Tuesday, April 22, 2014



Under the blanket of a cloudless blue sky, thousands of land-hungry settlers waited with restless patience, eager for a jump-start on opportunity.


At noon, April 22, 1889, a bugle sounded, a cannon roared, and a gunshot rang out, signaling the start of Oklahoma Land Rush.

Some said the ground shook as horses, wagons, and men, women, and children on foot kicked up clouds of red dust stampeding across what was once known as Indian Territory.

Waiting beyond the horizon were more than two-million acres of  land for non-Indian settlement on a first-come basis.

Fifty-thousand hopeful settlers, from all walks of life and ethnic origins, raced hell-bent-for-leather to stake claims, even thought there were less than 12,000 homesteads available.

On March 23, 1889, newly-elected President Benjamin Harrison declared the two-million-acre parcel of Unassigned Lands open for settlement. 

The borders of this region, situated in the central part of Indian Territory, came about through a series of treaties with Indian tribes.

Under the provisions of the Homestead Act of 1862,  a settler could claim 160 acres of public land, and could receive title if they lived on and improved the land for five years.

The settlers aiming to stake claims were known as Boomers.

The ones who sneaked into the territory early, and illegally, to register choice sections of property with land offices were dubbed Sooners,  who often occupied the most favorable sections of land.

The bitter disputes over the land were often settled by violence. Many court cases over the disputed land dragged into the 20th century before the U.S. Dept. of Interior got the go-ahead to settle them.

The land rush proved so successful that by the end of the day it started, April 22nd, entire cities sprang up, and others experienced population explosions.

Guthrie grew from a railroad station to a town of 10,000. And, settlers established Oklahoma City the same day, also with a population of about 10,000 residents.

According to Harper's Weekly, in about a one-half day, "…streets had been laid out, town lots staked off, and steps taken toward the formation of a municipal government."

Sixteen years later, white Americans owned most of the land in Indian Territory. In 1907, the territory entered the Union when Oklahoma became a state on November 17, 1907.

Except for the panhandle, all of Oklahoma previously had been set aside for the Indians displaced from other part of the country. Among them, the Five Civilized Tribes - the Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole - so named because of their willingness to abide by white laws.


The Land Rush of 1889, and two subsequent land grabs, made the Indians casualties of this enormous occupation juggernaut, which forced them onto reservations.

Washington took our lands and promised to feed and support us. Now I, who used to control 5,000 warriors, must tell Washington when I am hungry. I must beg for that which I own…My heart is heavy. I am old, I cannot do much more.
—Sioux leader Red Cloud, as an old man, recorded by anthropologist Warren K. Moorehead who spoke with the chief at his home in Pine Ridge. 



  1. I really like your posts, Tom. They are always rich with accurate history.

  2. History when looked at without blinders is so rich and telling.
    Thank you for a very rich post. Doris

  3. And growing up here in Oklahoma, having Anglo and Indian blood, the feelings are very mixed. I often say that half of my relatives were here to greet the other half when they crossed the Red River. LOL All joking aside, Guthrie was the first territorial capitol of OK, but the great seal was stolen and brought to Oklahoma City--there was a heck of a dispute for many years about which one was the "right" capitol. In the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, James Fraser (I think) has a beautiful full wall size rendition of the land run that just fascinates me. People on bicycles, horses, carriages, afoot...and it really captures what it must have been like that day. In elementary schools, April 22 is a fun day here-- the kids dress up like homesteaders and lots of times they do picnics that day, etc. I think there were 5 land runs here in OK over a period of several years, but this was the largest, most well-known.

    Wonderful post, Tom, as always. And as Jerry says, "rich with accurate history."

    I've never understood why we've adopted the Boomer Sooner slogan as one to be proud of here, though. I wish they'd have come up with something else.


  4. I've long wondered and have not found where the start line was.

  5. Simply fascinating! Thanks, Tom, that is a very useful post.


  6. Thanks, all, for the comments. Glad you all like it. What a day that must have been with tthe sounds of housands of beating hearts awaiting high noon at Gordo's starting line. Cheryl, thanks for filling in the blanks about Guthrie and the April 22 celebration.

  7. Great info! My grandfather's family settled in Bluejacket, Oklahoma, in the early 1890's (before statehood). Still trying to figure that out.

  8. I enjoyed reading this chunk of American history. I wonder why I forefathers thought the land didn't belong to the Native Americans. Maybe they did know, but didn't care. I felt such sympathy for Red Cloud.
    Another wonderful post, Tom.

  9. Thanks to Charlie, Vonn, and Sarah for dropping by and leaving your comments.

  10. I've always wondered about using "sooners" as a mascot or slogan, too. It was the boomers who followed the rules. My uncle from Oklahoma made sure I knew that when I was very young. :) His family were boomers.