Thursday, October 15, 2009

How Do You Draw the Lines?

As a Commonwealth, Kentucky has continually struggled to establish its geographic boundaries with foreign and domestic entities alike. This began before its birth in 1792, when the original Kentuckians argued with Virginia and the US for statehood. Once established, physical battles, political treaties, and even conspiracies ensued between the US and foreign countries, including Spain and France, to attain and maintain the Kentucky lands and rivers surrounding the state. Of course, the always underlying domestic disputes continued before, during, and after the dust settled with foreign entities.

Again, before Kentucky's official birth as a state, land companies fought over the state, as the Transylvania Company - with Daniel Boone's (who's birthday is this weekend) assistance - illegally bought much of the contemporary commonwealth from the Cherokee. Virginia happily took this land. The Jackson Purchase, conducted by Isaac Shelby and Andrew Jackson on October 19, 1818, completed the rest of the state we know and love today. However, during the Civil War, our status as a border state and the debate of control over the rivers surrounding us caused constant turmoil - to the point of martial law in Kentucky!

However, consistently ongoing is where to draw the lines between our Commonwealth and the surrounding states of Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. Issues over this have gone all the way to the US Supreme Court, and included bridge-building companies, land ownership, hunting licenses, and, recently, even a rock! Perhaps it has something to do with the inadequate surveying techniques of our forefathers, such as Dr. Thomas Walker, using natural landmarks and other land lots. While he marked the TN-KY border in 1779, it did not include the Jackson Purchase (for obvious reasons). Even once concluded with the 1819 Munsell Line, there were continuous disputes - one man even argued for his KY farm (and won!), so an otherwise relatively straight line has a noticeably discretionary "bump" south into TN. Or so the story goes.

Perhaps it has something to do with the erosion of these natural landmarks. We are after all surrounded by rivers, significantly demarcating KY boundaries. Ownership of an island in the Mississippi between Missouri and KY still causes problems! But the larger problem is where to draw the line in an ever-moving, ever-eroding river? For some reason, pretty much every time someone has brought up this problem to a court, it was during the October sessions. In 1792, it was determined the low-water mark on the northern bank of the Ohio River was the border of Kentucky. After erosion, this mark essentially moved, so the question arose: is it that original low-water mark, or does Kentucky have a floating boundary, so to speak? Such is the ongoing debate with Indiana - or was until 1978.

On October 15, 1978, the Supreme Court decided the original low-water mark (e.g. the 1792 one, which also determines the border with Ohio) was the KY-IN border; a final decision over almost 2 centuries of assorted court cases and disputes between the states. They also determined that the two states should decide "amicably" how to mark it on their own.

To read a better description of the original, 1792 low-water mark of the Ohio River, which determines the KY-IN border in this announcement from the October 9, 1912 edition of the Hartford Herald. It also discusses one of the many court cases brought up about where the boundary lies - in this case, in-state vs. out-of-state duck hunting on the Ohio: which license do you need?

I think this low-water mark, and erosion is the reason you don't see the sign welcoming you to Kentucky until you are a good ways over a bridge. Maybe it's even why the sign occasionally disappears, and shows back up; perhaps in a different place, further back to account for our "floating" boundary. What do you think? Any theories/ideas/opinions about where KY's boundary should be?

1 comment:

  1. A quick correction - The 1978 Supreme Court decision took place during the October sessions, but not necessarily on the 15th. Rather, there was a decision regarding the KY-IN border on the Ohio River on October 15, 1895. My bad! And I apologize.