Oklahoma Land Runs

Oklahoma's First Land Run
April 22, 1889
The opening of the Indian lands in Oklahoma Territory was of great interest to people across the United States in the late 1800s - giving rise to the Boomer Movement.

The Indian's desire to keep Indian Territory for their exclusive use and occupation was complicated by the rapid growth of white population on its northern, eastern, and southern borders; and when the first railroad crossed it (1870-1872), any effort to find an answer became hopeless.

The Unassigned Lands were laid out in 160-acres homesteads, and on 22 April 1889, it was opened to white settlement in the "Run" for farms and town lots, which has become one of the most dramatized episodes in western history. Tent cities sprang up at Oklahoma City, Kingfisher, El Reno, Norman, Guthrie, Mulhall, Stillwater and Crescent.

The largest accumulations of contestants were at the line north of Mulhall and Guthrie, north of Kingfisher, and at Purcell. But thousands of others surrounded the Oklahoma Lands at other sites independently and in small conclaves. Not a few entered the run area ahead of time, joining the railroad men, carpenters, teamsters, woodcutters, soldiers, and federal officials. Many of the latter were considered to be "legal sooners" by virtue of their working in some capacity for the government. Among the most notorious to take advantage of their authority were U.S. Marshals and their deputies.

Because of the social restraints of the day, few African Americans were at the front, though many came in immediately behind the initial rush and were rightfully "Eighty-niners".

The opening of the almost three million acres of Unassigned Lands, created almost as many problems as it solved. All outside the authority of the Indian governments, were without civil law, and in criminal matters they were under the long distance jurisdiction of the Federal Court at Fort Smith, Arkansas. The passage of the Organic Act of 2 May 1890 created Oklahoma Territory and allowed the Organization of Government in the central areas; and, the present Panhandle of Oklahoma was declared open to settlement and would be included in Oklahoma Territory. Sections sixteen and thirty-four of each township were reserved for the benefit of public schools. Provision was made for the reservation of public roads on all section lines. Guthrie was designated as the temporary capital.

Oklahoma's First Land Run opened all or part of the present Oklahoma counties of Canadian, Cleveland, Kingfisher, Logan, Oklahoma, and Payne.

Iowa, Sac, Fox, Pottawatomie, and Shawnee lands opened - September 22, 1891
Lincoln and Pottawatomie Counties date their beginning from the Land Run of September 22, 1891, which opened to public settlement three Indian reservations adjoining the former Unassigned Lands on the east. Since the Unassigned Lands had been settled 29 months earlier, in the first Land Run April 22, 1889, there had been a steady push for surrounding Indian reservations to also be opened in similar fashion.

President Harrison issued a proclamation September 18, 1891 declaring the surplus Indian lands which had recently been purchased from the Iowa, Sac, Fox, Pottawatomie and Shawnee to be open for settlement four days later, Tuesday, September 22, 1891, at 12 o'clock noon.

A conservative estimate places the number of settlers at about 20,000 surrounding the three reservations awaiting the starting signal for the rush to claim one of the 6,097 160-acre homesteads that were available. Surplus Iowa, Sac and Fox, and Shawnee-Pottawatomie lands were occupied in one afternoon.

Two new counties were carved from the area, with county seat townsites selected by government officials in the exact geographical center of each. In addition, a considerable amount of land from the reservations was also added to the already existing counties of Payne, Logan, Oklahoma and Cleveland.

Cheyenne and Arapaho land opened - April 19, 1892
The Cheyenne - Arapaho lands were opened by a "land run". About 25,000 hopefuls gathered on a misty morning for the homestead run that began at high noon on April 19, 1892. By sunset over 400 lots in the county seat of "G" had been staked by settlers who rushed in from all directions by foot, race horse, plow horse, wagon, and buggy to claim homesteads. By the end of the first year, April 1893, there were more than 100 homes in Arapaho. By the close of the second year that number had more than doubled.
Cherokee Outlet - September 16, 1893
The Federal Government granted seven million acres of land to the Cherokee Nation in treaties of 1828 and 1835. The United States guaranteed to the Cherokee Nation that this land would be a perpetual outlet west for tribal hunting grounds, measured 58 miles wide and extending 220 miles along the northern border.

