All the maps of the Louisiana Purchase show that the lower western part of our state was not part of the original area. When and how did Louisiana, and thus the United States, acquire this part?
It was on Feb. 22, 1819, that the Adams-Onis Treaty officially placed the boundary between Texas and the United States along the Sabine River. Also called the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819, it was not ratified by the United States and the new republic of Mexico until 1831. In the treaty, Spain retained possession not only of Texas, but also California and the vast region of New Mexico. At the time, these two territories included all of present-day California and New Mexico along with modern Nevada, Utah, Arizona and sections of Wyoming and Colorado. The treaty also mandated that Spain give up its claims to the country of Oregon north of the northern border of California. Under the same treaty, Spain sold Florida for $5 million.
But the story that led up to this treaty is fascinating.
We know that the western border of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 had not been fixed, so there was a great deal of disagreement over who owned what. The Spanish in Texas believed that the border was east of the Sabine River, somewhere in the line of the Arroyo Hondo -- a dry gulch a few miles west of Natchitoches -- and the Calcasieu River. The United States, on the other hand, sometimes claimed that the boundary was the Sabine River, and other times it suggested the western boundary was the Rio Grande.
The Spanish wanted to protect the huge source of gold and silver that lay just beyond Texas in Mexico, so they maintained an army in east Texas. There was even a rumor that Americans were planning to assemble a force in Kentucky that would attack Mexico. But even if the rumor proved to be false, the Spanish definitely felt threatened by the United States.
In 1806, Thomas Freeman and Peter Custis, on orders from President Thomas Jefferson, led a party of explorers set out from Natchez to explore the Red River. They were to be the southern counterpart of Lewis and Clark, but three months later, Spanish forces forced them to turn back. A dispute erupted that caused Gen. James Wilkinson to send troops up the Red River prepared to do battle.
Wilkinson had served with honor during the Revolutionary War after which he moved to Kentucky, founded the city of Frankfort, and worked for Kentucky statehood. However, unknown to President Jefferson and Louisiana Gov. William C.C. Claiborne, Wilkinson was a double agent. That's right. In 1787, Wilkinson had turned traitor. The man who had been named by Jefferson as territorial governor of northern Louisiana after the Louisiana Purchase, and later the commander in chief of the U. S. Army, was also on Spain's payroll as a spy. He was known to his Spanish contacts as Agent 13! And he was also a conspirator with another infamous traitor, Aaron Burr.
Wilkinson was able to make a deal with the opposing Spanish commander, and they reached a compromise. The strip of land between the Arroyo Hondo and the Sabine River would remain neutral until the matter could be adjusted by the two governments.
Since troops from neither Spain nor the United States entered the area, the "Neutral Strip" became fertile ground for the lawless squatters -- murderous, thieving men who preyed on each other and anyone else who dared to venture into this no man's land. Cattle rustling and horse stealing were also popular activities among this crowd.
Periodically, troops from each side would clear out the desperados and recover as many stolen animals as they could. However, it was years after the treaty signed by President James Monroe's Secretary of State John Quincy Adams for the United States and Spanish Foreign Minister Luis de Onis for Spain before the Americans established Fort Jessup in 1822, locking up many lawbreakers and bringing order to the region.