Dusty Phrases

Hi! Welcome to “Dusty Phrases.” You will find below an ancient phrase in one language or another, along with its English translation. You may also find the power to inspire your friends or provoke dread among your enemies.

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Terra nullius


Nobody’s land / no man’s land

This Latin phrase has a legal and historical meaning, concerning land on the earth that has no official governance. While unclaimed territory used to be more common, it is now relatievely rare. From wiki:

Terra nullius (/ˈtɛrə nʌˈlaɪəs/, plural terrae nullius) is a Latin expression meaning “nobody’s land“. It was a principle sometimes used in international law to justify claims that territory may be acquired by a state’s occupation of it. There are currently three territories sometimes claimed to be terra nulliusBir Tawil (a strip of land between Egypt and Sudan), four pockets of land near the Danube due to the Croatia–Serbia border dispute, and parts of Antarctica, principally Marie Byrd Land.

In international law, terra nullius is territory which belongs to no state. Sovereignty over territory which is terra nullius can be acquired by any state by occupation. According to Oppenheim: “The only territory which can be the object of occupation is that which does not already belong to another state, whether it is uninhabited, or inhabited by persons whose community is not considered to be a state; for individuals may live on as territory without forming themselves into a state proper exercising sovereignty over such territory.”

Occupation of terra nullius is one of several ways in which a state can acquire territory under international law. The other means of acquiring territory are conquest, cession by agreement, accretion through the operations of nature, and prescription through the continuous exercise of sovereignty.

Terra Nullius has a history in the United States.

This monument can be found just off US Highway 64 east of Gate, Oklahoma. The oddly shaped state of Oklahoma obtained its pot-like shape when the previously unclaimed strip of land, that later became the state’s famous “panhandle,” was added to the Oklahoma Territory shortly before Oklahoma officially became a U.S. State.

The video above is the sentimental and positive story of this strip of land. The reality also included rampant lawlessness and the type of people who might be drawn to a lawless location. One example of that lawlessness was a town called “Beer City.”

Beer City was a town in Beaver CountyOklahoma, United States. It is now a wheat field, and there are no physical remnants of the town besides a few photographs and newspaper clippings. It was formerly in Texas CountyOklahoma, but it is now in Beaver CountyOklahoma.

Beer City was founded in 1888 in No Man’s Land. No Man’s Land was created when Texas sought to enter the Union in 1845 as a slave state. Federal law in the United States at the time, based on the Missouri Compromise, prohibited slavery north of 36°30′ parallel north. Under the Compromise of 1850, Texas surrendered its lands north of 36°30′ latitude. “No Man’s Land” was the 170-mile strip of land, a “neutral strip”, that was left with no state or territorial ownership from 1850 until 1890. The town started as a cluster of white tents, which gave it its original name, White Clay. Kansans moved to the area in Oklahoma to start White Clay due to strict alcohol prohibition laws in Kansas. The name was changed to “Beer City” after the rowdiness of the townsfolk.

At its peak, Beer City had only a handful of saloons, gambling houses, and brothels. Likely due to having no rules, the town was mainly filled with outlaws. The most notorious one was a lady by the name of “Pussy Cat Nell”. She ran and owned “Yellow Snake Saloon” in the town. One of the noteworthy events in the town’s history occurred when she, along with a group of 14 other men, shot and killed “Sheriff Bush”, a self-proclaimed title, because the townsfolk believed he was unfairly extorting them. He had 74 gunshot wounds in his body.

In 1890, the town was included into the Oklahoma Territory, and ceased to exist.