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.
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.
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.