The Oklahoma Land Rush

The Oklahoma Land Rush opened the Oklahoma Territory to occupation by white settlers, displacing the natives. Guthrie was the first town created out of the initial rush.

On March 2, 1889 Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Bill, proclaiming that unassigned lands were part of the public domain. This was the first step toward the famous Oklahoma Land Rush. A rail line ran through the state and it was determined that the area where Guthrie, Oklahoma is located would be a good place to start a township. Although mile square parcels of land had been roughly designated and six mile square allotments were reserved for towns, no formal city planning had occurred, nor any government installed.

On April 22, 1889, people who gathered on the Arkansas and Texas borders of Oklahoma could seek a parcel of unclaimed land and file for ownership with the federal government. Most of these people were from Kansas and Missouri, but people from all over the country were part of the pack.

Buglers were stationed at intervals around the perimeters of the region and they announced the opening of the new land at noon. People burst westward in droves on the Sante Fe Railroad, in covered wagons, and on horseback. They rode frantically racing to secure the best parcels of land before anyone else could. The weather was perfect, sunny and dry, for the frantic quest. The trains were filled beyond capacity and resulted in some men climbing on top of the train for relief from the crowding. Astonishingly, no one was killed or injured.

The riders on horseback burst ahead of the droves of land seekers, but as they spread across the horizon they were discouraged to see that covered wagons and even men on foot had already occupied many prime places. As many as nine out of ten of these settlers had jumped the gun, earning themselves the name "Sooners". Those who entered the territory legally would challenge these premature claims in court, but the government's officials claimed that all squatters had been chased out prior to the land rush. In fact, some were. On April 15, 1889, a marshal's posse captured a group of Sooners, killing a few. But they didn't catch them all. Not by a long shot!

Within Guthrie, most of the prime lots had already been claimed by people who had no legal right to them. Those people who were in the area legally- federal marshals, railroad personnel and other "legal sooners" were supposedly restricted from this opportunity. This rule was largely ignored. In fact, it was marshals who laid out the town of Guthrie and selected prime parcels for themselves well before the legal rush began. The hopeful settlers were infuriated but counted on the government to correct the matter. As it turned out, these marshals had used their personal influence to acquire the job of marshal specifically in order to beat the clock. It is probably to their fortune that alcoholic beverages were not allowed in the Oklahoma territory, for incidents of violence were few and minor, despite expectations to the contrary.

The city of Guthrie was made in just one afternoon. Between noon and sundown the residency rose from a handful to 10,000. In those few hours, streets were staked off, and a government plan was begun. But in a few days people were beginning to leave town as soon as they came in, disgusted that the prime lots were occupied, many by people with no legal claim to them. To make matters worse, the soil which had appeared to be rich and fertile, at closer inspection was red sand, and water was scarce. Food and provisions were rare and available only at a premium. Many people returned to "civilization" starving and disappointed.

Once the initial land rush abated, wells produced ample water and food became more readily available. Lands slightly further west in Oklahoma City had richer soil and things looked better after the initial hysteria.

Sadly the Indian people who occupied the land were not considered in this white occupation and were uprooted. It is commonly believed that the Cherokee were uprooted by this land rush, because of the later land rush known as the Cherokee Strip. However the land appropriated by the US government for possession by its citizens belonged to the Osage and Quapah tribes. All of Oklahoma but the panhandle had previously been set aside for displaced Indians from other parts of the United States, many of whom entered the territory on the Trail Of Tears from the east. The Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole tribes were called "the Five Civilized Tribes" because they brought with them a willingness to abide by white laws, and had their own school systems, police forces, and government agencies already in place within their populaces.

The Cherokee Strip was actually the Cherokee Outlet land which the Cherokee had been allotted for hunting buffalo. It was intended to be a permanent hunting grounds, but it was among the lands appropriated by white settlers. In fact the Cherokee had already been coerced into acceding much of their land prior to the 1893 Cherokee Strip land rush. It wasn't long until the natives and dislocated Indians alike were relegated to reservations, generally on the poorer plots of land.

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