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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

NEUTRAL GROUND AGREEMENT

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
In several previous visits, especially if they involved early filibustering activity in East Texas that troubled the boundary between Texas and its neighbor to the east, we likely have mentioned the Neutral Ground Agreement. This visit, let's give the Agreement its due and have a fuller discussion.

The Neutral Ground Agreement was an accord between Spanish General Simon Herrera and American General James Wilkinson regarding the undefined and highly disputed border between their nations and more importantly their overlapping fields of operation.

The Agreement was, in short, a way for these two generals to avoid a conflict that might have escalated into a war. It was not sanctioned formally by either government, so far as conceding advantage to the other about the eventual location of the actual border. First, last, and always, it was a bargain to prevent fighting by two field commanders. Herešs how it came about.

When Napoleon Bonaparte sold the Louisiana Purchase to the United States in 1803, it came without a definite western border. First claimed by France, surrendered to Spain in 1763, reclaimed by France in 1797, then transferred to the US in 1803, none of the nations involved ever had agreed that the Sabine River was the boundary. America coveted land at least as far west as the Brazos and the Spanish thought their eastern neighbors should not encroach west of the Arroyo Hondo.

Because Herrera, military commander of Spain's northern provinces, or Wilkinson, the US military commander of the American Southwest, wanted to start a war, they did something sensible: they talked. Herrara came to Nacogdoches and Wilkinson to Natchitoches, frontier towns about ninety miles apart. Their emissaries met in the middle, and, after parleying a while, proposed the Neutral Ground Agreement.

The land between the Sabine River and the Arroyo Hondo, on a line between Nacogdoches and Natchitoches, and north and south of that line, was declared "off limits" to soldiers of either command. The assumption was that if Spanish and US soldiers were not in one another's presence there would be no fighting.

That part worked. But as we know from physics and nature, there is a reaction to ever action. In this case, the Neutral Ground attracted a population that relished not having soldiers, or law enforcement, from either nation to interfere with their fun.

Some of their descendants, I am told, still want it that way.

All Things Historical
March 7-13, 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.
 
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