Today in American History: April 22, 1889

Today in American History: April 22, 1889

Today in 1889 the Oklahoma land rush began at exactly high noon. Thousands of soon to be settlers made a mad dash into newly opened Oklahoma territory. They claimed their land for a cheap price.

There was nearly two million acres of land that was located in Indian Territory, was opened up to white settlement. This land was originally considered unsuitable for white colonization. Indian Territory was originally used as an ideal place to relocate Native Americans who were forcibly removed from their native lands to make way for white settlements. This type of relocation began in 1817, and by the 1880's, this Indian Territory was home to tribes such as the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Cheyenne, Commanche and Apache.

By the late 1880's, improvements in agricultural and ranching techniques made some white Americans realize that the Indian Territory could be valuable land. They pressured the government to allow white settlement in the area. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison sided with these white Americans. Not long after he eventually removed most of the Indian control over Indian Territory, opening it up for whites.

In the beginning, President Harrison opened 1.9 million acres in a section of Indian Territory that was never assigned to a specific tribe. However, the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 allowed lands that were designated to specific tribes to be opened up for white settlement. 

On March 3, 1889, President Harrison announced that the 1.9 million acres of Indian Territory would be opened and up for grabs for settlement at exactly noon on April 22. Anyone was allowed to join the race for the land, but there were rules against jumping the gun early. White settlers were only given seven weeks to get ready. Land hungry Americans raced to gather around the borders of the territory. These settlers were referred to as “Boomers.” By April 22, more than 50,000 hopeful Americans were living in tents surrounding all sides of the territory.

On the Western side of the territory, everything was going according to plan at Fort Reno. At about 11:50 a.m., the soldiers of the fort told everyone to form a line. When the clock struck noon, the cannon from the fort signaled the settlers to start. Hundreds of whips cracked, and thousands of Boomers took off into the territory on wagons, horseback, and even on foot. About 50,000 to 60,000 settlers entered the territory that day. By the time evening rolled around, they had claimed thousands of plots. Oklahoma towns such as Norman, Oklahoma City, Kingfisher, and Guthrie popped up almost overnight.

To no surprise, the first land rush was plagued by settlers greed, thirst for more, and fraud. There were countless cases of “Sooners” (people who entered the territory before the legal start date and time) in courts for years after the land rush. The government tried to organize more land runs with more controls, but eventually adopted a lottery system instead. Just fifteen years later, white Americans owned the majority of the land in Indian Territory. And by 1907, the area formally known as Indian Territory, became a part of the Union as the new state of Oklahoma.

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