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. 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
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.
I’m not sure if I ever flew on Braniff Airlines although I certainly recognized the name. That’s why I mentioned it when I spotted Braniff Street outside of Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas in the previous article.
A Very Brief History of Braniff
Braniff (Calder colors) DC8 N1805. Photo by Bruno Geiger Airplane Pictures and Collection on Flickr (cc)
Braniff International Airways began flying in 1928, the creation of brothers Thomas Elmer and Paul Revere Braniff. They flew first out of Oklahoma City. Braniff grew and expanded into Texas in the 1930’s, and then throughout the American Midwest. Over time it expanded the network even farther, within the United States and later into Latin America and Europe. Braniff also moved its headquarters to Dallas, Texas, initially to Love Field and later to the new Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The airline came to be known for its customer service and its brightly colored jets, including a couple that sported designs by Alexander Calder.
The United States deregulated its airline industry in 1978 and that spelt trouble for Braniff. It had been one of the strongest, fastest growing airlines in a regulated environment. However it simply couldn’t compete with cheaper, more flexible airlines that soon flooded the marketplace. Braniff folded in 1982, surviving only five years into deregulation. The name lived on for awhile, used by other companies that purchased it after bankruptcy, reduced to a zombie-like state.
Many people remembering Braniff fondly and have tried to preserve its legacy.
Braniff retained a particular stronghold in Texas during its heyday. The Braniff Street in Houston wasn’t unusual. Other ghostly fingerprints remained throughout the state. I found Tom Braniff Drive running along the edge of the University of Dallas (map). It intersected with Airport Freeway, leading directly to Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport. I found it odd that someone placed a road honoring one of Braniff’s founders so far away from the airport however, a good 10 miles (16 kilometres) distant. I didn’t feel the choice was completely coincidental although I wondered what connection it might have with the university.
A little light searching uncovered a Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts at the University of Dallas. That implied something larger than a casual correlation. However Tom Braniff died in 1954 and the university didn’t exist until 1956. That chronological mystery revealed itself easily too. Braniff teamed up with his friend, businessman (later Senator) William Blakely to form the Blakely-Braniff Foundation in the 1940’s. The foundation provided a substantial donation to the university in 1966, creating a graduate school in Braniff’s memory.
San Antonio, Texas became and remained a Braniff destination from the airline’s earliest days.
Braniff Drive, San Antonio, TX
I didn’t have any more to say about that other than noting how nicely Braniff Drive aligned with one of the runways at San Antonio International Airport.
Braniff International Airways. Image provided by Boston Public Library on Flickr (cc)
A much more interesting situation presented itself in Corpus Christi, Texas. This city included a street named for Braniff too. Nearby stood other streets named for airlines, airplanes and aviation pioneers like Eastern, Stinson, Wright, Curtiss, Lockheed, Cub, Fairchild and Ryan. Airport Road ran perpendicular a few blocks away. Yet, Corpus Christi International Airport stood several miles away (map). I had unwittingly uncovered the remains of the old Cliff Maus Field.
Cliff Maus left as airport manager in 1934 to take a job with Braniff Airways. He was killed soon afterwards when his plane crashed in a thick fog on the outskirts of Fort Worth… the City Council voted to change the name of the airport to Cliff Maus Municipal Airport.
Ultimately Cliff Maus Field didn’t have runways long enough to accommodate emerging jet aircraft. Corpus Christi International opened in 1960 and Cliff Maus fell by the wayside. Redevelopment took place over next half-century and largely obliterated the field. Del Mar Community College took a portion of it for its west campus on Airport Road. The Cliff Maus Apartments occupied another corner. A public golf course claimed another section. Housing developments also moved in.
Few remembered Cliff Maus, and soon, few will likely remember Braniff.
A few airports outside of Texas also hid remnants.
However, I figured the weird conglomeration of Braniff Road, Place, Crescent, and Green in Calgary, Canada was probably a coincidence.
