Pictures of Plains Indians showed them hunting in bands and rarely as individuals because they lived communally. Although they defended their hunting grounds, they had no need for nor concept of private property. They moved where the buffalo roamed. The white interloper, by contrast, tilled the soil and to do so had to own property. Thus the white man took the Indian’s land until the American Frontier closed.
Being civilized, we stole Indian land fair and square through the law by “assignment.” Suppose the federal government demarcated a tribal area of a million acres and the tribe had 1,000 members. Next each member would be “assigned” and given deed to 160 acres for a total of 160,000 acres. This left 840,000 “unassigned” acres, which would be classified as “Public Lands” to be given to white settlers.
Vast areas of southeastern U.S. became “unassigned” and available to be given to the white men when President Jackson moved them to Indian Territory over the infamous Trail of Tears in the brutal winter of 1838-9. After assigning the Five Civilized Tribes to Indian Territory [I.T.] east of the 98th or Indian Meridian, and the Plains tribes to parts of the western side in Oklahoma Territory [O.T.] there remained 1.9 million acres of Unassigned Lands in the middle.
Oklahoma tribes supported the Confederacy in the Civil War, which rationalized Congress retaliating after the war by giving railroads free rights of way across the Territory. These 200-foot strips were sold to lay track but were insufficient to fund operations afterward. Thus the railroads pressured Congress to open the unassigned lands to settlement by farmers whose shipments of crops would pay to operate the lines. By then, the railroads had acquired large holdings of timber and coal they couldn’t profit from until it could be shipped out. By 1897 the Santa Fe RR had spanned the State from Arkansas City to the Red river, and by statehood, there were over 5,200 miles of track.
As Chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs, Representative Sidney L. Clarke [R., Kan.] became familiar with the esoteric legalities of Indian affairs and used it after leaving office as a shil for the Santa Fe Railroad.
The country was stripped of cattle by the Civil War—with the exception of Texas, home of the largest domesticated herds of cattle in the nation—longhorns. After the Spanish were driven out by the Texas Revolution, these cattle roamed free, increasing without limit throughout the Civil War. By 1866, there were millions of the beasts roaming free. They were worthless in Texas but worth a fortune in the beefless east—IF they could be transported there.
Page 2 of 2 - Thus began the great cattle drives over the East and West Shawnee Trails in Indian Territory and the Chisholm and Great Western Trails in Oklahoma Territory. The grass and water across Oklahoma Territory were so lush the cattle GAINED weight on the journey! (Not being dammed, our rivers had flowing water then.) Three million head of cattle eventually came up those trails. Some ranchers stayed by leasing land from the Indians for $0.02 per acre per year or simply squatting on it. Free grass, free water, free land!
The tribes fought to keep out the railroads because the trains that carried steers out of the Territories also brought in homesteaders. Former Congressman Sid Clarke, working on behalf of Santa Fe interest, organized homesteaders into aggregations called “Boomers” who made periodic incursions south across the border into Oklahoma Territory. With his contacts in Congress, he wrote what became the Springer Amendment to the Indian Appropriations bill that authorized the opening of Unassigned Lands by run on April 22, 1889.
At noon April 22, 1889, 50,000 people rushed into the Unassigned Lands from all four of its corners. By nightfall, the “Oklahoma Station” on the Santa Fe line had over 4,000 claimants. The year following Boomers, Sooners and other claim jumpers fought over competing titles.
Sooners weren’t the only or even the first to sneak into OT the night before the run. Boomers had unsuccessfully tried to get in for years. Boomers were Sooner than Sooners!
Evidence of the numbers of early-arrivers was the population of Oklahoma at Statehood was 1,000,000, and of the 750,000 residents of IT, the ratio of non-Indians to Indians was 7 to 1! In the Kickapoo Run of 1895, it is estimated that no less than one-half the participants were Sooners. LOTS of folks fudged!*
The Rugged Individualist
“Today, our search for an American identity continually leads us back to the vision of the rugged and independent men and women of the cattle drive era.” **
In the 16th century, Spanish invaders took the Indians’ land, named it Mexico, and introduced their Andalusian [longhorn] cattle to the region. Texicans obtained the Mexican’s land free of charge in 1835-36, and, after the Civil War drove their cattle across Oklahoma Territory, fattening them up along the way free of charge. Arriving in Dodge, they put them on trains gifted from the federal government which had obtained those lands as booty from American Indians. Finally, settlers got their land free. This is how the rugged individualist did it.
* A.M. Gibson, “Oklahoma: History of Five Centuries,” Norman: OU, 1965.
** “The Chisholm Trail,” Texas Historical Commission, 2002.