Land Rush of 1889

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Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889
Oklahoma Land Rush.jpg
A land rush in progress
DateApril 22, 1889
LocationCentral Oklahoma
Also known asOklahoma Land Rush

The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 was the first land rush into the Unassigned Lands. The area that was opened to settlement included all or part of the Canadian, Cleveland, Kingfisher, Logan, Oklahoma, and Payne counties of the US state of Oklahoma. [1] The land run started at high noon on April 22, 1889, with an estimated 50,000 people lined up for their piece of the available two million acres (8,000 km2). [2]

A land run or land rush were events in which previously restricted land of the United States was opened to homestead on a first-arrival basis. Lands were opened and sold first-come or by bid, or won by lottery, or by means other than a run. The settlers, no matter how they acquired occupancy, purchased the land from the United States Land Office. For former Indian lands, the Land Office distributed the sales funds to the various tribal entities, according to previously negotiated terms. The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 was the most prominent of the land runs while the Land Run of 1893 was the largest. The opening of the former Kickapoo area in 1895 was the last use of a land run in the present area of Oklahoma.

Unassigned Lands lands in Oklahoma that were not assigned to any native tribes

The Unassigned Lands in Oklahoma were in the center of the lands ceded to the United States by the Creek (Muskogee) and Seminole Indians following the Civil War and on which no other tribes had been settled. By 1883 it was bounded by the Cherokee Outlet on the north, several relocated Indian reservations on the east, the Chickasaw lands on the south, and the Cheyenne-Arapaho reserve on the west. The area amounted to 1,887,796.47 acres.

Canadian County, Oklahoma County in the United States

Canadian County is a county located in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. As of the 2010 census, the population was 115,541, making it the fifth-most populous county in Oklahoma. Its county seat is El Reno. The county is named for the Canadian River.


The Unassigned Lands were considered some of the best unoccupied public land in the United States. The Indian Appropriations Act of 1889 was passed and signed into law with an amendment by Illinois Representative William McKendree Springer that authorized President Benjamin Harrison to open the two million acres (8,000 km²) for settlement. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862 which allowed settlers to claim lots of up to 160 acres (0.65 km2), provided that they lived on the land and improved it. [2]

Indian Appropriations Act several related U.S. laws

The Indian Appropriation Act is the name of several acts passed by the United States Congress. A considerable number of acts were passed under the same name throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the most notable landmark acts consist of the Appropriation Bill for Indian Affairs of 1851 and the 1871 Indian Appropriations Act.

Illinois State of the United States of America

Illinois is a state in the Midwestern and Great Lakes region of the United States. It has the fifth largest gross domestic product (GDP), the sixth largest population, and the 25th largest land area of all U.S. states. Illinois is often noted as a microcosm of the entire United States. With Chicago in northeastern Illinois, small industrial cities and immense agricultural productivity in the north and center of the state, and natural resources such as coal, timber, and petroleum in the south, Illinois has a diverse economic base, and is a major transportation hub. Chicagoland, Chicago's metropolitan area, encompasses over 65% of the state's population. The Port of Chicago connects the state to international ports via two main routes: from the Great Lakes, via the Saint Lawrence Seaway, to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, via the Illinois Waterway to the Illinois River. The Mississippi River, the Ohio River, and the Wabash River form parts of the boundaries of Illinois. For decades, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport has been ranked as one of the world's busiest airports. Illinois has long had a reputation as a bellwether both in social and cultural terms and, through the 1980s, in politics.

William McKendree Springer American politician

William McKendree Springer was a United States Representative from Illinois.

Native American Tribes and African Americans in Indian Territory

Map of Oklahoma 1892 Map of the Indian and Oklahoma Territories 1892.jpg
Map of Oklahoma 1892

The removal of Native Americans to Indian Territory started after the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828. The federal government was unwilling to help the tribes in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi fight against state laws passed against them. President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act on May 28, 1830.

Indian Territory U.S. 17th-, 18th- and early-20th-century territory set aside by the United States Government for the relocation of the indigenous peoples of the Americas

As general terms, Indian Territory, the Indian Territories, or Indian country describe an evolving land area set aside by the United States Government for the relocation of Native Americans who held aboriginal title to their land. In general, the tribes ceded land they occupied in exchange for land grants in 1803. The concept of an Indian Territory was an outcome of the 18th- and 19th-century policy of Indian removal. After the Civil War (1861–1865), the policy of the government was one of assimilation.

