There was once a tiny rectangle of land, devoid of any way to sustain human life, but rife with outlaws and booze. It fell under no jurisdiction, and had no law. And it existed in the middle of the United States for forty-five years.

In 1819, the people of the Territory of Missouri sought statehood. This was a problem. The United States was evenly divided between slave states and free states, and people had the idea that upsetting this balance would cause a fuss. They put off the fuss by implementing two policies. First, they would admit Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state, and thereafter would induct states into the Union in pairs of free and slave states. Secondly, they would draw a line along latitude 36°30′. All further territories carved out from the Louisiana Purchase would be either above the latitude and without slavery, or below the latitude and with slavery.

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In 1845, Texas was admitted to the United States. It included all the territory up to Colorado, but when officials checked the map, they noticed a problem. Texas extended about thirty-five miles above the dividing line. This wasn't too great a dilemma. Those thirty-five miles were nothing but arid grassland that supported buffalo and nothing else. Summers were scorching, winters were freezing, and the winds at any time of year could knock down a house. No one would be settling there, so a rectangle of land, 210 miles by 35 miles, was designated No Man's Land. It was not a state and not a territory.

That made it useful to all sorts of people. Gangs would hide out in the inhospitable territory. Bordellos set up shop across state lines. And then, when Kansas outlawed alcohol, the first settlement went up in No Man's Land. It was called Beer City, and you would never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

The situation couldn't last forever, although it did last longer than it had to. It wasn't until 1890, well after the Civil War, that No Man's Land became part of the Oklahoma Territory. It's known today as the panhandle, and has shaken its wild past. Partly because it's fairly easy to get beer these days, even in Kansas.

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Image: Chris M

[Via The Missouri Compromise ,The Worst Hard Time.]