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Changing Course of Red River Sparks Land Dispute

October 22, 1986 GMT

BYERS, Texas (AP) _ Texans in five counties could lose thousands of acres to Oklahoma in a dispute over a change in course of the Red River that has neighbors arguing over where one state ends and the other begins.

A U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City has ruled that just because the river shifted northward since the Texas boundary was drawn along its southern bank in 1923, that doesn’t mean the Texas border followed.

Oklahomans sued for land now south of the river they say rightfully belongs to the northern state. Several families in Clay County in Texas lost 5,800 acres to Oklahomans in court last year.

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In all, an estimated 46,000 acres are at stake.

″It’s a very big mess,″ said rancher Tom Henderson, who lost a third of his land to Oklahoma neighbors Corky Hooper and Darrell Currington. ″We sure got a lot of trouble and a lot of hard feelings between neighbors.″

Texas landowners want the state to survey the 440-mile river and define its bank as the state border. Texas officials say they will pay for the survey - at an estimated cost of $5 million - only if the federal government gives the state oil leasing rights to part of the riverbed.

The confusion stems from a 1923 court fight between Texas and Oklahoma over rights to oil reserves in the bed of the river.

The U.S. Supreme Court gave Oklahoma the breadth of the river, except along a 110-mile stretch between Waurika, Okla., and the Texas Panhandle, where the Oklahoma line was drawn mid-stream, the federal government got the rights to the southern half of the riverbed, and the Texas line was drawn at the south bank.

As the river shifted northward, the border set in 1923 did not change, the federal court in Oklahoma City ruled.

Doodle Zachry, who runs the Byers cotton gin, stands to lose nearly 1,600 acres that his family has owned for 60 years. The man who is suing for the property, Johnny Wilcoxson, claims the land is part of his Oklahoma ranch.

Before the lawsuit, the families had been friends for generations.

″Tensions are running pretty high,″ Zachry said.