Andrew Jackson 7th president of the United States

Andrew Jackson was an American soldier and statesman who served as the seventh president of the United States from 1829 to 1837. Before being elected to the presidency, Jackson gained fame as a general in the United States Army and served in both houses of Congress. As president, Jackson sought to advance the rights of the "common man" against a "corrupt aristocracy" and to preserve the Union.

Indian Removal Act Law authorizing removal of Indians from US states

The Indian Removal Act was signed into law on May 28, 1830, by United States President Andrew Jackson. The law authorized the president to negotiate with southern Native American tribes for their removal to federal territory west of the Mississippi River in exchange for white settlement of their ancestral lands. The act has been referred to as a unitary act of systematic genocide, because it completely discriminated against an ethnic group, to the point of certain death of vast numbers of its population. The Act was signed by Andrew Jackson and it was strongly enforced under his administration and that of Martin Van Buren, which extended until 1841.


The Choctaws were the first tribe to concede to removal in 1830. They agreed to give up their land and move to the designated Indian Territory. [3] The main portions of the Choctaw tribe moved to Indian Territory from 1830-1833, with the promise that they would be granted autonomy. Many perished on the journey to the new territory.

Choctaw Native American people originally from the Southeastern United States

The Choctaw are a Native American people originally occupying what is now the Southeastern United States. Their Choctaw language belongs to the Muskogean language family group. Hopewell and Mississippian cultures, who lived throughout the east of the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. About 1,700 years ago, the Hopewell people built Nanih Waiya, a great earthwork mound located in what is central present-day Mississippi. It is still considered sacred by the Choctaw. The early Spanish explorers of the mid-16th century in the Southeast encountered Mississippian-culture villages and chiefs. The anthropologist John Reed Swanton suggested that the Choctaw derived their name from an early leader. Henry Halbert, a historian, suggests that their name is derived from the Choctaw phrase Hacha hatak.

Choctaw Trail of Tears

The Choctaw Trail of Tears was the attempted ethnic cleansing and relocation of the Choctaw Nation from their country referred to now as the Deep South to lands west of the Mississippi River in Indian Territory in the 1830s by the United States government. A Choctaw miko (chief) was quoted by the Arkansas Gazette that the removal was a "trail of tears and death." After removal the Choctaws became three distinct groups, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.


The Creeks were the next tribe to move to Indian Territory. In 1829 a council was held and it was agreed that they would submit to state laws and stay on their lands. However, pressure from settlers and the state government lead to the Creek Tribe surrendering its lands to the state of Alabama. [4] By 1836, the entire Creek Tribe had been removed to Oklahoma after the killing and pillaging of white settlers and a civil war within the tribe. [5]

Muscogee (Creek) Nation

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is a federally recognized Native American tribe based in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. The nation descends from the historic Creek Confederacy, a large group of indigenous peoples of the Southeastern Woodlands. Official languages include Muscogee, Yuchi, Natchez, Alabama, and Koasati, with Muscogee retaining the largest number of speakers. They commonly refer to themselves as Este Mvskokvlke. Historically, they were often referred to as one of the Five Civilized Tribes of the American Southeast.


The Cherokees were the third tribe to be removed to Indian Territory. Tribal leaders Chief John Ross, and other high ranking families did the most they could to keep their lands. Jackson actively refused to enforce the ruling in the Worcester v. Georgia case, ruling that the Cherokee Nation was a community that had its own boundaries and the citizens of Georgia could not enter their lands without consent of the Cherokee Tribe. [4] The necessity to leave Georgia to Oklahoma became inevitable to Chief John Ross. Eventually the U.S. military came and forced the removal of the Cherokees to Indian Territory. By the end of 1838, the Cherokee tribe had been fully removed to Oklahoma. Out of the 18,000 that made the trip from 1835 to 1838, about 4,000 perished. [6]

The Cherokee are one of the indigenous people of the Southeastern Woodlands of the United States. Prior to the 18th century, they were concentrated in what is now southwestern North Carolina, southeastern Tennessee, and the tips of western South Carolina and northeastern Georgia.

Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. 515 (1832), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court vacated the conviction of Samuel Worcester and held that the Georgia criminal statute that prohibited non-Native Americans from being present on Native American lands without a license from the state was unconstitutional.

Cherokee Nation Domestic dependent nation

The Cherokee Nation, also known as the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is the largest of three Cherokee federally recognized tribes in the United States. It was established in the 20th century and includes people descended from members of the Old Cherokee Nation who relocated from the Southeast due to increasing pressure to Indian Territory and Cherokee who were forced to relocate on the Trail of Tears. The tribe also includes descendants of Cherokee Freedmen and Natchez Nation. Over 299,862 people are enrolled in the Cherokee Nation, with 189,228 living within the state of Oklahoma. According to Larry Echo Hawk, former head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the current Cherokee Nation is not the historical Cherokee tribe but instead a "successor in interest".


The Chickasaws elected to leave their lands freely and did not suffer like the Cherokee tribe. The tribe was progressing by frontier standards in that they were educating children, building churches, and farming. They were faced with the problem of the federal government not being able to protect them from the state government of Mississippi. Beginning in 1832 a collection of treaties were signed, granting them better terms than the other tribes had received. They left for Oklahoma in the winter of 1837–38 and paid the Choctaws to be able to settle on their lands. [7]


The Seminole Tribe was tricked into signing a removal treaty and the Seminole War is what followed. This was the bloodiest and costliest Indian war in United States history. Chief Osceola and his tribe hid in the Everglades in Florida, and the military sought to hunt them down. Many were captured and sent to Oklahoma in chains. Osceola surrendered and died in prison. The war and removal reduced their population by 40%, and only 2,254 were left in 1859 according to the 1859 census. [8]

Plains Tribes in the Territory

After the removal of the Five Civilized Tribes, they were later joined by tribes of the plains who were forced into the territory after wars with the U.S. military. The Quapaws and Senecas were placed in Northeast Oklahoma with the Cherokees. [9] They were later joined by the Shawnees, Delawares, and Kickapoos by 1845. After the entrance of Texas into the Union, the Caddos, Kiowas, and parts of the Comanche tribe were placed in Indian Territory after treaties with the Civilized Tribes. By 1880, the Wyandots, Cheyennes, Arapahos, Wichitas, and other smaller tribes had been removed from surrounding states and placed into Oklahoma.

Start of the Boomer Movement

Americans at this time were facing the troubles of land overpopulation in the east where millions of people were occupying only thousands of square miles of land. The Civil War had also just ended, sparking people's need to occupy the west. The only problem was the Indian Territory was not open to settlers at this crucial time. Americans called for their legislators to open the Indian Territory and certain Native Americans like Elias C. Boudinot encouraged other Native Americans to participate in the effort to welcome westward expansion. [10] As a result, thirty-three bills were presented before congress introducing legislation to open the territory for settlement in the course of ten years from 1870 to 1879. [11]

Legislation was passed through Congress in 1866 that permitted railroads to be laid in sections of 40 miles (64 km) on either sides of the Indian Territory. The two companies in charge of creating these railroads were the Atlantic and the Pacific, although their contracts were eventually rescinded due to not finishing the projects in the agreed time. Railroad companies that came up after them took it as their responsibility to finish the project, and saw a way to strengthen their contracts by introducing the movement of white settlement in the Indian Territory. [12] The Railroads employed people like C. C. Carpenter to spread false information in newspapers of the Indian Territory being open to settlement through Congress's Homestead laws. The articles were a success as a large movement of black and white settlers began to move to the Oklahoma Territory. The President of that time, Rutherford B. Hayes, issued warnings to the boomers to not move into the Indian land, and issued commands to the military to use force to ensure this. [12]

Boomers and Sooners

"The Oklahoma Land Rush, April 22, 1889", by John Steuart Curry FWA-PBA-Paintings and Sculptures for Public Buildings-painting depicting race involving people in wagons, on... - NARA - 197273.tif
"The Oklahoma Land Rush, April 22, 1889", by John Steuart Curry

