I’ve been working — on an ongoing basis — on a general history of the US.  Although it’s a survey of our past, it is by necessity about growth and advancement.  With our history there are some requisites: you have to deal with the “discovery” and founding of the country; the national expansion across a continental land mass must be described; and the evolution of a confederacy into a superpower begs explanation.  Invariably, when telling a story about how this country got to where it is today, you are talking about building — about coming together and progress (even at the expense of the first inhabitants).  This is the story of migrants and colonists becoming citizens.
 
It is my job as a historian — with this project and with all my classes — to explain how things came to be.  We observe where we are now, and our histories describe the way here.  Constructing tales of this construction is the essence of my historical work.  It is, then, too, my habit.
 
But, I was watching the news the other day, and it struck me that our society seems as if it is unraveling.  I have a sense that we’ve become so enamored of natural law that we are headed to a brutish natural state.  I look at the political divisions in our country, and I wonder if they can be mended.  We have had these fights so many times it seems.  Even at the political founding of our nation, the Federalists and anti-Federalists fought against one another.  We are constantly disagreeing, and I wonder just how long we can last with this as our state in the States.  We must lack the knack for diplomacy because dispute has already led us to civil war.  We tried to reconstruct but it didn’t really take, and eventually we returned to our corners.  Just as we became a superpower, we seemed again to erupt in civil strife. The culture wars began, and there hasn’t seemed to be any domestic peace since.
 
And, I remembered: things fall apart.  In the back of my mind, I know nothing lasts forever.  History is about change, and political unions are as temporal as the people who make them.  Sometimes, nations are reborn.  Sometimes, they are swallowed up by others.  Sometimes, they are glued together with other loose bits at the bidding of men around conference tables.  They do not stay the same though, and mostly, they have endings.
 
I know this — really, we all know this.  We don’t always actively use that awareness in our everyday thinking or analysis though.  We go on as if, because we would have no reason to bother if we only thought about the end. Life must be lived; there is no skipping forward.
 
As I was thinking these things, I suddenly became very sad.  I was sick-at-heart sad.  Of course the first part of our history is how it comes together, and, by necessity, the later part is how it ends.  It occurred to me that quite literally, I could be living in the coming apart period (although, really, we might ultimately describe the unraveling as beginning even while the weaving occurred).  It could be that in a couple of generations I could be explaining the previous republic to students.  Or The Republic, should we move on to something else.  (Hello, techmocracy.)  In the future, I might likely be explaining, then, how we came not to be.
 
It seems likely to me that it won’t be one nation, indivisible much longer, and that we might become three or four or five nations for whom the Union is like the empires of old.  We might be better neighbors than we are family, but it saddens me just the same.  I like being a Stater, and the notion of choosing to which fragment I would go depresses. I think probably I am not the first citizen to foresee this outcome, and it might be some time coming still.  It no longer seems to me, however, that the Union is something to which we commit our lives, fortunes, and sacred honors. My historical perspective on this has, very sadly, shifted.
 
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For my mother, who was there.
 
The need to carry Texas and Florida in the 1964 election prompted JFK’s staff to schedule a trip to the Lone Star State in November, 1963.
 
The whirlwind trip would abort in Dallas, where hostile crowds jeered at and a woman assaulted US Ambassador Stevenson a mere month before.
 
The First Lady was to accompany her husband — her first official public outing since the loss of their second son shortly after childbirth.
 
Much of Nov 21st the presidential party was to spend in Houston — a motorcade followed by two public appearances before friendly crowds.
 
Yellow roses, wind, a mariachi band, smiles & handshakes, sour poll results, roast quail & Heineken, & a Medal of Honor recipient met them.
 
For security, tenants of downtown office buildings received instructions not to open windows or throw anything  as the motorcade passed.
 
Crowds along the way spilled onto the streets; no barricades separated them from the open motorcars crawling single file mere feet away.
 
The Kennedys gave impromptu talks — hers in Spanish — after stopping at the LULAC gala that evening; the crowd responded “Viva Kennedy!”
 
The day’s final event: a speech at a dinner for Congressman Thomas, where a well-planned slip of the President’s tongue amused attendees.
 
JFK spoke hopefully of the future — quoting the Bible: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” — before the party flew to Ft. Worth.
 
Just hours later, crowds again spilled onto Houston streets — disbelieving, in grief standing where they had welcomed the day before.
 
