Battle of the Bilge

Oklahoma Today|July/August 2020

Battle of the Bilge
The Red River Bridge War is a bizarre and thankfully short chapter in Oklahoma history.

SOVEREIGN OKLAHOMA’S ARMY— thirty-two boys all under twenty-one years and armed with heavy rifles—stood today Horatio-like on one end of a toll bridge spanning the Red River and defied ‘all of Texas’ to attack,” reported the El Reno Daily Tribune on July 24, 1931.

This was the height of the Red River Bridge War, a showdown between Texas and Oklahoma over a free bridge between Durant and Denison, triggered when the corporation operating a nearby toll bridge filed suit in federal court to prevent the free bridge from opening.

The two states had built the free bridge in tandem and were preparing to open it on July 1, 1931. But the toll bridge corporation had a contract obligating the Texas Highway Commission to pay the company $60,000 and an additional $10,000 over a fourteen-month period for the use of the bridge. Texas, therefore, owed the company about $200,000, or about $3.3 million adjusted for current inflation.


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July/August 2020