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Foreign Exchange: When the U.S. Gave Texas Land to Mexico

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If it hadn’t been for the Mexican Cession of 1848, much of the southwestern United States—California, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Utah, Nevada, and Colorado—would still belong to Mexico. But you probably already knew that, thanks to your U.S. History lessons in elementary school.

What doesn’t typically appear in history books, however, is the town the United States returned to Mexico. And it wasn’t ceded centuries ago—this happened in the 1970s.

The Rio Grande, as most people know, is the physical border between Mexico and the United States, and has been since 1845. In 1906, the Rio Grande Land and Irrigation Company feared that a new S-shaped curve in the river would result in flooding and property damage, so they illegally diverted a portion of it. But solving that problem created a new one: 413 acres of U.S. land were now suddenly located south of the river. Although it was decided that this small parcel of land, known as the Horcón Tract, would legally remain part of Texas, it was administered by Mexico.

In 1929, the city of Rio Rico was formed on the tract to take advantage of the boundary confusion. Though Prohibition was in full swing in the U.S., visitors to the little town could drink and gamble freely because the jurisdiction was rather unsettled.

The boundary remained ambiguous until 1967, when James Hill, Jr., a geography professor at Arizona State, came across the issue while studying old geological survey maps. The United States Boundary Commission and the State Department became interested, and in November 1970, the U.S. officially ceded the tract of land to Mexico.

Two years later, Homero Cantu Trevino of Rio Rico filed suit to prevent the U.S. from deporting him from Texas to Mexico. Trevino argued that because he was born in Rio Rico in 1935, he was legally a citizen of the U.S. An appeals court eventually agreed with him, and it was ruled [PDF] that all residents born in the city before 1972 could retain U.S. citizenship, which resulted in a huge decrease in Rio Rico’s population as residents moved elsewhere in the United States.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened, by the way. The Rio Grande has shifted quite a bit in 1852, often due to flooding. By 1873, the river had moved, changing 700 acres of Mexican land referred to as “Chamizal” into U.S. territory. The conflict over who owned the land increased tensions between the U.S. and Mexico for a century. In fact, when President William Howard Taft met with Mexican president Porfirio Diaz in the then-neutral Chamizal to discuss the issue, they were very nearly assassinated—a security detail disarmed a man with a concealed pistol just feet away from the leaders.

Eventually, in 1963, the U.S. announced a border agreement that would return most of Chamizal back to Mexico. The two countries also agreed to jointly finance the construction of a trench that would keep the river on a set path—and hopefully avoid inciting border disputes in the future.

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Researchers Pinpoint the Geographic Location of "The Middle of Nowhere"
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iStock

The place to go when you want to get away from it all, The Washington Post reports, is Glasgow, Montana. About 4.5 hours from the nearest city, it's about as close as you can get to "the middle of nowhere" in the contiguous U.S. while still being in a decently-sized town.

Glasgow's isolated status was determined in a study from Oxford University published in the journal Nature [PDF]. Scientists at the Malaria Atlas Project, a part of Oxford’s Big Data Institute, wanted to use geography and demographic data to see which towns qualify as truly being in the middle of nowhere. For the study, a town was defined as having a population of at least 1000, and a metropolitan area as having 75,000 residents or more.

After crunching the numbers on the elevation levels, transportation options, and terrain types around America, they were able to say roughly how long it would take for someone to traverse any given square kilometer of land in the country. If you're one of the 3363 people living in Glasgow, which is nestled in northeastern Montana, it would take you between 4 and 5 hours to drive to the nearest metro area. That entire corner of the state lays claim to the title of Middle of Nowhere, U.S.A. Scobey, Montana, less than 100 miles from Glasgow, is the second most isolated small town in the country, and Wolf Point, less than 50 miles away, takes third place.

Go beyond the continental U.S. and you'll find plenty of places that aren't even accessible by car. Here are more isolated towns you have to travel to the middle of nowhere to reach.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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Art
Laser-Cut Wood Maps Showcase World Cities
CityWood, Kickstarter
CityWood, Kickstarter

You can already express your love for your local geography with a chocolate map or a custom-designed poster. The latest material for immortalizing your home city is laser-cut wood. As Curbed reports, CityWood is a line of striking, minimalist maps currently raising funds on Kickstarter. (The campaign has blown past its original $3000 goal by raising more than $73,000 so far—and counting.)

CityWood offers maps of nearly 100 cities, including New York, Los Angeles, London, and Tokyo. The waterways and city streets of each location are engraved into high-quality plywood using a laser cutter. The map is then put together by hand, and packaged inside a wood frame behind plexiglass.

Customers have their choice of sizes, from a small 5-inch-by-7-inch map for their desk to a 36-inch-by-36-inch display for their wall. Prices range from $29 to $439.

To preorder a CityWood map of your own, you can pledge to the product’s Kickstarter before the campaign ends on February 16. CityWood is also accepting votes on new cities to add to its lineup.

Wooden maps of various sizes.
CityWood, Kickstarter

Wooden map of city.
CityWood, Kickstarter

Wooden map on wall with chair.
CityWood, Kickstarter

[h/t Curbed]

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