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Starting tomorrow, I will be tweeting another short twistory — serial posts that tell a mini-history over several days.  Follow me on Twitter to read them as they appear.  At the conclusion, I will post the tweets here altogether as well.  I hope you enjoy it.  Feedback is welcome.

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Sep 022013
Recently, our local city council considered a motion to change the name of a street downtown, which honored a city founder who was also a Klan member and involved in various acts of violence against political opponents.  Depressingly, the Council found a compromise that allowed them to pretend to rename the street while actually preserving the same surname on it.  It resolved none of the lingering racial issues in our city (in fact, it probably exacerbated them) but incurred financial costs just the same (thankfully, donations save the taxpayers from added insult to their pocketbooks to go with the injury to their civic sensibilities).  In any case, there was a lot of talk about the role of history in relation to this incident.  I will confess that it was sometimes painful to listen to laypersons pontificate on the same without any substantive understanding — but it was a good reminder that Everyman is his/her own historian.  I spoke at the council meeting where it was opened to public comments, and I post here what I said then:
 
Like so many other Tulsans, I want to weigh in on the matter of renaming Brady Street.  I support the change and ask you to vote in favor of it.
 
I have taught history for some time, and it always strikes me how little people understand its power.  Every semester, to illustrate that, I tell my students this story:
 
When I was an undergrad, I had an instructor whose son was in an accident and developed amnesia (true story, by the way).  She told our class that when she was taking her son home from the hospital, they stopped to eat.  As they were looking over their menus, he grew increasingly agitated.  When she asked him what was wrong, he said:  ”I don’t even know what to order.  I know what all the words mean, but I don’t remember eating them before.  Do I like hamburgers?”
 
I tell this story because it demonstrates how important memory is to making us who we are.  We simply can’t make choices or function well without it.  Who we are is shaped by what we’ve experienced.  History is our collective memory and makes us who we are as a group.  The memory of what has happened to us as a community shapes the choices we make together — whether we know it or not.  Today, we face an important challenge because what we are really doing is trying to come to terms with our history and make choices based on that for our future.  This is a momentous thing.  Very rarely do we come to such obvious crossroads in life.  There is a wealth of opportunity here.  We can continue to dismiss the past and try futilely to forget it, or we can do the ugly work of wrestling with the difficulty of making a new response.  I say after almost 100 years, it’s time we do the latter.
 
This dilemma has, unfortunately, been characterized as a black v. white issue — south Tulsa v. north Tulsa.  In looking at it that way, we fall into the same pattern we have since the riot happened.  Black versus white is the legacy of that riot.  We have to find a way to get past that, and it’s high time we did so.  Truthfully, the issue here is really white Tulsans deciding how we are going to embrace the blame for that event (which we have failed to do so far).  We have benefited from the riot — you cannot look at the booming district that now sits on the site of those old burned out houses and not know that.  The owners are no longer the people who once lived there or their offspring.  And, white Tulsa did not have to spend money on rebuilding after the disorder; it had sound homes and businesses upon which to continue to build.  That was not the case for north Tulsa.  Most importantly, white Tulsans did not have to live in fear that the more powerful members of their society — including leaders like Tate Brady — would do them great physical harm.  Black Tulsans, however, did have to grow up under that cloud.  It shapes who you are.  It shapes the choices you make.  It impacted the way the civil rights movement played out (and stalled) here so many years later.  For example, in 1968, the federal government barred discrimination in housing.  Our state law did not match that until the mid-80′s, and we still struggle with housing discrimination in our city today.  It is undeniable that the riot and the race relations that developed after it still affect us. White Tulsans must come to terms with this legacy.  We cannot say “well, that wasn’t me.”  As Abraham Lincoln noted in his 2nd Inaugural Address, there is a woe that is due.  It has now come to this generation to decide what it will do with this mantle.
 
I would love if the City of Tulsa — instead of being what people point to as an example of intolerance and backwardness — chose to demonstrate how to handle such things a better way, and with dignity and grace.  I believe we can do this.  I look at the Murrah Bombing Memorial and know that the people here know how to set the standard for handling our history with decency and maturity.  It is time that we do so with the riot.  This will be a harder task because it means owning up to a great failure and harm.  We are not alone in this, and I think it might be helpful to look at how other places with similar histories have dealt with theirs as inspirations for what — or what not — to do.  This dilemma is solvable — and even better, it offers us a bridge to a more positive future.  The way we choose to treat our past today will affect our potential for the future.  I ask you to choose the option that leads us closer to reconciliation and hope.  To do so, it is necessary that we make this change as a sign that we repudiate that past and, in breaking away from the legacy left to us by Brady and his peers, set a unified path forward.
 
