Newsworthy River Cutoffs

On December 1, 2016 · 3 Comments

Rivers can make great boundaries when they cooperate. Frequently they do not. These creatures of nature flow where they want to flow. Sometimes they erode deep furrows through solid rock, changing course only after eons pass. Other times they cross alluvial plains, shifting into multiple ephemeral streams awaiting the next flood. Problems will undoubtedly occur when people rely upon frequently-shifting rivers as boundaries. The shifts create winners and losers.

Two recent border situations came to my attention, handled in distinctly different ways by those involved.

The Red River



Reader Glenn seemed amused by the craziness of the border between Texas and its neighbors — Oklahoma and Arkansas — along the Red River, in an email he sent to 12MC a couple of months ago. The border rarely followed the river exactly, it reflected a version of the river that existed a long time ago. Many of the cutoffs on the "wrong" side of the river still retained names from a bygone day; Eagle Bend, Horseshoe Bend, Whitaker Bend and Hurricane Bend. Others seemed to represent the year of the flood that changed the underlying channel; such as 1908 Cutoff and Forty-One Cutoff.

Fixing the Border


Bend in Red River, Texas
Bend in Red River, Texas. Photo by brewbooks on Flickr (cc)

I might have left it at that, a simple observation of a messed-up situation. However, the decision to use the Red River beginning with the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 continues to reverberate today. This treaty between Spain and the United States addressed a host of boundary issues. A line along the Red River remained in place when México gained independence from Spain in 1821, when Texas gained independence in 1836 and when Texas joined the United States in 1846. The river had different intentions though and meandered as it pleased.

The Red River figured prominently in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Oklahoma v. Texas, 260 U.S. 606 (1923). The Court noted that even though the river wandered, it remained within two "cut banks" broadly defined.

… we hold that the bank intended by the treaty provision is the water-washed and relatively permanent elevation or acclivity at the outer line of the river bed which separates the bed from the adjacent upland, whether valley or hill, and serves to confine the waters within the bed and to preserve the course of the river, and that the boundary intended is on and along the bank at the average or mean level attained by the waters in the periods when they reach and wash the bank without overflowing it.

The Court set the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma on the south side of the Red River. Surveyors then marked and set the boundary.

The Current Dispute

Except the river kept changing while the boundary, as determined by the Court in 1923, remained fixed. The latest dispute began within the last several years. It got much more complicated. While the line between Texas and Oklahoma began at the south bank, the Federal government held the portion from the middle of the river to the south bank in public trust for Native Americans. This formed a narrow strip, a 116 mile (190 kilometre) ribbon. Much of that strip is now on dry land. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimated that 90,000 acres actually belong in the public domain, and not to the people living there, farming it or grazing their cattle for the last century. Lawsuits continue to rage.


The River Meuse


Netherlands Belgium Border Adjustment
Netherlands / Belgium Border Adjustment
Underlying Map from OpenStreetMap

Reader Jasper sent me a heads up that Belgium shrank and the Netherlands grew on November 28, 2016. The two sides came to an amicable agreement and adjusted their border. Didier Reynders of Belgium and Bert Koenders of the Netherlands signed a treaty in Amsterdam, in the presence of their respective monarchs, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, and King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima. The announcement came in a Press Release with coverage in local media (Google Translation of an article in Flemish).

The areas in question fell along the banks of the River Meuse, forming a portion of the boundary between the two nations. They established their original border there in 1843. However, these neighbors decided to straighten their common river to improve navigation in stages between 1962 and 1980. This left a piece of the Netherlands and two pieces of Belgium on the "wrong" side of the river between Visé and Eijsden (map). Police could not access these spots easily and they became havens for illegal activities. This included a situation where a headless body washed ashore on one of the exclaves. Territorial complexities hampered the investigation.

In an unusual twist and in a supreme act of neighborly cooperation, the two nations simply agreed to swap their stranded parcels. It seemed the most logical option, and yet, it remained exceedingly rare in other border situations worldwide. Nobody wants to be the loser. Belgium simply gave up 14 hectares (35 acres) in the deal and called it good.

Ramble On

On November 27, 2016 · 3 Comments

It’s the Thanksgiving weekend and I’m feeling a bit lazy. I think I’ll just ramble on for awhile instead of writing a real article. Those of you reading from countries without a similar holday may not understand much about Thanksgiving. In the United States it involves several days of overeating to the point of immobility, and sitting on a couch watching (American) football games all day. I’m not motivated to put the necessary research into writing something mentally stimulating. You might want to skip today and come back next time.

