Borderline science: Expert testimony and the Red River boundary dispute

Eugene Cittadino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The 1918 discovery of oil in the bed of the Red River, which forms the border between Texas and Oklahoma, led to a U.S. Supreme Court case that involved the extensive use of expert witnesses in fields such as geology, geography, and ecology. What began as a dispute between the two states soon became a multisided controversy involving those states, the federal government, Native Americans, and individual placer-mining claimants. After the federal attorneys introduced scientific experts into the dispute, including the plant ecologist Henry Chandler Cowles and the geographer Isaiah Bowman, fresh from negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference, Texas attorneys fielded their own team of opposing experts. Charged with the task of determining the location of the border, defined as the south bank of the river at the time of the 1819 treaty with Spain, the scientific experts presented the court with volumes of evidence and elaborate arguments, much of it contradictory and involving creative interpretations of existing theories. The case exhibited all the now-familiar features of a trial using expert witnesses, for which it represents an early, overlooked, and particularly complex example.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-219
Number of pages37
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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