Friday, January 3, 2014

The First Sooner

by Phil Truman

At high noon on April 22, 1889 they gave the signal. In some areas it was a cavalry officer’s pistol shot, or a bugler’s trump; in other parts citizens let go a volley of rifle fire. At Fort Reno they set off a cannon, perhaps giving resonance to the term “boomer.”

The Oklahoma Land Run
Fact was, in the post-Civil War years leading up to that spring day in 1889, a movement had begun by white settlers to lay claim to the so-called unassigned lands in the heart of the Indian Territory. Contingents of these citizens gathered in Kansas and moved onto the lands as the federal government—in a time-honored tradition that persists to this day—sat around trying to figure what to do with the three thousand square mile area. These early settlers were known as Boomers, but I'm not exactly sure why. It was a name coined by a newspaper man. Several times they moved onto the "Oklahoma Lands," but were subsequently evicted by the military, and their leaders arrested.

In any case, the signal on that later April day began an avalanche of new settlers – farmers, merchants, railroad workers, carpenters, cattlemen, preachers, lawyers, doctors, all manner of men, women, and children. It was the Oklahoma Land Run, that iconic event of the American West and the American Dream where 160 acres of land were free for the taking. All you had to do was stake it out, claim it, and battle any otherssometimes in a shootoutwho did likewise on the same piece of ground.

Heavener Rune Stone
As in any mostly honest endeavor, there are those around who’d rather not play by the rules, those who’d rather cheat. The Oklahoma Land Run had such individuals. These folks thought they’d sneak onto the unassigned lands, stay hidden until the appointed hour on April 22, then stake out their choice 160 acres ahead of the rush. These interlopers would become known as Sooners, from whence Oklahoma gets its nickname the “Sooner State.” So we native sons and daughters of Oklahoma, we Sooners, are forever associated with cheaters. (As an aside, a great many Oklahomans from Oklahoma State University, alumni and students, would vehemently beg to differ at being called a Sooner, but that's a matter for another post on another blog.)

There is an artifact in the state, however, which may be the claim of the granddaddy of all Sooners. In fact, you could add about four greats to that granddaddy.

On the eastern side near the town of Heavener stands a huge slab of stone. It’s located near a ridge of a sub-range of the Ouachita (Wah shi taw) Mountains called the Poteau Mountain Wilderness. The stone stands about twelve feet tall and ten feet wide. On one side, at roughly chest-high to a tall Viking, are man-made carvings identified as runes, or characters from an Old Norse alphabet. One group of scholars identified these runic characters from a set used between 800-1100 A.D.

Thor Glome (possibly)
There are differing opinions on the translation of the runes, but most think they read either “Gnomes Valley” or “Glome's Valley.”

Now, there’s a lot of controversy over these runes and the stone on which they’re carved. Some archeologists say they’re genuine pre-Columbian carvings, some say they’re not. From what I’ve read, the evidence for both arguments is inconclusive, as they say. But both sides agree that they most likely weren’t made by American Indians, and certainly existed before 1889.

Personally, I side with the pro group. I like to think that one day, let's say in the new year of 1014, a boatload of Vikings, led by a big yellow-headed Norseman named Thor Glome, left his pards—who’d already discovered what would one day become Newfoundlandto sail down the east coast of the future United States, around the tip of its southeastern most peninsula, northwest across the gulf of water on the western side, then rowed up through the massive delta and lower part of that great river until they came to its confluence with a major tributary flowing from the west. There old Thor hove the rudder hard-over steering westward into the heart of that vast new continent. At some point they struck out across land, looking for…well, whatever it was Vikings looked forplunder, pillage, that sort of thinguntil Glome and his crew came to a scenic mountain valley he took a fancy to. The big Viking found the great rock sticking up out of the ground on that hillside and struck his name into it–Glome’s Valley. He there became the first white man sooner than any other to lay claim to that land.

Phil Truman has authored three of what he calls, “Oklahoma-centric” novels. His award winning  Red Lands Outlaw, the Ballad of Henry Starris a historical novel about the life and times of an Oklahoma outlaw,. His novel GAME, an American Novel is a sports inspirational about small town schoolboy football. Legends of Tsalagee weaves a tale of mystery and adventure in a small town. His western short story “Last Will for an Outlaw” appears in LaFrontera Publishing’s anthology, Dead or Alive, released June 2013. 
Phil’s website is:  


  1. I did enjoy this post. I have always been fascinated by those early explorers that get very little if any recognition. This is a great story. Now if there were a way to prove it conclusively. If not, it still makes for a great dream. Doris

  2. Many of we Sooners like to think of ourselves as enterprising and adventuresome as opposed to being cheaters. Of course if you are a 'poke you might take the more jaundiced view. It should also be noted that many of the Sooners had jobs that allowed them to be in the unassigned lands legally. The right of these Sooners to claim land was perhaps questionable but made lots of lawyers quite happy. Mr. Truman you spin a good story.

  3. Great post, Phil, as always--I had not heard of the Heavener Runestone until just this past year, when my sister told me about it. She said there was some kind of murder involved around it, which I found fascinating. The things they don't teach you in history books--even about your own state! Many of my relatives were already here when the white men came. Love to read your posts--I always learn something about our great state!

  4. Some family were Sooners, always makes for a lively topic of conversation. Never heard of Heavener Runestone before, sounds interesting.
    On another note--If anyone is a football fan--The Sooners were Very good last night.