exerted cultural influence beyond its borders. Michael Roark, in his study of the culture areas of circa-1900 Oklahoma, documented Texas settlement origins in several parts of the territory (1993). D.W. Meinig explored the idea of Texas Extended even further in Imperial Texas, noting the cultural influence of Texas in several neighboring states, especially New Mexico, but including Oklahoma (1969). The fact that Texas enjoyed a period of political sovereignty and then a subsequent territorial loss in the form of Greer County makes this an appealing case study for the idea of intra-U.S. irredentism. Based on a variety of evidence, however, including certain migration patterns around the time of the decisive Supreme Court ruling, even Texas' cultural claim to Greer County appears to have been overstated and the suggestion of irredentism misplaced.
GEOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
Old Greer County, as it is often called, lies in the extreme southwest corner of present-day Oklahoma (Fig. 1). Roughly 2,400 square miles comprise the area, which is bounded to the west by the 100th meridian of longitude, to the south by the South Fork or Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, and to the east and north by the North Fork of the Red River. The topography of the territory generally consists of undulating or rolling plains dissected by several southeast-flowing streams. To the east, however, the area borders on the western margin of the Wichita Mountains, hilly portions of which are known locally as the Quartz, Granite, and Navajo Mountains (Fig. 2). The climate is semiarid, formerly supporting a variety of short prairie grasses and the herds of bison that depended upon them. The bison proved a vital resource to the Comanche and Kiowa Indians of the area, and Choctaw and Chickasaw hunters later visited the region following their removal to Indian Territory in the mid-1800s. Euro-American settlers found the lands of Greer County valuable for other pursuits, namely cattle ranching and, later, cotton and wheat farming. These activities, in fact, still dominate the economy of the three and a half counties in Oklahoma that were created from Old Greer County.
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The first really critical events to contribute to the controversy of ownership of the territory--in fact, its very origins--sprang from the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819. Ratified by Spain in 1820 and by the United States in 1821, the treaty sought to delineate the boundary between U.S. lands gained through the Louisiana Purchase and Spanish holdings in Texas and the Southwest. The line the treaty specified made use of the Sabine River, the Red River, the 100th meridian, the Arkansas River, and the 42nd parallel as its main components. The most critical segment of the boundary as concerns Greer County occurred in the vicinity of the junction between the Red River and the 100th meridian. Both of these items appeared with apparent accuracy on a map prepared by Philadelphia …