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History and the Oklahoma Land Rush

Updated on December 14, 2017

Oklahoma Land Rush

At noon on April 22, 1889 people raced to claim a piece of land they could build a home on
At noon on April 22, 1889 people raced to claim a piece of land they could build a home on | Source

Oklahoma Land Rushes

The Oklahoma land rushes in the late 1800s were interesting and historic moments as a young country, expanded its territories across the continental United States. The idea of owning land was desirable to early settlers. The east became more populated and the demand for land ownership led to people competing in land rushes for the want of building a home on acres they could own.

When the Oklahoma land run of 1893 began, the United States was enduring one the worst economic depressions it had ever experienced. This was one of the reasons there were more land seekers converging on the land run that did not expect the swell of settlers who showed up. With only 42,000 parcels of land being made available, the competition for land ownership was fierce and violent at times.

Homestead Act

The Homestead Act of 1862 rewarded people who built, farmed, and improved the land
The Homestead Act of 1862 rewarded people who built, farmed, and improved the land | Source

The Homestead Act of 1862

The migration of settlers from east to west was spurred in large part by The Homestead Act of 1862, initiated by President Abraham Lincoln. This stated that settlers who stayed on their land, made improvements to the land, built a home, and farmed the land, after five years could take legal possession, and own the land free and clear. As more states and territories became populated, the westward expansion became part of the history of the United States. This created more and more competition for settlers to become landowners.

As part of the westward expansion, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed seven land runs in Oklahoma. The first land run occurred on April 22, 1889.

The biggest land run, on September 16, 1893, known as the Cherokee Strip Land Run opened up almost 7,000,000 acres for settlement. In fact, this land run was the largest rush in U.S. history. The land was purchased from from the Cherokees for $7,000,000. This event attracted settlers from all over the country, since this area was the last big city in the U.S.

On Sept 16, 1893, more than 100,000 people took part in the largest land rush in U.S. history as the Cherokee Strip of Oklahoma was open to the American pioneers as they raced to claim parcels of land as their own. This land, that was dry and treeless, was once viewed as worthless desert.

Oklahoma Land Rush

The Boomers, The Sooners, The Indians, The Cavalry, The Settlers

The Indian tribes in the southeast lived in land in the southeast that was fertile, rich and desired by the U.S. government. They were coerced to relocate to Oklahoma as early as 1817. The forced migration from the south and southeast became known as the Trail of Tears for the difficult journey the Indians endured moving westward. By the late 1800s, farming innovation made the Oklahoma Plains viable agricultural land. In 1889 to 1993, President Benjamin Harrison opened up the land of Oklahoma, allowing thousands of people to take residence in the midwest plains, where towns like Norman and Oklahoma City established themselves overnight.

Land was greatly desired by settlers and proponents of the Homestead Act. President Benjamin Harrison first approved the opening of Oklahoma to settlers in 1889. The story of the Oklahoma land runs involved several types of people, the Boomers, the Sooners, the Indians, the Cavalry, and the Settlers. Each played a pivotal role in the creation of Oklahoma.

Boomers got their name because once the boom of the cannon went off, the rushed towards the open parcels of land to claim their stake in this first come, first served basis to own property. Boomers were known to go into lands they were forbidden to settle in, where Indians lived, and setup log cabins, clear trees, and start planting. U.S. Army soldiers would move these boomers to the Kansas border.

The Boomers knew they would not be allowed to stay, because they illegally encroached on the territory of the American Indians and were trying to take it away from them. The Boomers wanted to show this was “white man’s” land.

Oklahoma City - A City Grows Overnight

Oklahoma became this symbol of raising consciousness for their territorial objectives. When the land in Oklahoma was first opened up for occupation on April 22, 1889, approximately 50,000 people crowded together at the borders of the unassigned land in Oklahoma on all sides, north, east, west, and south. Unassigned land was land that was never assigned to any particular Indian tribe. On this date, President Benjamin Harrison chose to open a 1.9 million-acre parcel of unassigned land.

On April 23, 1889, one day after the land rush, the town known today as Oklahoma City was born with a population of over 10,000 people.

Oklahoma Land Runs

Settlers pitched tents and set up homes on territories in Oklahoma from the land runs
Settlers pitched tents and set up homes on territories in Oklahoma from the land runs | Source

What is a Sooner?