A number of the people who participated in the run entered the unoccupied land early and hid there until the legal time of entry to lay quick claim to some of the most choice homesteads. These people came to be identified as "Sooners". This led to hundreds of legal contests that arose and were decided first at local land offices and eventually by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Arguments included what constituted the "legal time of entry". [13] While some people think that the settlers who entered the territory at the legally appointed time were known as "boomers", the term actually refers to those who campaigned for the opening of the lands, led by David L. Payne. [14]

The University of Oklahoma's fight song, "Boomer Sooner", derives from these two names. [15]

David L. Payne DavidLPayne.jpg
David L. Payne

David Payne

Captain David L. Payne grabbed hold of this booming movement to occupy and create the Oklahoma Territory. He and other enthusiasts created the Oklahoma Colony, allowing settlers to join with the fee of a minimum of one dollar. Then once settled in the Oklahoma Territory they organized themselves as a town-site company that sold lots of land from a range of $2–25 depending on the demand of the Boomer Movement. [12] Cattlemen, afraid that these boomers would take their land, worked to keep them out alongside the military. Settlers thought it their right to occupy the lands as they had purchased it with cash and by doing so, their title was invested in the U.S. government. [16] Even so, the military was at constant work to arrest the boomers unlawfully on Indian Territory, although they were generally released without having to go on trial.

On November 28, 1884, Captain David L. Payne met his end at a hotel in Kansas due to poison found in his glass of milk. It is speculated that it was organized by cattlemen unhappy with the success of the Boomer Movement. [16]

William Couch

William Couch was a former lieutenant under Payne. He did not possess the brash personality of his predecessor, however, he had a kindred personality and spoke with strength. He rigorously studied all treaties, court cases, and laws regarding the Oklahoma land issue in order to present logical and concise boomer claims. [17] He had led unsuccessful movements into Indian Territory, but under military and legal pressure the Oklahoma movement stagnated. It was rebooted with the construction of the Santa Fe Railroad line across the middle of Indian Territory from Arkansas City, Kansas to Gainesville, Texas. [18] Certain that the lands would be opened to settlement shortly after the construction of the railroad was completed in the spring of 1887, the Oklahoma movement again slowed down.

By December 1887 the inaction of Congress reignited the movement behind the leadership of William Couch. After a conference of boomers was held in Kansas, the conference sent delegates Sydney Clarke, Samuel Crocker, and William Couch to Washington to promote the passage of an act to open Oklahoma lands for settlement. [19] After Couch and company presented the bill to Congress, it faced opposition from state representatives George T. Barnes of Georgia, Charles E. Hooker of Mississippi, and Colonel G.W. Hawkins of the Chickasaw Nation. [20] They opposed it based on the premise that the U.S. government had promised the land to the Indian Nations living there and the government did not have the right to open up land in the territory to settlement.

The Springer Oklahoma Bill, which was proposed by Illinois representative William M. Springer, was meant to use the Homestead Act to open the lands for settlement. [21] Arguments over the payment for the lands went up until the legislative session ended and the bill was not passed. In December, Couch presented the Springer Oklahoma Bill to Congress again, which led to the passage of the Indian Appropriation Bill. [22] With this bill, Congress paid $1,912,952.02 to the Seminole and Creek Nations in exchange for 2,370,414.62 acres of unassigned land. A section giving the president the authority to open the land to white settlement was added. [22]


African Americans had been trying to find communities they could settle without the worries of racism against them. During the time that the Land Rush took place, black families were building their own way of life and culture since the Reconstruction era. Even in the Oklahoma Territory, the five main Native American Tribes had to sign agreements with the US government that they would no longer practice slavery, and if they continued, they would be exempted from their land by the United States. [23]

During the Land Rush, it was a growing belief within the African American community that this opening of free land was their opportunity to create communities of their very own, without the influence of racism. Their intentions were to make Oklahoma a state just for them. One organization that took advantage of this movement was the Oklahoma Immigration Organization owned by W. L. Eagleson. Eagleson spread the announcement of recolonization to the black community throughout the United States, especially focused in the South. [24]

U.S. land office after the Land Rush of 1889. Land office, Okl. (Oklahoma) LCCN2014682280.jpg
U.S. land office after the Land Rush of 1889.

