Western Trips

Western Trips

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Oklahoma Land Rush

oklahoma signEvery state in the Union has it's own unique tale to tell. How and when it was settled..the origin of the immigrants who settled there...it's geography and climate. These are a few topics that differentiate between the states that make up the United States.

 I would suggest that there is no state in the Union that compares to the fascinating and somewhat awkward way in which Oklahoma was settled. The Oklahoma Land Rush was a first.

 Visiting Oklahoma

You may be vacationing in Oklahoma or possibly just driving through on either Interstate-40 or Interstate-35. Maybe you're looking for an interesting short Oklahoma side trip. If you are, there are many interesting sites in Oklahoma that tell the story of this states very unusual beginnings. There are plenty of fun and educational things to do in Oklahoma. The sites listed below are just a few that can make your Oklahoma vacation a learning experience.

Some sites you will want to take a side trip to would include the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark Museum. Directions and location according to the museum's website is as follows... Fort Sill is located three miles north of Lawton, Okla. on US Highway 44.  From Lawton on I-44, take Exit 41 going west on Sheridan Road to enter Fort Sill.  After passing through the Checkpoint, turn right immediately on Randolph Road and follow to Chickasha Road.  Turn right one block on Chickasha Road before turning left on Quanah Road.  The Museum Interpretative Center is on the corner of Chickasha and Quanah Roads.Fort Sill remains today an active army base.

Another interesting stop is to the Oklahoma Museum of Flying located at the Wiley Post Airport at 7110 Millionaire Dr. in Bethany Oklahoma. The airport is named after Oklahoma's flying legend and record breaker Wiley Post. Bethany is located about five miles west of Oklahoma City.

Also, don't miss the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum located in Oklahoma City. The address is 1700 N.E. 63rd Street, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Good place to learn a lot about the cowboy who worked on the big cattle ranches like the XIT and the King Ranch of Texas.

Guthrie Oklahoma also is very rich in late 1800's and early 1900's history. The towns historic district features an excellent example of late 1800's architecture and is designated a National Historic Landmark. Guthrie is located about 20 miles north of Oklahoma City.

Indian Territory

picture of cowboy
Cowboy, circa 1902
What is now the state of Oklahoma was at one time the relocated home to many of the Indian tribes throughout much of the country. The Native Americans in many instances were placed on a forced march to this relatively barren land by orders of the U.S. government. In fact, the Indian Wars of the mid to late 1800's was waged to force the Native Americans onto reservations, in Oklahoma and a few other places, and in essence out of the way of settlers quickly occupying the west. What is now the land north of the Red River was set aside for the Native Americans.

The goal of Washington bureaucrats was to convert the Indians into farmers. While a lot of money was spent to educate the Natives in this pursuit, it wasn't too successful. Many of the Indians were nomadic by nature and heritage. Many were hunters, not planters. To change an entire culture that was built up over centuries was a long shot by any standards. Nevertheless, the individual tribes were granted land in this new Indian Territory and the Indian Agents from Washington tried to make them self sufficient as farmers.

Settlers Infiltrate Indian Territory

The Indian Wars were considered over by 1890. The last battle, or more accurately massacre, was at Wounded Knee in December 1890 and after that point the western frontier was considered history.

The land where Indians had been resettled (Indian Territory) was coveted by many would be settlers. Laws however were enacted by executive order that forbid white settlement inside the Indian Territory which was created in 1834 by an act of Congress. The army was tasked with trying to keep the whites out and remove those who somehow did make in. Speculators and landless citizens were organizing and arguing for the opening of the land to white settlement. The newspapers of the era generally referred to these pro-settlement forces as "Boomers". The papers also began using the term Unassigned Lands or Oklahoma which was coined by the pro settlement groups. By and large, the newspapers supported white settlement of this land. Pressure for an Oklahoma Land Rush was growing.
picture of david payne
David L. Payne

The biggest activist for white settlement into Indian Territory was a man named Captain David Payne. Payne served with the Kansas Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War and knew the land from Arkansas to Kansas pretty well. Regardless of the warnings from the federal government to stay out of the territory, Payne managed to put together a group of about 10,000 potential settlers in Kansas. While they officially stayed out of Indian Territory, there were many excursions across the border to scout potential settlement sites and in some cases even to plant crops. The military of course threw out any who were caught. The Oklahoma Rush was not too far in the future.