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I was reminded recently of a piece I read some time back by Andrew B. Lewis for the Los Angeles Times (“The Sit-ins That Changed America,” 2/7/10).  Lewis’s tribute to civil rights history began:

“The ‘Sixties’ were born on February 1, 1960…when four African-American college students staged the first sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C.”

Lewis went on to describe how this and subsequent sit-ins inspired by the Greensboro example revitalized the civil rights movement, which had floundered after so many attempts to integrate southern schools following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education had failed and the successful Montgomery bus boycott had become a memory.  Lewis specifically noted that the young people involved in these sit-ins formed the separate Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to preserve their independence from the NAACP, which balked at their aggressive tactics.  This separation gave room for significant young leaders like John Lewis, Julian Bond, Bob Moses, Stokely Carmichael, and Marion Barry to develop.  The success of the civil rights movement thereafter was largely the result of the aggressive egalitarian pattern set by these student protesters, Lewis claimed.  Because of these, our country was permanently and significantly changed.

Only, there were sit-ins in the US that pre-dated the events in North Carolina.  Civil rights groups desegregated literally hundreds of restaurants and public spaces between 1942 and 1964.  The organizers and participants of these protests never got national credit for their leadership like Bond and Carmichael, et al, and their sit-ins didn’t spark a chain of similar events around the country.  One has to wonder why – and, also, why we haven’t investigated that question more.  How is it that Greensboro has become a symbol in our memories but the others have been lost to our national consciousness?  History textbooks mark the beginning of the sit-in movement in North Carolina, but we in Oklahoma certainly know better.  We know that it came here first (or, rather, not – but we’ll get to that).  We also know that the rest of the country didn’t notice what happened in our state – and others nearby.  I bet most Americans aren’t even aware that there ever was segregation in Oklahoma.  They probably also don’t know that it was a couple of court cases from this state that led to the desegregation of public schools in our country.  Oklahoma was a pivotal part of the civil rights movement in the twentieth century, only the rest of the country doesn’t pay any attention to that.  Truthfully, it was the heartland that set us on the path to desegregation – places that we don’t think of when we think of Jim Crow were the vulnerable ways in for activists.

In 1939, the real first sit-in protest for desegregation in the south occurred in Alexandria, Virginia.  Five young black men went to the library there to obtain library cards, and when they were denied them, they took seats at various tables and sat down with books to read.  The men were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.  When the cases went to trial later, their attorney got a police officer to acknowledge on the stand that they were disorderly by being black in a library meant for white people.  After the judge continued the case multiple times to avoid issuing a ruling, it was let go without resolution.  Meanwhile, a black World War I veteran brought a lawsuit to obtain a library card there through legal channels.  The judge in that case affirmed that there were no grounds for denying the applicant a card, which prompted the City to delay issuing cards to black residents so they could hastily construct a separate library for them.  Although these incidents made the news, they were quickly forgotten after World War II broke out.  Attention turned elsewhere, and the Alexandria library system was left segregated.

During the war, a group of pacifists formed an organization they called the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).  They were influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi on nonviolent protest.  The group had white and black members, and its goal was to bring Gandhi’s form of non-violent resistance to the United States. Chapters of the organization sprouted around the country.  Their efforts kicked off in Chicago, where members undertook desegregating a noted restaurant in the City’s famous Loop district in October, 1942.  At first activists were denied service altogether; then, later, they were admitted but served garbage from the kitchen trash and inedible concoctions on multiple occasions.  In June of 1943, protesters finally had their first success after a lengthy sit-in.  Despite substantial waits, the parties were served properly for once.  There were sporadic incidences of poor treatment after that, but for the most part, the group had succeeded in obtaining equal treatment at the establishment.  By the post-war period, that had become the norm.

After the war, CORE’s St. Louis branch decided to challenge segregation there.  We don’t think of Missouri as a Jim Crow state like Mississippi.  It was, however, a former slave state and segregation had become the practice there too.  As in Chicago, CORE members opposed a well-accepted custom that reached well beyond the Old South.  At first, the group just handed out flyers denouncing segregation outside of a local store with a lunch counter which would not serve blacks.  Later, white members of the group went in to order food and shared it with their black cohorts who joined them inside.  Store employees closed down the counter in response.  Sit-ins at the counter became a weekly event then, and participants included veterans and women with babies whose pictures appeared in the local press as part of the coverage.  It took until 1954 before the store agreed to desegregate but eventually, the protesters won.  Subsequent sit-ins by CORE members and supporters in Baltimore had speedier results, effecting change within days.