One attempt to make Oklahoma a black state was to appoint Edward Preston McCabe as the Governor of the Oklahoma Territory. This would make it easier for black families to settle within the region during the land rush. This plan fell through the cracks, as there seemed to be less and less excitement of immigrating to the new land, and instead McCabe had to settle to being a treasurer in Logan County of Oklahoma. [24]

The attempts of people like Eagleson and McCabe were not completely futile as their support of the black family did enthuse many to continue to move to the Oklahoma Territory. These movements did become townships, such as Kingfisher. [24]

Rush for land

Settlers waiting to stake their claims on the unassigned lands. Land rush, Okla. (Oklahoma) LCCN2014682281.tif
Settlers waiting to stake their claims on the unassigned lands.

After the passage of the Indian Appropriation Bill, President Benjamin Harrison made the declaration that on April 22, 1889, at 12 o’clock noon that the Unassigned Land in Indian Territory would be open for settlement. [25] At the time of the opening, which was indicated by gunshot, and the line of people on horse and in wagons dispersed into a kaleidoscope of motion and dust and oxen and wagons. The chase for land was frenzied and much chaos and disorder ensued. The rush did not last long, and by the end of the day nearly two million acres of land had been claimed. By the end of the year, 62,000 settlers lived in the Unassigned Lands located between the Five Tribes on the east and the Plains Tribes on the west. [26]

Rapid growth

By the end of the day (April 22, 1889), both Oklahoma City and Guthrie had established cities of around 10,000 people in literally half a day. As Harper's Weekly put it:

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. [27]

Many settlers immediately started improving their new land or stood in line waiting to file their claim. Many children sold creek water to homesteaders waiting in line for five cents a cup, while other children gathered buffalo dung to provide fuel for cooking. [28] By the second week, schools had opened and were being taught by volunteers paid by pupils' parents until regular school districts could be established. Within one month, Oklahoma City had five banks and six newspapers. [28]

On May 2, 1890, the Oklahoma Organic Act was passed creating the Oklahoma Territory. This act included the Panhandle of Oklahoma within the territory. It also allowed for central governments and designated Guthrie as the territory's capital. [29]

Expansion of cities

With the signal of troops to cross into the territory, over a dozen Santa Fe trains pulled into Oklahoma Territory, and most others traveled by other means—on horseback, in wagons, and on foot. Establishing a claim involved placing a stake with the claimant's name and place of entry at a U.S. land, one of which was located in Guthrie and the other in Kingfisher. [30] The settler had to live on the claimed section of land for a five-year period before they could attain the title to the property. That period could be shortened to fourteen months if the settler paid a price of $1.25 per acre.[ citation needed ]

Guthrie, Oklahoma City, Kingfisher, El Reno, Norman, and Stillwater were six of the townsites established in 1889 and they were given county seats. [31] Guthrie was named capital of the Territory and later was capital of the state of Oklahoma for a brief period. Oklahoma City then became the permanent capital of the state. On April 23, Oklahoma City contained more than 12,000 people. Within an hour of land being opened, 2,500 settlers occupied lands in their township that they initially named Lisbon, but would later be called Kingfisher. [32]

See also

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  21. Hoig, Stan (1984). Land Rush of 1889. Normn, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 11.
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  23. McReynolds, Edwin (1981). Oklahoma: a History of the Sooner State. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 232.
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  26. Frymer, Paul (2014). "A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours": Territorial Expansion, Land Policy, and State Formation. Cambridge University Press. p. 121.
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  28. 1 2 "History of the Unassigned Lands". January 2, 2007. Archived from the original on February 16, 2007. Retrieved April 20, 2018.[ better source needed ]
  29. "Organic Act, 1890, Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History". Archived from the original on July 26, 2011. Retrieved January 30, 2012.
  30. McReynolds, Edwin (1981). Oklahoma: A History of the Sooner State. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 289.
  31. McReynolds, Edwin (1981). Oklahoma: A History of the Sooner State. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 290.
  32. McReynolds, Edwin (1981). Oklahoma: A History of the Sooner State. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma. p. 291.
  33. Cimarron at AllMovie
  34. Cimarron at AllMovie
  35. OCLC   435734017