Guest Author - Vance Rowe
It was April 22, 1889 when the great Oklahoma Land Rush happened. This land was then known as the Indian Territories, or just “Territories” for short. The government dedicated this land for Native Americans who were removed from their original homes and had to start life here. The government thought this was a great place for the Native Americans to live but not really fit for the white settlers to live, as it would have been hard to farm on. However, by the time 1889 rolled around progression in farming and ranching had greatly improved enough to make the Indian Territory suitable for white settlements.
In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison agreed to take back control of most of the Native American occupied land in the Indian Territory and decided to open 1.9 million acres of land that were not assigned to any specific tribes and future land openings that were assigned to Native American tribes, were taken back by the government and opened to white settlers was made possible because of the Dawes Act of 1887, which allows whites to own large parcels of land that were previously assigned to Native American tribes.
When news of the land rush was going to happen, people from all over the country converged to all the borders of Indian Territory. Thousands of people signed up for the big race and everyone got ready for the big day. It was illegal for anyone to go in and claim land before the race started and if they were caught, they were not allowed to participate in the race. Just before noon, people lined up on horses, buggies, wagons and even bicycles and prepared to get their free land. They had seven weeks to get ready from the time of the land rush proclamation to the day of the race. Approximately 50,000 people formed tent cities on all four borders of the Indian Territory and waited. These people were called “boomers”
Fort Reno was on the western border and at ten minutes or so before the race started, soldiers told the boomers to line up and get ready. At the stroke of 12, the fort cannon fired, signaling the start of the race. Whips cracked and people shouted as the race was underway. By nightfall, land was staked out for homesteads, ranches and towns.
Of course, there was greed and people did jump the gun and tried to claim land before the race. Theses people were called “Sooners”.
Legal cases of these Sooners would burden the court system for many years to come.
The government tried to hold future land rushes here with more control and by starting a lottery system of sorts. By 1905, the Indian Territory was predominately white now and in 1907, Oklahoma was admitted into the Union.