There is only ONE Oklahoma

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


April 22, 1889: Biggest Oklahoma land rush begins

OU fans hear this question all the time; 'Where does Boomer Sooner come from?'

119 years ago today, at precisely high noon, thousands of would-be settlers make a mad dash into the newly opened Oklahoma Territory to claim cheap land. It was to be the first of many land runs, but later land openings were conducted by means of a lottery because of widespread cheating.

There were five land runs in Oklahoma:

1. Land Run of 1889 took place on this day at high noon in 1889 and involved the settlement of the Unassigned Lands (most of modern day Canadian, Cleveland, Kingfisher, Logan, Oklahoma, and Payne counties).

2. September 22, 1891: Land run to settle Iowa, Sac and Fox, Pottawatomie, and Shawnee lands. (Your correspondent's great gandfather Jim Lester made that one. Unfortunately, he got hooked out of his claim five years later because he hadn't "made the required improvements to the land." See, you didn't get to keep your claim unless you threw up appropriate buildings on it. He just farmed his, and being single, lived in a shack. No biggy, he ended up buying a quarter section in Okfuskee County and made a go of it, eventually acquiring a whole 160 acre section just northeast of Okemah. That area is still known as Lester Township. My great grandpa is buried in the Welty cemetery. His daughter (my granny), raised on that place married a boy from Lone Grove, OK and they settled in Ardmore in the 1920's.)

3. April 19, 1892: Land run to settle the Cheyenne and Arapaho lands.

4. September 16, 1893: Cherokee Strip Land Run. The Run of the Cherokee Strip opened nearly 7,000,000 acres to settlement. The land was purchased from the Cherokees for $7,000,000.

5. May 23, 1895: Land run to settle the Kickapoo lands

In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison agreed, making the first of a long series of authorizations that eventually removed most of Indian Territory from Indian control.

To begin the process of white settlement, Harrison chose to open a 1.9 million-acre section in the central part of modern Oklahoma that the government had never assigned to any specific tribe.

On March 3, 1889, Harrison announced the government would open the 1.9 million-acre tract of Indian Territory for settlement precisely at noon on April 22. Anyone could join the race for the land, but no one was supposed to jump the gun.

With only seven weeks to prepare, land-hungry Americans quickly began to gather around the borders of the irregular rectangle of territory. Referred to as "Boomers," by the appointed day more than 50,000 hopefuls were living in tent cities on all four sides of the territory.

The events that day at Fort Reno on the western border were typical. At 11:50 a.m., soldiers called for everyone to form a line. When the hands of the clock reached noon, the cannon of the fort boomed, and the soldiers signaled the settlers to start.

With the crack of hundreds of whips, thousands of Boomers streamed into the territory in wagons, on horseback, and on foot. All told, from 50,000 to 60,000 settlers entered the territory that day. By nightfall, they had staked thousands of claims either on town lots or quarter section farm plots. Towns like Norman, Oklahoma City, Kingfisher, and Guthrie sprang into being almost overnight.

An extraordinary display of both the pioneer spirit and the American lust for land, the first Oklahoma land rush was also plagued by greed and fraud. Cases involving "Sooners"--people who had entered the territory before the legal date and time--overloaded courts for years to come.

By 1905, white Americans owned most of the land in Indian Territory. Two years later, the area once known as Indian Territory entered the Union as a part of the new state of Oklahoma.

As time went on, "Sooner" came to be a synonym of Progressivism. The Sooner was an "energetic individual who travels ahead of the human procession." He was prosperous, ambitious, competent, a "can-do" individual. And Oklahoma was the Sooner State, the land of opportunity, enterprise and economic expansion, very much in the Progressive spirit that engulfed the old South in the 1920s.

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