Relocating Eden

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Article taken from "Backsights" Magazine published by Surveyors Historical Society


From One League to Each Wind, Accounts of Early Surveying in Texas, Compiled by the Historical Committee, Texas Surveyors Association, Austin, Texas: no date.

Colonel Anson Mills was the sole U.S. Commissioner for the International Boundary Commission organized on January 8, 1894. His role on the Commission is summarized by Mills as follows:

"The duty of the International Boundary Commission is to apply the principles agreed upon by the two governments in the boundary treaties to the varying conditions caused by the kaleidoscopic changes in the current of the Rio Grande.

"The boundary treaties of 1848 and 1853 make 'the middle of' the Rio Grande the boundary, while the treaty of 1884 provides that the boundary shall 'follow the center of the normal channel... notwithstanding any allegations in the banks or in the course' of the Rio Grande."

Two trials were held. In the second trial, Mexico advanced a wholly different theory from that developed in the diplomatic discussions between the first and second trials. Mexico now maintained, Mills writes, "that the boundary treaties of 1848 and 1853 had laid down a fixed line between the two countries in the centers of the channel of the river as surveyed at that time, which boundary line remained immutable irrespective of any subsequent change in the course of the river, whether erosive or avulsive, until this was changed for the future by the treaty of 1884 which was retroactive in any event, and applied to the Chamizal but applied only to the river changes taking place after 1884.

"The United States denied that the boundary treaties of 1848 and 1853 established a fixed line and contended the treaty of 1884 was retroactive to any event, and applied to the Chamizal dispute, and that this treaty was merely declaratory of the general rule of international law.

"Furthermore, the United States claimed the Chamizal tract by prescription.

"The presiding commissioner, The Honorable Eugene Lafleur of Montreal, Canada, rendered an opinion squarely against the Mexican contentions with respect to a fixed line and the non-retroactivity and non-applicability of the treaty of 1884.

"He found the erosion at the Chamizal tract from 1852 to 1864 had been gradual within the meaning of the treaty of 1884, and therefore the boundary during this period had followed the river, but the floods of 1863 brought about a violent erosion, whereby the boundary line was left in the middle of the bed of the river 'as it existed before the flood of 1863.'

"He therefore awarded that portion of the tract between the channel of 1852 and the channel of 1864 before the flood, to the United States, and the remainder to Mexico.

"I filed an opinion dissenting from that portion of the presiding commissioner's opinion construing the treaty of 1884. I held the commission was not empowered by the two governments to divide the Chamizal tract but was called upon to render a clean-cut decision in favor of one or the other government.

"I recorded my conviction that it would be 'as impossible to locate the channel of the Rio Grande in the Chamizal tract in 1864 as to re-locate the Garden of Eden or the lost continent of Atlantis."

"And finally I pointed out, as I had in 1896, the impossible situation which would arise if any attempt were made to apply the principle of the majority opinion in other cases.

"When the award and the opinions of the three commissioners were presented at the final session, the United States agent made a formal protest on substantially the same grounds I had taken. My dissenting opinion and the protest of the American agent has declined to admit the validity of the award. The whole matter has, therefore, become the subject of diplomatic negotiations."

Copies of all printed reports and maps and all proceedings published by both governments with respect to the Chamizal Arbitration were presented by Brigadier General A. Mills to the El Paso Carnegie Library.

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