Newsworthy River Cutoffs

On December 1, 2016 · 4 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.

Michigan, Part 5 (Do Overs)

On July 31, 2016 · Comments Off on Michigan, Part 5 (Do Overs)

A Simple Observation

I checked the Twelve Mile Circle dashboard this morning. The 1,276th article posted on Wednesday. I still cannot believe I came up with so many different topics. I do know that my writing evolved since that initial post on November 6, 2007. Early articles contained few words. Now I delve farther into the details and average closer to a thousand words an article, although I post a little less frequently. Even so, I think the 12MC audience gets more writing from me at least by total word count.

As I look back nearly nine years, I sometimes regret that I covered many of the most amazing geo-oddities with so little explanation. The world held only so many truly weird geographic bits, probably a lot fewer than 1,276, and I explored them with barely a couple of hundred words. Sometimes I wish I could take a "do over," and erase what I wrote years ago, and replace it with something more deserving of the subject matter. However that wouldn’t be fair so I won’t try to change the past. On the other hand, the Michigan trip offered a great opportunity to create an addendum for the very oldest 12MC articles.


Lost Peninsula


Lost Peninsula

Michigan’s Lost Peninsula (map) appeared as the first real article on Twelve Mile Circle, one day after I posted a simple Introduction and Purpose. I don’t remember why I selected the peninsula for such a prominent position. I doubt I gave it much thought because I felt pretty skeptical that 12MC would last more than a few weeks. Exclaves always fascinated me and there stood an example of a chunk of Michigan that could only be approached by land from Ohio. Reader "Jim C." later visited the Lost Peninsula and provided a bunch of photos in 2009. I posted those in a follow-up article called Lost Again.

Briefly, the anomaly existed as a result of the bloodless Toledo War. Ohio and Michigan disagreed on their border because of conflicting legislation passed by the Federal government. They both claimed a narrow strip, although it covered 468 square mile (1,210 square kilometres) when measured across the length of their disputed border. Ohio blocked Michigan’s attempts to become a state because of their unresolved issue. The two rallied their militias and faced-off in what might best be described as a yelling match. Nobody fired a shot. President Andrew Jackson and Congress eventually sided with Ohio. Michigan ceded the Toledo Strip in 1836 and received the Upper Peninsula as a consolation prize; land considered basically worthless at the time. History proved that Michigan probably got the better end of the bargain.

I finally made it to the Lost Peninsula in person on the way to our ultimate destination in Grand Rapids. It seemed busier than I expected until I considered we’d arrived on the Fourth of July weekend. The peninsula included a large marina and I guess everyone wanted to get onto Lake Erie for the day. A gate separated the marina from the rest of the peninsula. A separate gate blocked access to its residential area. Normal visitors could cross the border, take a photo of the sign, eat at a waterfront restaurant and that was about it. Otherwise it was rather unremarkable.

They needed to trim the shrubs. The signs and markers will be unreadable in a couple of years.


Howder Street


Howder Street

I knew exactly why Howder Street (map) appeared as the third article on 12MC. No other street with my surname existed anywhere in the world, or so I thought. Years later I also found Dr. Howder Road in Pennsylvania. However, even then, Howder Street in Hillsdale, Michigan remained the only one named for someone verifiably related to me.

That article also received the very first comment on Twelve Mile Circle. It dropped onto the page barely three hours after I posted my story. I don’t know how the guy found it because I certainly didn’t have an audience then. He must have had an alert set to Hillsdale College on his newsreader or something like that. Even so I remember thinking that this was going to be easy. I’d write articles and comments would magically appear without any other special effort on my part. What blissful naïveté. Many of you write your own blogs (or used to) and would probably agree that it’s hard work. Right? If I only knew that then. It wouldn’t have stopped me from writing although maybe it would have softened the blow when the next batch of articles got little attention.

Today I’m used to the complete obscurity of 12MC so it doesn’t phase me. I write for myself on my own personal journey of learning and discovery. Visitors are always welcome.


A Little Tangent

Howder Street wasn’t the only bit of family history during my Michigan visit. My great-great grandfather John Howder died in Grand Rapids at the Michigan Soldiers’ Home. He led a difficult life, including two enlistments in the Union army during the Civil War. He survived some pretty brutal combat at the siege of Petersburg and in the Appomattox campaigns during his second enlistment. From research I conducted it seemed he abandoned his family after the war and headed to Michigan to become a lumberjack. We’ll never know if he experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or if he was simply a jerk.

During his final years he suffered from dementia amongst other ailments, and died destitute at the Home in 1903 (map). It felt strange to walk down some of the same streets, looking at some of the same 19th Century buildings, that John Howder would have observed during his years there. I didn’t feel any need to search for his gravesite, although maybe I should have made more of an effort in retrospect. Maybe next time. Maybe another do over.