After the Civil War, because part of the Cherokee Nation had supported and fought for the Confederacy, the federal goverment demanded new treaty made. They reduced the original reservation lands and permitted "friendly tribes" to be moved into eastern end of the Outlet.

With the start of the cattle drives following the Civil War the Cherokee used their western land to make a profit. The cattlemen wanted to fatten their cattle on the rich grasses before taking them to railheads in Kansas so they leased the land from the Cherokee.

Land hungry settlers viewed the cattlemen's use of the area as a waste of fertile farmland and pressured the government to purchase the Cherokee land from the Cherokee. Congress eventually paid the $8,505,736 or about $1.40 per acre, and announced the opening of the Outlet to homesteaders. Surplus Pawnee and Tonkawa lands were opened at the same time.

President Grover Cleveland designated September 16, 1893 as the date of the "run" for 6,000,000 acres. On that day, 100,000 land hungry persons gathered for the land run into the Cherokee Outlet by horse, train, wagon and even on foot. Each hoped to claim the best farmland or town lot of 40,000 quarter sections. Some hopeful settlers remained landless. Many shunned the rough terrain of the western part of the Outlet, land that went unclaimed for several years. By the end of the day, farms were being established, and the cities of Enid, Perry, Alva, and Woodward had risen out of what had been virgin prairie the day before.

From Caldwell, Kansas 15,000 land hungry whites gathered to make "the Run" south. Caldwell was 1 of 9 places where potential settlers awaited cavalry soldiers' gunshots to start the biggest land rush in the United States.

Oklahoma Historical Society

Cherokee Strip Museum

Kickapoo lands opened - May 3, 1895
The smallest and LAST land run in Oklahoma was the Kickapoo opening. Of 206,080 acres in the reservation, 22,640 acres were allotted to the Kickapoos in 283 selections of 80 acres each by March 27, 1895. The remaining 183,440 acres purchased by the federal government were opened to settlers in a land run. The Kickapoo lands were added to Lincoln, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie Counties.
Greer County decision made in United States vs. Texas - March 16, 1896
Due to an error by the surveyor of the region, and a mistake in identifying the main channel of the Red River, the southwest corner of Oklahoma, the area between the Red River, the North Fork of the Red River, and the 100th Meridian was claimed by Texas and designated as Greer County in 1860, named for John Alexander Greer, a Texas lieutenant governor.

The area includes all of the current Greer, Jackson, and Harmon Counties and that part of Beckham County south of the North Fork River. Mangum was the county seat of this empire. In 1886, the Greer County Boundary Commission, consisting of four officers of the United States Army and four citizens of Texas, met at Fort Worth, Texas to settle conflicting claims, with no results. For ten years the area was designated "Indian Territory" by postal authorities. The Oklahoma Organic Act of 1889 provided for Greer County, Oklahoma Territory. In United States vs. Texas, 162 U.S. 1 (1896), the Supreme Court declared the county to be a part of Oklahoma Territory.

The Choctaw Nation claimed that it should be included as part of their land. However, before a decision could be reached on the Choctaw claim, Oklahoma became the 46th state. At the Constitutional Convention, the area was divided among Beckham County, Jackson County, and Greer Counties. After statehood, Harmon County was created out of the southwestern portion of Greer County.
Wichita-Caddo and Comanche, Kiowa and Apache lands - August 6, 1901
The lands of the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation and Wichita-Caddo-Delaware Reservation were to be decided by a "land lottery" instead of a race for claims as other openings had. The Fort Sill Miltary Reservation and the Wichita Mountain Forest Reserve were withdrawn from settlement. There were 13,000 quarter sections available. The people had to register at either El Reno or Lawton. The homesteaders were then determined by drawing an envelope which contained a persons name and address. These envelopes were numbered as they were drawn by the land officials. Each person had the opportunity to "stake his claim in turn", according to the number on the envelope. Over 160,000 people registered and obtained their land at El Reno. This was the last large land opening in the present state of Oklahoma.