Turkey Trot

A slightly more athletic Thanksgiving activity formed in recent years, a "traditional" running race known as the Turkey Trot. Races tended to start early on Thanksgiving morning before culinary indulgences could sideline potential participants. They covered short distances, like maybe 5 kilometres or 5 miles. That way people could pretend they were behaving in a healthy manner when, in fact, they were simply getting ready to stuff themselves silly in a few hours.


Arlington Turkey Trot 2014
My local Turkey Trot a couple years ago. I didn’t take any photos this year.

Our local neighborhood began its Turkey Trot about a decade ago. My wife took great pride in signing me up the last couple years. I think she enjoyed tormenting me. There I stood on the start line once again this year at precisely 8:00 am, ready to hit the pavement with 3,000 of my closest friends. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I finished in first place for my age bracket. That should never happen. I’m not that fast. Then I noticed that she’d accidentally signed me up as a woman. For a few brief moments I claimed to be the fastest middle-aged woman in town. Once corrected however, I fell down to fourth place for my age bracket. That still sounded impressive although it also included participants dressed as pilgrims, or with plastic turkeys on their heads, or in full Santa Clause outfits, or walking dogs. My effort wasn’t all that notable in that context. Then I spent the rest of the day eating, as expected and customary.


Mainly Marathons



That reminded me. I’ve just started planning for the next marathon race series. Longtime readers probably remembered several previous trips. I don’t run those distances, I simply drive my favorite runner from state-to-state for each event in sequence and count counties. We’re looking at the Heartland Series for 2017. That event will arrive before I know it even though it won’t happen until late May. Races will be held in Bryan, Ohio; Niles, Michigan; Portage, Indiana; Fulton, Illinois; Clinton, Iowa; Sparta, Wisconsin and Albert Lea, Minnesota. Seven races, seven days, seven states, beginning May 28, 2017. We probably won’t do the last two races. I can only take a week off from work and it would put us too far from home to get back in time.

Anyone knowing about interesting things to see along the way can let me know in the comments. I’d also love to meet anyone who wants to race one or more races (they do have shorter options all the way down to 5K). I’ve noticed there doesn’t seem to be much of an intersection between the 12MC audience and this activity, though. Nobody took me up on similar offers in previous years, and that’s fine too. I’ll put it out there just in case.


Music Break



Since I’ve called this article Ramble On, feel free to take a break and listen to Ramble On.


Finish West Virginia



When last I left West Virginia, only six counties remained on my county counting list before I could finish the state. I spent a few moments sketching out what it would take. The result, above, demonstrated that I should be able to complete West Virginia during a long weekend. Inauguration Day falls on a Friday in 2017. I’m thinking that might be an ideal time to get away from the Washington, DC area if the weather cooperates. It will happen sometime in the next few months if it doesn’t happen then.


Blog Spam

Blog spam largely disappeared when Google changed its algorithms to penalize websites referenced by spam links. However, it seemed to make a bit of a resurgence in the last couple of months. That meant I could start tweeting the best examples again on the 12MC Twitter account: "I such a lot indisputably will make sure to don’t put out of your mind this website and give it a look on a relentless basis."


The Political Graveyard


Michigan Civil War Era Graves - Pic 13
Grave of US Senator Zachariah Chandler –
Elmwood Cemetery – Detroit, Michigan. Photo by Michael Noirot on Flickr (cc)

I’ve enjoyed a slightly morbid site called The Political Graveyard lately. Want to know the final resting place of practically any politician in the history of the United States? The Political Graveyard probably catalogued it. As an example, for my recent article on Winfield Scott (who ran as the Whig candidate for President in addition to his long military career), could have noted his burial at the United States Military Academy Cemetery (map). I’m not sure what that would have added although I still found it addictive.

How about somebody completely obscure. I selected Zachariah Chandler (1813-1879) somewhat randomly. He served as mayor of Detroit, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and U.S. Senator, amongst other offices. He "Died, from a brain hemorrhage, in his room at the Grand Pacific Hotel, Chicago, Cook County, Ill., November 1, 1879 (age 65 years, 326 days). Interment at Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit, Mich." (map). See what I mean by addictive? It served no practical purpose. Maybe that’s why I liked it.


Stuff from Readers

Reader Joe sent a couple of interesting article links. One in particular might apply to the 12MC audience: The Sun Has Set on Barrow, Alaska for the Final Time… Ever. Barrow, the northernmost town in Alaska went dark on November 18. The sun will rise again on January 22. However, its name will change to Utqiaġvik on December 1. They’ve ditched their English name for an Inupiat Eskimo name to better align with their culture. Native speakers pronounced it something like "Oot KHAH’-ghah veek." It reminded me of the recent change of the Wade Hampton Census Area to Kusilvak in another area of Alaska a few months ago.

