Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Oklahoma Land Runs: Myth or Myster? Pt 1

Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889
Public Domain

By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez

Thank you for joining us this month as we look into the history of the Oklahoma Land Runs.

For those of us that live in the great state of Oklahoma, the terms 89er, Boomer, Sooner, or Land Run, is commonplace. Recently, however, it recently came to our attention, that even locally, most didn't learn the whole truth in school.

n honor of the 130th anniversary of the first land run, and after much discussion, we decided to cover the different Land Runs. Wait. There was more than one?

For those of you whom are familiar with us, we spend many of our Saturdays doing tours at a local museum, Edmond's 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse Museum. Sometimes, we go deeper into the history of the state than others, depending on the interest level of the visitors at the museum. It has taken quite the amount of independent study and research.

“Why would someone be interested in the history of the state up to sixty years before the settling of a town?” one might ask. Why indeed? Without going into the history , we can't describe the reasons behind such an interest and unique method to allocate the lands, such as the land runs.

Thanks to a slight navigation error in surveys of the Louisiana Purchase, the entirety of the lands that later became the state of Oklahoma, were identified as being "unsuitable for white settlement." This, of course, led to the reassignment of the lands and the creation of the reservations for the Native Americans during the Indian Removal Act of the 1830’s. If a Native American was found outside of their assigned reservation, they could be executed.

There were a series of forts that existed throughout the entire territory, termed the “Border Forts” that helped keep the peace between the tribes, and the white settlers in the territories around the Indian Territory. The border forts helped keep the number of slave raids down to a minimum.

During the Mexican War (1846-1848), troops were moving through the different reservations on their way to Texas, and beyond. Even today, the system of roads created between the different forts form a major part of the backbone of the highway system, in Eastern Oklahoma.

During the conflict commonly called the Civil War, or the War Between the States, many of the tribes sided with the Confederate States of America (the South).

As the conflict raged on, many troops moving through the different areas desired settling in the lands that were set aside as reservation lands.

Post War Western Indian Territory saw an increase in raiding of the Apache and Comanche tribes, requiring the intervention of the U.S. Cavalry (in the Red-River War). This intervention created a new series of forts in the territory, many of which still exist today.

In 1887, there was a dissolution of the Reservations that were set aside for each of the tribes. The corruption endemic with each of the “Indian Agencies” that were managing each of the reservations led to numerous problems.

It was the extension of the railroad through the unassigned lands in the late 1880’s that sealed the fate of the reservations, however, and made White Settlement of the Indian Territory an inevitability.

There were several groups that had been pushing for the allowance of white settlers in the Unassigned Territory for years, the most notable of which was David Payne’s Boomers. After several skirmishes with the U.S. Cavalry, leading to the removal of what were considered squatters, the US government gave in.

Many people associate the term Land Run with just the first in the series of Land Runs, or Land Rushes.

Outline Map of the lands, known asOklahoma Indian Territory
Used with permission from the Oklahoma Historical Museum

The Great Land Run, also called “Harrison’s Horse Race”, was the opening of the “Unassigned Territory” located in the center part of what is now the state of Oklahoma. The bill was signed into being in January of 1889 and the Land Run took place on April 22nd.

Each of the plots had a marker stone that indicated the plot, the amount of land, and the exact location as mapped by the surveyors. These plots varied in size. They ranged from an acre (in-town plots) up to a quarter plot (160 acres, or a quarter square mile in the rural areas).

Though it is not known the exact number of people that took part in the first Land Run, there are estimates of it being anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 prospective settlers.

There were a number of towns that formed overnight. Towns such as Norman, Moore, Oklahoma Station (later called Oklahoma City), Guthrie, Stillwater, and Summit (later called Edmond). Many of these towns were formed along the railroad itself, allowing for the import of badly needed building materials and supplies. Why didn't they just go out and cut trees down? The area where the '89 Land Run took place was tall-prairie grassland. There weren't any trees. Every piece of lumber came in on the railroad.

Edmond, I.T., depot before April 22, 1889
Used with permission from the Oklahoma Historical Society
However, not many people were able to get the “Town plots” that were so coveted. Settlers that were able to, made the most of their allotments. "Tent cities" sprang up overnight.

Now this is not to say that there weren’t conflicts over land ownership. In fact, many of the conflicts that made it to arbitration lasted for years. One of the first families in Oklahoma was the Harn family. In 1891, President Harrison assigned William Harn to be a special commissioner to resolve land ownership disputes.

Many of those disputes lasted long enough that when one side’s claim was found valid, both parties had already moved on to other things. Eventually, Commissioner Harn ended up taking many of those plots of land for himself. You can visit the Harn Homestead Museum in central Oklahoma.

All together, there were seven Land Runs in Oklahoma. This article covers just the history leading up to and part of the information on the first of the Land Runs.

Please join us next month as we cover more information on the additional Land Runs that this state experienced as well.

Born and raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, Alanna Radle Rodriguez is the great-great granddaughter of one of the first pioneers to settle in Indian Territory. Judge was born and raised in Little Axe, Oklahoma, the son of A.F. Veterans. Judge and Alanna love the history of the state and relish in volunteering at the 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse in Edmond. Her first published story, part of a collaborative novella titled Legacy Letters, came out September 2016. Alanna and Judge live with her parents in the Edmond area. They are currently collaborating on a historical fiction series that takes place in pre-statehood Oklahoma.