During the following years there were many legal fights in the courts. In one action which was the United States vs. Payne in 1884, a ruling established that settling the "Unassigned Lands" was not a criminal offense. The federal government was also being prodded by commercial interests, most notably from the railroads. There was some white migration into the area as early as 1885 and eventually the U.S. agreed to open up the territory with the stipulation that squatters rights would not be recognized. In other words, there would be a "land rush' at a specified date and time. Any settlement prior to that date would not be recognized.

The Oklahoma Land Rush

1889 oklahoma land rush
1889 Oklahoma Land Rush
After the original settlers were thrown out, on April 22, 1889, the Oklahoma lands were settled by what would be called as the "Run of 89".

Immediately some 50,000 settlers crossed over into Indian Territory. Tent cities were established from Oklahoma City to Stillwater. These tent cities were literally put up overnight.

No doubt some of these locations had been scouted out beforehand and when the 50,000 people entered most knew where they were going. Records show that towns sprang up faster than anywhere in the country, attributed to the fact that 50,000 settlers entered the territory during the very first day of the Land Rush. As an example, at noon on April 22nd, Guthrie Oklahoma had almost no population. By midnight of that day it had 10,000 residents. Guthrie Oklahoma would go on to be the first capitol of the Territory of Oklahoma as well as for the state of Oklahoma. This time frame for growth surpassed anything seen during the great California Gold Rush.

The Second Oklahoma Land Rush

Another Land Rush into Oklahoma occurred during the nation's first deep economic depression caused by the Panic of 1893. The railroads were crippled by the depression and the fact that many people were thrown out of work made the rush of people into Oklahoma even larger. Many people were looking for a fresh start. By this time however there were more people waiting for the start of the rush than there was available land parcels.

The Boomers were the people who waited for the military cannon signaling the start of the rush at twelve noon. The question that often comes up is..what is a sooner? To know what a sooner was you have to define what a "boomer" was. The boomers were the people who waited at the border until the official Oklahoma Land Run began. The "Sooners" as opposed to the boomers were the ones who entered the territory before the official start and they laid claim to much of the better parcels. In other words they figured out a way to sneak in. Some people who entered then decided to leave the territory usually because they couldn't find suitable land or were disappointed with the general geography and soil of the region.

It Was Only a Matter of Time

war of wealth poster
Melodrama poster of Panic of 1893.
It's interesting to look back at the Oklahoma Land Rush with an Indian perspective. The land rushes that occurred in Indian Territory and Oklahoma in 1889 and 1893 were almost destined to happen.

Throughout most of the 1800's the issue was land and expansion. The military had a difficult time keeping settlers out of agreed upon reservation land in Minnesota, the Dakota's and many other areas. This had been going on since the early 1800's and the land Rush into the Oklahoma Indian Territory was bound to occur eventually.

The push from an expanding population which included many immigrants along with the political pressure exerted by commercial interests made the final Land Rush inevitable. At the same time, the government wanted the Native Americans to become assimilated to the white man's world and keeping the entire area of Oklahoma off limits for Indians was probably never contemplated.

In all, there were a total of seven official land runs into Oklahoma spanning from 1889 to 1895. With the exception of 1889, the land runs were targeted to specific Indian land. The 1889 rush was for "unassigned lands" in several counties. The rushes after that were Indian tribe specific. The 1893 land rush was targeted at the Cherokee Strip which comprised some 7 million acres, an absolutely massive amount of land up for grabs.

Certainly there was no other state in the Union that had it's beginnings the way Oklahoma did. It's a very interesting story and in many ways tells the story of the Indian, the Cowboy, and the settler in a very realistic way. On November 16, 1907 Oklahoma became the 46th state in the Union.

Your Oklahoma vacation or weekend trip can be an educationally rich experience with a stop at any one of several museums and historic sites that chronicle the state's very unique beginnings.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)

The map below shows the location of Guthrie Oklahoma

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