Four years after the St. Louis protests ended, members of the NAACP Youth Council in Wichita, Kansas began organizing sit-ins at the drug store lunch counters in their city.  This effort was planned and executed by students, and they pursued it against the wishes of the national NAACP leadership.  Beginning with a two-day-a-week schedule in July 1958, their plan was to occupy all the seats at the lunch counter so that the store wouldn’t make any money if it didn’t serve them.  Other patrons wouldn’t have a place to sit and be served.  Here, white patrons, spectators, and employees tried to intimidate the protesters and were overtly hostile to them.  Despite the threats and insults, the young people persevered, and in 23 days, they met their first success.  In short order, the youth turned their sights on other local businesses and more victories followed.

On the heels of that first win in Wichita, young NAACP members in Oklahoma City also began organized sit-ins.  Some of them had gone to New York to perform at an event at the NAACP’s headquarters that summer and experienced for the first time what it was like to have equal access and service in public places.  When they returned home, they decided to organize a program to end the segregation in OKC; this included picketing, sit-ins and protests.  Their work gained support from the local Catholic Church and some other religious groups.  They had some quick successes and other longer campaigns.  The protests spread to various other parts of the state and continued until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to deny service in public places to anyone because of their race.

Clearly, then, there was a history of sit-ins and protests in the US that pre-dated Greensboro’s in 1960, yet Lewis’ take on North Carolina as a starting point for the struggle for desegregation is a common misconception that endures.  The idea persists that it began there – in the Old South.  In reality, it was the heart of our country that pioneered the change that later took off in the southeast.  In the days after the Greensboro protests began, students in Raleigh, Charlotte, Richmond and Nashville followed suit.  Not long after that, young people in Mississippi did the same.  Soon, sit-ins would spill into communities throughout the south – a river of change that somehow didn’t seem to flow from earlier protests.

Today, a piece of the Greensboro lunch counter sits in the National Museum of American History as a tribute to the wave of desegregation efforts the sit-in there set in motion.  Earlier successful protests, in contrast, have become part of a largely forgotten past, and the “Sixties” are now defined by a popular civil rights folklore that is shaped by how we remember rather than by the actual history.  Everybody knows about Mississippi, but they don’t know about Oklahoma or Missouri or Kansas, goddam.

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This week, three people in Boston became terrorism’s latest fatalities.  We don’t know yet if the bomber or bombers selected the Massachusetts state holiday Patriots’ Day for the attack in order to send a political message in particular or if it was just a large crowd at a public event that proved irresistible to those responsible.  Was it a statement about American patriotism?  A nod to previous events on this date in past years?  Or, was convenient opportunity — what with a large milling crowd about — to blame?
 
Speculation immediately rushed to the obviously political:  it was a violent Patriots’ Day protest timed, like that for the anniversary of the siege at Waco, because of the bomber’s leanings.  Of course, Timothy McVeigh targeted the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 as a show of solidarity with the Branch Davidians raided in 1993.  Later, two students at Columbine High School in Colorado would go on a shooting spree, and the record they left behind indicated a preoccupation with the events at Waco and Oklahoma City.  Their bloody eruption was similarly slated for mid-April.  Just six years separated the three tragedies, and they have become linked in our public consciousness for their violence, their anger, and deadliness.
 
These previous incidents serve as context for the Boston bombing — infusing it with meaning before there is even any semblance of understanding to be had.  Were it a lone event, it would be met with the confusion and grief of Oklahoma City or the indignation over Waco.  But, there is a past, and having been here before, we have fear and expectations.  We have experience with this grief.
 
Immediate responses acknowledged this history.  The connection in timing with Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado — western tragedy moved east and colored further by the trauma of Fall, 2001 — invariably arose.  On Twitter, in news reports, online, and in conversation, observers cited this historical combine.  It is now a list.  It’s a macabre tally:  here are our relevant deadly massacres.  We can itemize it now, our terror.  It’s a frightful grouping of like horrors.
 
I have carried the Oklahoma City bombing with me for eighteen years now.  It’s become a permanent part of my life.  It changed me.  Being so defining and unique to me, my immediate reaction is resisting the listing.  Others may want to combine these events, but they do not go together for me.  In my experience, there is the One and then there are the others.  It feels belittling to fuse them — to act like they were the same.  No, I think.  In scope, in tone, in perpetration, Oklahoma City still stands alone.  In the crudest of measurements — the body count — it eclipses the others.  In civic devastation and impact on public access and security, it is again the greater.  As an internal attack on our government, it remains unique.
 
