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The Backstory: When Texas and Oklahoma went to 'war' over a bridge across the Red River

Historians call it a war, though no shots were ever fired.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Red River separates Texas from Oklahoma. These days, when we talk about a battle between the two states, we’re usually referring to the annual college football rivalry between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma.

But it was along the river in 1931 that armed federal troops and Texas Rangers went head to head in a standoff over the closing of a highway bridge.

Here’s how it happened:

Both states had worked together to build a highway bridge across the Red River to link Denison, Texas, and Durant, Oklahoma. People could drive across it for free.

But that upset a man who owned a toll bridge nearby. Texas agreed to buy his toll bridge and shut it down, but failed to pay up.

When the toll bridge owner sued the state for nonpayment, then-Texas Gov. Ross Sterling was ordered by a federal judge to barricade the free bridge until the lawsuit could be resolved.

But those roadblocks riled up Oklahoma Gov. William “Alfalfa Bill” Murray who ordered the bridge reopened and sent troops to back him up. As a response, Gov. Sterling sent the Texas Rangers.

What followed was a standoff that lasted several weeks.

The matter was eventually resolved peacefully when Texas finally paid off the toll bridge operator and the free bridge was reopened. It remained in use until 1995 when it was removed and a new bridge replaced it.

By the way, a large section of the old bridge wound up in a field in Colbert, Oklahoma: The last remnant of the 1931 “war” between Texas and Oklahoma.

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