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06/06/2014

The Oklahoma Land Run of 1889

I am probably the only one in New Jersey who subscribes to the High Plains Journal, a weekly for the farm community in the Midwest and Southwest. I have some good farmer friends in the Oklahoma Panhandle and HPJ is a good way of keeping up on the issues they face. Plus I know the state well, having sold books door-to-door there when I was in college. Actually, that particular summer, 1978, I went door-to-door for water because it was over 100 degrees 21 straight days, but I digress.

Anyway, I had to note a recent anniversary after reading a piece in HPJ by Lacey Newlin.

April 22, 1889...125 years ago...the Oklahoma Land Run.

Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, explains that up until 1889, Oklahoma was considered Indian Territory, with 39 tribes. But “there was one parcel in the middle of what we know as Oklahoma called the Unassigned Lands. Farmers, largely from Kansas, thought they should have access to that land and convert it to private property.”

Professor David Baird of Pepperdine University (he grew up in Oklahoma and received his doctorate from the University of Oklahoma), said, the Land Run (or Rush, if you prefer), “came at a period of time when we were in the midst of an economic depression nationally. The settlers were confident that the Indian people had no rights at all to the land.”

So the government opened up the land, as Blackburn described it, as an expression of social Darwinism or survival of the fittest.

“Basically the law said if you line up around the Unassigned Lands on April 22, 1889, at high noon,” Blackburn summarized, “you race and the first one to a 160-acre farm gets it. You stay on it for five years, make improvements and it’s yours.”

Citizenship was not required to participate, and while women did not have the vote, many claimed land. Just a few African Americans made the run “due to limited social acceptance.”

The land had never been farmed and was considered very good for this purpose.

The Land Run had also been highly publicized and many ventured from Europe to take part.   Landlords owned most of the land there and tenant farmers thought, ‘Hey, I can own my own land in America.’

Historians estimate 50,000 lined up at the Kansas-Oklahoma border on April 22. As Lacey Newlin writes: “Although it was sometimes portrayed as a violent, almost war-like episode in American history, most historians tell a different tale. Blackburn reports that there was only one death during the actual land run. It was dangerous, but mainly because of the rough, untamed terrain rather than flaming tempers and fierce competition....

“Some wanted land so badly that they chose to cheat to get it. Widely known as the mascot for the University of Oklahoma, Sooners were settlers who sneaked into the Unassigned Lands before the race began and hid until the guns sounded. They jumped out to claim their chosen plot at the perfect moment, thus reaching the property sooner than the competition....

“In those days wealth was measured in land rather than actual cash, Blackburn explains....

“ ‘There was the notion that everything that was good floated up from the land,’ Professor Baird said. ‘There was an incredible sense that land was the backbone of Western society.’”

The settlers quickly ascertained that wheat could be the chief crop, though cotton and corn were also popular. But it was also only a few months before the settlers experienced a drought.

“Money had been tight to begin with for most settlers in those days and without rainfall the crops didn’t come up and many lost their claims, according to Baird.”

There were actually four subsequent land runs, with the final one held in 1895, but with each run, more land was taken from the Indian tribes.

Oklahoma historians complain that the Land Run isn’t taught in most schools these days, probably because it took place literally over a span of hours, though as Baird describes, the exhilaration was second to none.

“It can’t get much more exciting than this moment when tens of thousands of people line up along the line and at the sound of a gun shot at high noon, they start running for land,” Baird said. “There have been those who describe it as the biggest horse race in the world and Oklahomans are who they are in large part because of the land run.”

Wall Street History returns in two weeks.

Brian Trumbore

 



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Wall Street History

06/06/2014

The Oklahoma Land Run of 1889

I am probably the only one in New Jersey who subscribes to the High Plains Journal, a weekly for the farm community in the Midwest and Southwest. I have some good farmer friends in the Oklahoma Panhandle and HPJ is a good way of keeping up on the issues they face. Plus I know the state well, having sold books door-to-door there when I was in college. Actually, that particular summer, 1978, I went door-to-door for water because it was over 100 degrees 21 straight days, but I digress.

Anyway, I had to note a recent anniversary after reading a piece in HPJ by Lacey Newlin.

April 22, 1889...125 years ago...the Oklahoma Land Run.

Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, explains that up until 1889, Oklahoma was considered Indian Territory, with 39 tribes. But “there was one parcel in the middle of what we know as Oklahoma called the Unassigned Lands. Farmers, largely from Kansas, thought they should have access to that land and convert it to private property.”

Professor David Baird of Pepperdine University (he grew up in Oklahoma and received his doctorate from the University of Oklahoma), said, the Land Run (or Rush, if you prefer), “came at a period of time when we were in the midst of an economic depression nationally. The settlers were confident that the Indian people had no rights at all to the land.”

So the government opened up the land, as Blackburn described it, as an expression of social Darwinism or survival of the fittest.

“Basically the law said if you line up around the Unassigned Lands on April 22, 1889, at high noon,” Blackburn summarized, “you race and the first one to a 160-acre farm gets it. You stay on it for five years, make improvements and it’s yours.”

Citizenship was not required to participate, and while women did not have the vote, many claimed land. Just a few African Americans made the run “due to limited social acceptance.”

The land had never been farmed and was considered very good for this purpose.

The Land Run had also been highly publicized and many ventured from Europe to take part.   Landlords owned most of the land there and tenant farmers thought, ‘Hey, I can own my own land in America.’

Historians estimate 50,000 lined up at the Kansas-Oklahoma border on April 22. As Lacey Newlin writes: “Although it was sometimes portrayed as a violent, almost war-like episode in American history, most historians tell a different tale. Blackburn reports that there was only one death during the actual land run. It was dangerous, but mainly because of the rough, untamed terrain rather than flaming tempers and fierce competition....

“Some wanted land so badly that they chose to cheat to get it. Widely known as the mascot for the University of Oklahoma, Sooners were settlers who sneaked into the Unassigned Lands before the race began and hid until the guns sounded. They jumped out to claim their chosen plot at the perfect moment, thus reaching the property sooner than the competition....

“In those days wealth was measured in land rather than actual cash, Blackburn explains....

“ ‘There was the notion that everything that was good floated up from the land,’ Professor Baird said. ‘There was an incredible sense that land was the backbone of Western society.’”

The settlers quickly ascertained that wheat could be the chief crop, though cotton and corn were also popular. But it was also only a few months before the settlers experienced a drought.

“Money had been tight to begin with for most settlers in those days and without rainfall the crops didn’t come up and many lost their claims, according to Baird.”

There were actually four subsequent land runs, with the final one held in 1895, but with each run, more land was taken from the Indian tribes.

Oklahoma historians complain that the Land Run isn’t taught in most schools these days, probably because it took place literally over a span of hours, though as Baird describes, the exhilaration was second to none.

“It can’t get much more exciting than this moment when tens of thousands of people line up along the line and at the sound of a gun shot at high noon, they start running for land,” Baird said. “There have been those who describe it as the biggest horse race in the world and Oklahomans are who they are in large part because of the land run.”

Wall Street History returns in two weeks.

Brian Trumbore