I am certain that my resistance to combining these events is defensive too.  I am protective of my sorrow and insulted at attaching it to “lesser” tragedies.  I have a bias, and I know it.  You can’t be fair when it comes to your broken heart — and I don’t believe you ought to be.  Still, after thoughtful consideration, the Murrah bombing must be the greater woe:  it was, tragically, our introduction to an age of terrorism.
Truthfully, as similar as they are in our minds, none of the three are much like the others.  The dark motives behind them differed, as did the targets and tools.  It is a kind of dishonor borne of laziness and convenience to connect them.  It simplifies and, worse, obfuscates, and this is the opposite of knowledge.  We are temporal in nature, though, and the timeline rules our understanding.  We can resist it; our spirits can rage against it; but, the fact of the matter is that we have known these several tragedies in our experience.  We have been wounded by each, and we revisit them annually as dictated by the calendar.  April is heavy with sorrow — large and small, multiple and grotesque.  Unavoidably, there is a list.
 
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The Haole-American Revolution
 
“Instead of your shame you will…inherit a double portion in their land…” Isaiah 61:7
 
 
Whales brought white men to Hawai’i in the late 18th century, and with whaling, disease and missionaries alit.
 
The evangelists consecrated cemeteries that the diseases filled.  Just one quarter of Hawai’ians survived the unintentional germ warfare.
 
Whaling, too, expired in that time;  the south sea fishery gave way to commercial oil fields in Pennsylvania.
 
Whalers left, but white missionaries stayed to convert Christians — then cane, coffee and capitalism.
 
Mission schools taught republicanism and writing.  King Kamehameha III joined them with the Constitution of 1840, forfeiting absolute rule.
 
In 1848, the Great Mahele introduced land rights to compliment the new constitutional monarchy, but plots soon passed from native hands.
 
The California Gold Rush created a luxury market for Hawai’ian sugar, met by white capitalists acquiring native land.
 
The children of missionaries became a planter class, as their religious compounds transitioned to sugar plantations.
 
Workers from Asia and other Pacific locales replenished the agricultural labor supply to serve now-native born whites.
 
By the 1890′s, immigrants would outnumber native Hawai’ians 4:1, but the election of King Kalakaua brought a cultural resurgence first.
 
A new palace replaced grass huts and a wooden ceremonial hall during the renaissance, but the monarchy was made of lesser bricks.
 
Economic power and the rule of law allowed white businessmen a path to oligarchy. The Big Five sugar companies dominated with dollars.
 
The Hawai’ian League — a secret organization of haole (white residents) — formed a militia to supplement that economic power with force.
 
Under duress then, the king signed a “Bayonet Constitution” (1887), disenfranchising Asians and poor Hawai’ians via voting requirements.
 
A new queen replaced the last king; briefly did she reign, her constitutional reformation cut short through occupation by US Marines.
 
Forced to choose between her people’s rights and their blood, Queen Lili’oukalani surrendered her throne to haole with guns.
 
From ‘Iolani Palace, President of the new “republic” Sanford Dole (a missionary’s son) governed, with the queen imprisoned upstairs.
 
It has been 172 years since the father brought the Gospel, and 120 + 1 day since the son, an American Revolution.
 
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Twistory!

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Jan 012013

To kick off the new year, I’m doing something a little different.  For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be tweeting a history — posting a new piece each day.  At the end, I’ll put it all together here on the blog.  In the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter, if you use that, or by viewing the tweets on the side widget on the blog home page.  Either way, I hope you enjoy the experiment.

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Dec 242012
I thought this season we could use the words Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote after his son was wounded in the Civil War, just three years after Longfellow’s wife died from an accidental fire.
 
 
Christmas Bells (1864)
 
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
 
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
 
Til ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
 
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The canon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
 
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
 
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
 
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men!”
 
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Nov 192012
Hands down, the best political ad of the 2012 election season was Oklahoma 2nd Congressional District candidate Rob Wallace’s, featuring a very thinly veiled threat of armed combat with the State of Texas over water rights.  As Wallace says, some things in life just aren’t negotiable – and enabling thirsty Texans, turning their Lone Star wastelands into tourist-attracting fountains and making that craptastic beer possible is where you have to draw the line.  In case you didn’t get the point, at the end Wallace pulls out his trusty rifle and takes aim at a water jug with a picture of the Buffer State on it.  Take that, Oops Perry!