Articles in the Michigan Journey Series:

  1. County Adventures
  2. Breweries
  3. Rambling and Wandering
  4. Above and Below
  5. Do Overs
  6. Parting Shots

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Reader Mailbag 2

On May 6, 2015 · 7 Comments

Every once in awhile I receive an overwhelming number of excellent finds from the Twelve Mile Circle community. Last time I called the collection "Reader Mailbag." I simply tacked the number 2 onto that older title in a nod to my lack of creativity for the current installment. To be considered for the Reader Mailbag an item had to be unknown to me previously and it had to be able to stand on its own. Actually the bar wasn’t that high — as you will see soon enough with some of them, well, one in particular — so keep your suggestions heading towards me because I love getting them. Maybe you’ll become a 12MC star!

I might add a little text to add context although all credit should go to the site’s loyal contributors with my sincere appreciation.


Consecutive Highway Numbering



I-70 to I-170 to I-270 to Rt. 370

First I heard from "Glenn" who recounted an unusual numerical arrangement along a sequence of roads he took recently in and around St. Louis, Missouri. He drove in progression numerically: Interstate 70 –> Interstate 170 –> Interstate 270 –> Missouri Route 370. Glenn didn’t stop there, however. He then tried to determine the longest numerically progressing route anywhere.


Van Buren, Maine
Van Buren, Maine by Doug Kerr, on Flickr (cc)

I’ll shamelessly steal Glenn’s findings verbatim because I couldn’t find any better way to portray it.

US 1: Van Buren, Maine at the Canadian border, to Houlton, ME (77 miles)
US 2: Houlton, ME to Lancaster, NH (300 miles)
US 3: Lancaster, NH to Boscawen, NH (113 miles)
US 4: Boscawen, NH to White River Junction, NH (56 miles)
US 5: WRJ to Hartford, CT (155 miles)
US 6: Hartford to near Danbury, CT (60 miles)
US 7: Danbury to Norwalk, CT (23 miles)

The comprised an astounding seven consecutively-numbered roads stretching almost 800 miles! I invite anyone to improve upon that result. Well sure, someone could start with Route 1 in Key West, take that up to Van Buren, Maine and follow the rest of the sequence. Let’s try to be a little more original though. I’d be more impressed with the greatest number of consecutive roads (something more than seven) rather than the total distance covered.


Another United States Practical Exclave

Goodness knows I’ve explored all manner of oddities along the border between the Canada and the United States (e.g., Canada-USA Border Segment Extremes) as well as any number of practical exlaves (e.g., Practical Exclaves of Andorra). I thought I’d plumbed the depths of both topics a long time ago, and yet apparently there’s always something more to be found. Someone could probably write a blog with nothing but oddities along the border between Canada and the United States.



Check what "Gerard" found on Lake Metigoshe on the border between North Dakota and Manitoba. Indeed, it appeared that the backyards of several Canadian citizens included boat docks on the U.S. side of the border. I checked this anomaly on several mapping sites and it appeared to be accurate, not just another Google Maps error. I’m not even sure how this would work in practicality. The border seemed downright porous at that point. Here was a sizable community without any border controls whatsoever? Did the residents have to notify the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection every time they wanted to walk to the back of their yard and use their boats? Did they have to pay taxes to North Dakota each year for the sliver of property they owned there? So many questions came to mind.


Geographic Tongue


Landkartenzunge 005
Source: Wikimedia Commons (cc)

I’m fine with weird somewhat tangentially-related topics. Reader "Jonathan" brought a medical condition to my attention called Geographic Tongue. Don’t worry, it won’t kill anyone. The Mayo Clinic described it thus:

Geographic tongue is a harmless condition affecting the surface of your tongue. The tongue is normally covered with tiny, pinkish-white bumps (papillae), which are actually short, fine, hair-like projections. With geographic tongue, patches on the surface of the tongue are missing papillae and appear as smooth, red "islands," often with slightly raised borders. These patches (lesions) give the tongue a map-like, or geographic, appearance.

A more scientific name was Benign Migratory Glossitis. Feel free to drop that into your next cocktail party conversation and get some tongues wagging. Several versions of the Rolling Stones logo appeared to suffer from Geographic Tongue. Maybe that explained something.


And Last…

There comes a time every once-in-awhile when Twelve Mile Circle feels it’s necessary to provide abundant advanced warning to readers who happen to have good taste and refined manners. This would be one of those times. The red lights are flashing. That’s why I saved this entry for last. Now might be an excellent opportunity to stop reading and move on to a different article because we’re about to have a Beavis and Butthead moment.



Weiner Cuttoff Road; Weiner, Arkansas, USA

Courtesy of reader "John," 12MC presents the stupendous Weiner Cuttof Road in Weiner, Arkansas. Thirteen year old boys nationwide rejoiced.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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