There were four times as many land seekers as land allocations, which created a race for the land. When the sound of the cannon boomed at noon, people on horseback, in stagecoaches, on foot, from railroad cars, and from all borders of the territory staked their claim to their dreams of being property owners. There were some people who got an early start in their pursuit to claim land well before the race began at noon, giving these cheaters, the name “Sooners”. This led to many land disputes that would take years for the government to settle.

Land claimers were black, white, men, women, Indian, and immigrants, young and old. They excitedly waited in stagecoaches, wagons, on horseback, in buggies, on foot, and by jumping from trains that slowly pulled into the yet to be formed towns,to claim their 160 acres of government land. For some this would be their lifelong home, for some this was a chance of adventure, for some who were speculators this was a chance to profit when they would shortly sell the land.

American Indians - Native Americans

The American Indians, now called Native Americans were forced to relocate from Georgia and the South to Oklahoma and then to reservations
The American Indians, now called Native Americans were forced to relocate from Georgia and the South to Oklahoma and then to reservations | Source

The Story of Native Americans - American Indians

This was a newsworthy event. Correspondents from New York to San Francisco and big and little towns in between converged on the hopeful landowners to write about the greatest land rush America had ever seen.

The American Indians had a very different perspective of the land runs. American Indians felt threatened again. Years before, Indian tribes were forced from their ancestral homeland of Georgia and the Southeast to the plains of Oklahoma.

When Andrew Jackson became president on March 4, 1829 there were about 125,000 American Indians living east of the Mississippi River on millions of acres that would soon be cotton plantations in the southern region of the U.S, including Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. This became a political hotspot as these Native Americans were viewed as blocking the white man’s territory expansion.

The U.S. had previously made treaties with Indian tribes when America was newly formed. Many of these treaties that were governed by Thomas Jefferson’s treatment of American Indians involved two conflicting policies - that of assimilation and removal. The American Indians were encouraged to take on the customs and monetary practices of the white man. The government gave financial assistance to missionaries in order to try to educate the Native Americans to Christianity and convince them to give up their tribal customs in lieu of owing single family farms.

By the 1820s, the Cherokee showed they could adapt to the new ways of the white man and still keep their tribal heritage. The Cherokees opened schools and churches, built roads, ran printing presses, and adopted a constitution.

The other policy suggested by Thomas Jefferson, was to encourage the American Indians to voluntarily move westward to parcels of land that were undesirable to the white man. There, the American Indian tribes could live free from the interference of the white man.

Andrew Jackson was a big proponent of Thomas Jefferson’s relocation of American Indians. In 1831 and 1832

The Dawes Act of 1887 forced individual land allotments to the Indians, again reducing the amount of space they could call home. The Dawes Act freed up more land for the white man. The Boomers encroached on Indian land, making way for the Indian Appropriations Act in 1885, that allowed American Indians to sell their land.

On March 2, 1889 a new Indian Appropriations Act was passed, opening up unassigned lands for settlers to seek out property and become land owners. Now with the first of many land rushes in Oklahoma in 1889, the American Indians saw that they may again be displaced. The Cherokees and other Indian tribes had, for a time, successfully held on their land in Oklahoma, but the pressure from the U.S. government and the Boomers became too strong.

U.S. Cavalry

There were not enough cavalry to stop some people from trying to claim land before the start of the land rush
There were not enough cavalry to stop some people from trying to claim land before the start of the land rush | Source

U.S. Army Cavalry

To the soldiers of the U.S. Army Calvary, their job was to divide the vast plains into 160 acre parcels. Each piece of land was marked with cornerstones. As they prepared for the invasion of settlers, the Cavalry stood at the borders to make sure that no one entered the area before they were supposed to. But because there were not enough soldiers to man every area, many pioneers did sneak in early to try to claim their land. This led to many historic property disputes.

Land runs or land rushes were historical events that opened up previously restricted lands as settlers moved westward as part of the Homestead Act. The U.S. government had purchased the land from Indian Tribes forcing them to move. The 1889 Oklahoma Land Run became one of the most well known land runs.

The land runs in Oklahoma led to the establishment of the 46th state of the U.S.A. The land rushes are also a blemish on a nation that deprived its native people of the very rights this country is supposed to stand for. When we take a look at the history of territory expansion in the U.S., political issues, American Indian rights, and greed became prominent forces in the development of land ownership in the United States.

Oklahoma Land Rush Trivia

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    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      I didn't realize this is what you taught about. I found it fascinating to read, that is what made me do more research and write about it.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I taught about this for years and have always found this time in history fascinating. Can you imagine how exciting it was to see towns spring up almost overnight. All the hustle and rush and details and decisions....there must have been electricity in the air.


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