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DONALD W. PETERS
NE of the most unsatisfactory international boundary
lines in recent United States history, the Rio Grande,
has been subject to violent floods which have often
changed its course and have posed new problems in boundary
delineation. More than four thousand acres of land shifted from
one side of the river to the other between the Emory-Salazar
survey of 1852 and the rectification treaty of 1933, each time
giving rise to new legal questions precluding the application of
simple rules of international law relating to river boundaries.
Two separate issues were involved in the negotiations for the
settlement of the boundary question, namely, (1) the construc-
tion of a rectified channel bed which would serve as an inter-
national boundary and (2) an agreement regarding sovereignty
rights in the Chamizal tract. The record of the diplomatic nego-
tiations reveals, however, that the United States sought an accord
linking both questions in the eventual stabilization of the inter-
national dividing line. Of the two problems, a satisfactory solu-
tion for the Chamizal case was infinitely more difficult. The
Chamizal, an area of some six hundred acres within the present
city of El Paso, Texas, was formed when the Rio Grande changed
its course and flowed south of its old channel bed of 1852-1853.
The United States and Texas have always claimed jurisdiction
over the tract and its estimated population of twenty-five thou-
sand on the assumption that it was created by a slow and gradual
process of accretion. Mexico contended that a sudden and abrupt
change in the course of the river left the Chamizal on the north
bank of the stream. Under the terms of early treaty agreements,
therefore, the tract should remain subject to Mexican sovereignty.
According to the Treaty of 1848, which terminated the Mexi-
iFrederick Reinhardt, "Rectification of the Rio Grande in the El Paso-Juarez
Valley," American Journal of International Law, XXXI (1937), p. 1946; New York
Times, July 2o, 193o, III, 8:8.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 54, July 1950 - April, 1951. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101133/. Accessed March 10, 2014.