Those filibusteros are always trying to steal shit.  They stole their damn state from the Spanish, and again from the Mexicans.  Then, there was that time they tried to take over our bridge.  Maybe they just always assume they’ll get their way, but, in the latter case, Governor Alfalfa Bill Murray gave them a lesson in state sovereignty, Oklahoma-style.

Back in the days when our government really was small and didn’t even provide basic infrastructure, geography impeded easy commerce between Texas and Oklahoma.  The Red River divided us, and our conjugation depended on flow and ferries.  Demand dictated the more convenient bridge, and over time an ad hoc supply developed at the hands of a few enterprising local entrepreneurs.  They built bridges in several places across the river and then charged tolls of users to cross them.  Grateful states granted them permits to operate in the public interest.

When the Great Depression hit some years later, putting angry young men with too much time on their hands to work in remote locations seemed wise.  They called it a stimulus and sent them off to build dams and parks and roads very far away from banks and Chambers of Commerce offices.  Luckily, this surplus of labor coincided with the spread of a new belief that the government ought to do something for you – or rather for businesses.  It became the state’s job to foster business development by providing roads and bridges, and suddenly they had just the unemployed workers to do it.

The State of Oklahoma partnered with that self-important republic to the south to build a bridge across the Red River between Denison and Durant (on highway 75), and it would operate without a toll when it opened in July, 1931.  The free ride was a result of the growing public conviction that transportation should be a not-for-profit benefit from the state and a requirement for taking federal money for the project.  The point was to facilitate commerce, not fund Austin and Oklahoma City.

When the completion date neared, the Red River Bridge Company of Texas, which owned the existing toll bridge nearby, ran to the federal district court in Houston and got an injunction to prevent the free-way from opening.  It seems that in order to deter political opposition there the Texas Highway Commission had promised to buy out the bridge company – since the new free span would drive it out of business – but it hadn’t actually done so.  The federal court ordered Texas not to open the bridge until the matter could be heard, and state employees put up barricades to comply in the meantime.

Only, they didn’t know who they were messing with.  Reformed Texan, outspoken white-supremacist, and country lawyer, Alfalfa Bill Murray wasn’t going to take that nonsense.  He was a militant with a penchant for declaring martial law to keep order and to monitor sales of OU football game tickets.  Of course he wasn’t going to take some court order lying down.

Based on his legal expertise, Murray concluded that treaties pertaining to the Louisiana Purchase actually granted the State of Oklahoma the territory up to the south bank of the Red River, so the bridge was technically in our state and under Alfalfa Bill’s control.  Further, he determined that though the bridge was a joint project, the shares ran north and south.  Texas might not be able to operate its side because of the federal injunction, but Oklahoma wasn’t bound by that (even when the federal court in Muskogee issued an injunction against us too).  Highway crews from our state marched right across the bridge and tore down the barricades.  Governor Sterling of Texas had them rebuilt and sent some Rangers to stand guard.

In response, Ol’ Alfalfa Bill went inexplicably Amazonian on him:  bizarrely suggesting that an “army” of women from Oklahoma and Texas rise up and occupy the bridge – for a quilting bee, of course – and he assured that his men would be glad to open the way for them, out of chivalry.  Sterling issued a statement huffing and puffing about law and order and Texas’ profound respect for womanhood and its support for opening the bridge, if only the court would allow it.  Murray cut to the chase.  He declared martial law, and the papers called it a “bridge war.”  The governor personally led the troops, stationed on the northern side of the “war zone,” in his signature white suit, with his outdated revolver in hand.  Of course, those chicken-shit Rangers backed down when facing the mustachioed old man and his antique firearm.  Oklahoma guardsmen crossed the bridge and Texans fretted about the “invasion.”  The Texas legislature, meanwhile, called a special session to approve a bill to let the Red River Bridge Company sue the state for its promised funds.  The toll bridge operators would get their money, and in August, Murray recalled the troops – he needed them to enforce the martial law he had then declared in the Oklahoma oil fields – but not before the story made TIME and Life magazines.

Funny thing is, the old man was right about the border.  He may have been a crazy fascist, but he was a good lawyer.  He was an expert on the territorial dispute – and outrageous enough in his actions to attract press from across the country to it.  Later, Alfalfa Bill tried to ride that national notoriety into the White House, but he couldn’t woo delegates from other states.  Maybe that’s because one of his plans to cut spending was to offer pardons to prisoners who would move out of state.  You know some of them went to Texas.

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