Sunday, 22 April 2012

Oklahoma Land Rush

Unlike Rome, the city of Guthrie was built in a day. To be strictly accurate in the matter, it might be said that it was built in an afternoon. At twelve o'clock on Monday, April 22d, the resident population of Guthrie was nothing; before sundown it was at least ten thousand. In that time streets had been laid out, town lots staked off, and steps taken toward the formation of a municipal government. At twilight the camp-fires of ten thousand people gleamed on the grassy slopes of the Cimarron Valley, where, the night before, the coyote, the gray wolf, and the deer had roamed undisturbed.
(William Willard Howard, Harper's Weekly 33, May 18, 1889.)

Thousands of covered wagons made their way west to the promised land in the weeks leading up to the Oklahoma Land Rush.  Formerly called "Indian Territory", the Indians had named it Oklahoma, meaning "beautiful land".  However, the American government had forced the Indians out and was making almost 2 million acres of cheap land available to whites from the east.  Fifty-thousand of these migrants set up tent cities right on the edge of the Oklahoma border preparing for the land rush.

April 22, 1889 dawned sunny and clear.  The land hungry "boomers" lined the border on foot, on horseback and in buggies.  A solodier gave a bugle call at high noon and the race began.  Riders spread out in all directions like a fan.  One man ran along the railroad tracks for six miles in 60 minutes, claimed his piece of land, and then collapsed.  Ohters arrived at their destination, like a fertile piece of land along a creek, only to find that a "sooner" had already claimed the land illegally days before. 

The first train arrived in Oklahoma territory at 12:25, its eight passenger cars packed like sardines.  The prospective land owners were disappointed to see the slope of land to the east already dotted with white tents and sprinkled with men. 

Like Guthrie, other towns sprung up that day including Norman, Kingfisher and Oklahoma City.  By 1907, Oklahoma would achieve statehood.  The land rush was a unique part of America's history:  for future land claims the government would adopt a lottery system.

Painting courtesy

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