A Line in the Water

Work in Progress

"Well I woke up this morning,/

To the door I did go,/

And found that I was living in old Mexico,/

I got the Chamizal Blues."

From the song Chamizal Blues by Bob Burns and the Tekewoods

In 1857 the International Boundary Commission commissioned a survey of the U.S – Mexico border. Treaties signed 9 years previously declared that the border followed the ‘deepest course of the Rio Grande, from the Gulf to the border of New Mexico’ but in reality no one much knew where that actually was. 


the course of the river had changed, creating issues of citizenship and sovereignty all along the river banks. It was futile, the Commission concluded, to define a river border through maps, because changes in the river’s course were inevitable. Politicians, however, disagreed. Channels were dug to reroute the river, moving it back to align with the political border. This decision has had lasting effects. Officials still wage a continuous fight to fix the river in place. As the Rio Grande wends through the landscape, it often departs from the political border, creating pockets of land that are on the ‘wrong’ side of the Rio Grande.

This project is generously supported by the Mead Foundation