Well, it's been almost two months since President Benjamin Harrison announced that the government would open the 1.9 million acres of Indian Territory to settlement. It is now April 22nd, 1889 and there are at least 50,000 potential settlers surrounding the rectangle piece of land. They will be allowed to begin their search for a piece of property at high noon today. First come, first serve is the rule for the day.
Leading up to this day, 50,000 hopeful settlers from all over the country have traveled to this area commonly being called the Oklahoma Lands. This land was committed to the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Apache Indian tribes after they were removed from their traditional homes. The particular piece that is being released today, however, does not have Indian tribes located on it. President Harrison's program, fueled by the Homestead Act of 1862, was originally constructed to help impoverished farmers. After Lufbery News visited with families around the border we realized there were more than impoverished farmers participating. We talked to Tradesmen, professional men, common laborers, capitalists, and even politicians - all are seeking a new life and 160 acres of land. We also ran across farmers, along the Texas panhandle, who were in pretty bad shape due to the recent droughts in that area. This opportunity is really coming at the right time for these folks.
The U.S. Army is present and providing security and instruction to the people. From our perspective, after visiting with people from all sides of this rectangle, we found them to be helpful and neighborly to each other. The tent cities that have popped up around the border have become very social and people are really trying to help each other and are in a jovial mood. Probably the happiest campsite we found was near a Kansas border town called Caldwell where thousands of farmers, cowboys, and soldiers were camping. They were a happy bunch, in fact the night we stayed at their camp we heard the famous army camp call "Oh, Joe, here's your mule" being passed from campsite to campsite.
There were some places we visited along the borders that were concerning. The competitive nature of folks is showing and some were jumping the lines and hiding closer to the areas they wanted to claim. This is causing a lot of anxiety for the law abiders and will likely mean lawsuits in the years to come over the ownership of some of the prime real estate. We think that yesterday being Easter Sunday has calmed many folks down and helped to put everything into perspective.
The clock is ticking, at noon today the U.S. Army will fire the cannons and release the pack. Once a family (actually the wife and children will probably stay behind and let their husbands race through the land) locates their 160 acres of land, they are to lay claim to it with stakes that contain their name and location. Then they will travel to the closest land office for their paperwork. According to the Homestead Act of 1862, they would receive title to the land in 5 years if they lived there and improved over that period.
I have a good feeling as I sit here watching the camps that are spread across the countryside. I get a sense that the American spirit is alive and well. I think land will always be important to Americans in this country and our will to improve ourselves is alive and well - thanks to the freedom we have to create wealth. My enthusiasm is tempered today with the dark side of this reality. Our freedom and lust for land comes at a heavy cost to the natives of this land. We are not a conquering nation, nor run by a greedy dictator. Yet, we justify our own freedom by taking it away from others. For now, I will enjoy this moment and what it means for thousands of people who are seeking a better life.
This article was written today, but describes the events that happened on April 22nd, 1889.
Author's Note: As you know, there were a lot of people who jumped the line before noon, they were called the "Sooners". I sometimes feel that the popularity of the "Sooners" story and the mad rush for land takes away from what really happen that Spring day. This was a difficult economic time in our country's history - yet the American spirit was still strong and thriving. Own land and lend a hand - it was and still is the American way. Unfortunately, there was also greed and fraud by a few which made the news for years to come. The other dark side of course is that by 1905 all of the Indian Territory (where the Natives were living) was given to white settlement and Oklahoma joined the Union.
To read a short summary about this event and what transpired after the high noon cannons went off - follow this link. http://www.ok-history.mus.ok.us/enc/landrun.htm
For some really interesting "actual" pictures of the camps, etc. - click on this: http://www.nationalcowboymuseum.org/research/r_a_cunn_imag_lr89.html