Reader Rowland wondered what the U.S. map would look like if states were redrawn with equal populations. I’m still pondering that one. What would be the best way to do that? Would we also have to change boundaries, I wondered, after every decennial census?

Great Scott

On November 24, 2016 · 1 Comments

It occurred to me that a great general like Winfield Scott probably influenced place names beyond the recently-featured Scott’s Addition in Richmond, Virginia. Citizens considered him a national hero during his lifetime even if we don’t hear much about him today. This period also coincided with a rapid expansion of population and migration. They needed names for all of those settlements they built on the frontier during the first half of the 19th century.


General Winfield Scott
General Winfield Scott. Photo by David on Flickr (cc).

I wanted to use a better image of Winfield Scott than the unattractive photo of the elderly, bloated man near the end of his life from the previous article. The equestrian statue at Scott Circle in Washington, DC (map) seemed appropriate. Certainly I could uncover more significant geographic designations than a roundabout. How about five Scott counties named for him? They sprouted in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Tennessee and Virginia


Scott County, Iowa


Blackhawk Hotel, Davenport, IA
Blackhawk Hotel, Davenport, IA. Photo by Alan Light on Flickr (cc)

The Iowa county named for Scott probably measured as the most significant. It’s primary city, Davenport (map), held nearly 170 thousand residents.

Winfield Scott’s legendary career covered half a century. He served as a general in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Mexican–American War, and the Civil War. His wide ranging exploits inspired place names throughout his lifetime. Scott County, Iowa traced its named to the Black Hawk War that broke out in 1832. He commanded troops during the brief campaign (losing many more men to cholera than warfare) and helped negotiate the treaty that ended it. Much of the fighting unfolded in the vicinity of future Scott County, in neighboring Illinois and Wisconsin. Scott seemed an appropriate figure to honor when Iowa formed the county in 1837, just five years after the war ended.


The Independent State of Scott


Historical Marker: Independent State of Scott
Independent State of Scott. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

An entire Independent State named itself for Scott. It wasn’t really independent though. Nothing official. Scott County, Tennessee traced its beginning to 1814, named for Winfield Scott because of his War of 1812 activities. Geographically, much of it fell within the Appalachian Mountains. People living there farmed small plots on rocky hillsides on the far side of the frontier. They held little in common with people across the mountains and their culture of plantations and slavery. Scott County refused to join the rest of Tennessee when it seceded from the Union during the Civil War. It’s been called the The Switzerland of America both for its mountains and its neutrality.

Scott became a Union enclave, proclaiming itself an Independent State no longer beholden to Tennessee. The county had little strategic importance to either side so the Confederacy never tried to force it back into the fold. Scott did not officially rescind its "independence" from Tennessee until 1986.

The county also founded a town of Winfield (map), so a handful of residents now live in Winfield, Scott. It straddled U.S. Route 27 — Scott Highway.


Named for That Other Winfield Scott


Scottsdale Waterfront
Scottsdale Waterfront. Photo by D. Patrick Lewis on Flickr (cc)

There couldn’t be too many 19th century U.S. Army officers named Winfield Scott, or so I figured. Yet, inexplicably, there was one more. Winfield Scott — the other Winfield Scott — came into this world in 1837. I assumed his parents named him for the more famous Winfield, and the time period seemed to fit. However I didn’t find any evidence to prove it. He became a minister, later accepting a commission as an Army captain and serving as a chaplain during the Civil War. His legacy did not come from his military service.

In mid February of 1888, Winfield Scott was invited to the Salt River Valley in Arizona. Some residents of Phoenix had heard of Scott’s reputation as a promoter and wanted him to help promote Phoenix and the surrounding area. Scott was impressed with the valley and on July 2, 1888 made a down payment of 50 cents an acre for a section of land… His brother, George Washington Scott, came at Winfield Scott’s request to clear the land. He planted 80 acres of barley, 20 acres of vineyards and a 7-acre orchard.

The land he settled became Scottsdale, Arizona (map). Recently Scottsdale erected a statue in his honor (photo).

A quarter-million people live in Scottsdale now and it continues to grow rapidly. Ironically, the most famous place named for Winfield Scott recognized the man who was practically insignificant to American history. They named Winfield, Kansas after him too.

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