Gun enthusiasts held an open-carry rally last week to draw attention to another federal land dispute, this time in Texas.
Texas rancher Tommy Henderson lost 140 acres of grazing land when an Oklahoma court ruled in 1984 that it belonged to the federal government.
“Our family paid taxes for over 100 years on this place,” Henderson said. “We’ve got a deed to it. But yet they walked in and said it wasn’t ours.”
His case differs substantially from Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who drew national attention and militia backing over his refusal to pay grazing fees on federal land where his cattle roam.
Henderson, on the other hand, is caught in a border dispute between Texas, Oklahoma, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management – which has cited court rulings going back nearly 100 years to claim authority over about 90,000 acres along the Red River.
The Red River has traditionally served as the border between Texas and its neighbor to the north, but soil and erosion have shifted its path through the prairie since the border was established.
“Originally, here the river was out there where it is now and it eroded and accreted up to here, and then it eroded and accreted back,” Henderson said. “Well, their interpretation is that it eroded up to here but avulsed back. So when you listen to them it is always erosion to the south, because the property line follows it then, but it’s always avulsion when it goes north. So the boundary can move south but it can never move back north.”
The land dispute blew into the open in December, when the BLM sent representatives to the area to determine how the land would be used over the next two decades.
Henderson, who was appointed in 1995 by then Gov. George W. Bush to a commission charged with establishing a permanent border — drew on his own political connections to attract attention to his cause.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, described the issue as a “potential land grab” and then challenged the BLM to “come and get it.”
Gun enthusiasts held the Gathering of American Patriots on Saturday to draw more attention the dispute, and to possibly get the feds to back off – as Bundy’s heavily armed supporters did, at least temporarily, last month in Nevada.
“Most, if not all, of the current landowners, the county governments, and I are opposed to the expansion of control or management from BLM over lands on the Texas side of the border,” said Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry (R). “Although BLM currently manages public and tribal lands in Oklahoma, we believe that BLM has no federal claim to land on the Texas side of the border along the 116-mile stretch of the Red River, especially any that are further south of the river.”
Lee Harvey, a Republican candidate for Wichita County commissioner, said the open-carry rally “put Washington, D.C.,” on notice.
“This group of individuals is sending a message to Washington that says, ‘Hey, we’re still out here and we still have our Constitution, and we’re going to stand by it,’” Harvey said.
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