My annual long relaxing August weekend in Wisconsin came to an end. I can’t think of any place I’d rather pass the time for a few days than Wisconsin — in the summer. Many people who come to this part of the country end up in Wisconsin Dells. I never thought much about the definition of a dell although for some reason I began to wonder recently. It had to be some kind of rural feature like a hilly field or something. Rather than assume, I went ahead and checked the actual dictionary definition.
Merriam-Webster defined dell as "a secluded hollow or small valley usually covered with trees or turf."
Next, of course, I wondered where it came from so I turned to the Online Etymology Dictionary.
Old English dell "dell, hollow, dale" (perhaps lost and then borrowed in Middle English from cognate Middle Dutch/Middle Low German delle), from Proto-Germanic daljo (source also of German Delle "dent, depression," Gothic ib-dalja "slope of a mountain")
Wisconsin Dells. My own photo.
So how about those Wisconsin Dells (map)? They formed rather recently in geological terms. Glaciers hundreds of feet thick extended far into North America in the last Ice Age although they bypassed an area near its southern extreme, in present day Wisconsin and Minnesota. This became the Driftless Area and it looked considerably different than surrounding terrain because of it. A huge lake formed as the ice began to melt around 15,000 years ago, dammed by a glacier. When the glacier inevitably burst, the lake drained in a single massive flood, cutting a gorge through solid rock along the banks of the Wisconsin River. People of European descent who moved into the area in the modern era named this featured the Wisconsin Dells.
Dell City, Texas
Dell City, Texas. Photo by mwwile on Flickr (cc)
I discovered many different towns and villages bearing the Dell designation or variations throughout the United States (e.g., Dell Junction, Dell Rapids, Hazel Dell). Dell City in Texas seemed particularly interesting (map) because of its origin. It didn’t exist until around 1949 when someone discovered a large underground reservoir. Farmers pumped water from this subterranean source to irrigate their fields and a town formed around it. Distinctive green circles resulting from center pivot irrigation appeared all around town, still visible in satellite photos today. According to the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas, Dell City thrived for awhile and grew to nearly a thousand residents, before declining to about four hundred by the year 2,000.
Its etymology fascinated me, if true. Texas Escapes tracked down the story and reported,
When we asked who Mr. Dell might have been, Mr. Lutrick asked if we were familiar with the nursery song "The Farmer in the Dell". There was no Mr. Dell – it’s Dell as in "a small, secluded, usually forested valley." Just forget the part about the forest.
I think many of us remembered this singing nursery rhyme from our childhood:
The farmer in the dell
The farmer in the dell
Hi-ho the derry-o
The farmer in the dell
However one of the comments posted on that article claimed that Dell City was named for an early resident, Ardell (Dell) Donathan. We may never know the truth. I’d bet on the comment although I’d hope for the nursery rhyme.
North Dell / South Dell, Scotland
Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. Photo by ShinyPhotoScotland on Flickr (cc)
Places named for dells likely existed throughout the world although I didn’t check extensively, halting my search after finding North and South Dell in Scotland (map). They formed adjacent to each other, separated by the Dell River on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. Little information existed although the Galson Estate Trust featured brief entries for both North Dell and South Dell. Many local residents spoke Gaelic as a primary or secondary language, calling the towns Dail bho Tuath (north) and Dail bho Dheas (south). The Butt of Lewis — the northernmost point on the isle — sat nearby with its impressive lighthouse.
The Dalles looking NW. Photo by Glenn Scofield Williams on Flickr (cc)
Oregon had The Dalles (map). The Historic The Dalles website described the situation.
"The Dalles" rhymes with "pals", and "gals" and doesn’t rhyme with much of anything else. And yes, "The" is part of our name. File us under the letter "T". The "dalles" was a reference to a series of treacherous rapids once located just upriver from where the community is today. The French speaking Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders and mountain men of the 1800s used the term to describe areas where river water was constricted by rock channels.
Despite the dictionary definition, not every dell featured either forest or fields although they all included a gorge or a valley.