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Oklahoma at the end of the 19th century


Oklahoma photo
Oklahoma photo

By the 1880s most of the arable, well-watered land west of the Mississippi had been settled by whites, and land-hungry settlers began to argue that the Indian Territory should be opened to white settlement. Treaties and federal laws protected the ownership rights of Native Americans there, but railroads, homesteader associations, and other business interests initiated a campaign to eliminate the legal obstacles to white settlement. In 1879 professional promoters, called boomers, organized so-called Oklahoma colonies, or communities of home seekers, in northern Texas and southern Kansas and illegally entered Indian Territory. Although ejected each time by U.S. Army patrols, white attempts to settle in the Indian Territory won national attention. President Rutherford B. Hayes even issued proclamations in 1879 and 1880 forbidding settlement in the territory. Violations occurred frequently, and agitation for the opening of the lands to whites increased.

In early 1889 the U.S. Congress finally yielded to the settlers’ demands and opened 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) in central Indian Territory known as the Unassigned Lands. The number of home seekers far exceeded the available land, so the government decided to have settlers line up at the border and simply run to claim land after the signal was given. Many settlers, called sooners, snuck into the Unassigned Lands ahead of time. Many were ejected; but others avoided discovery. On April 22, 1889, 50,000 home seekers gathered on the borders of the Unassigned Lands. At the signal the race for claims, known as the Oklahoma land rush, began with a burst of speed, and by evening nearly every homestead and town lot in the settlement zone had been taken.

Tents, wagon boxes, dugouts, and crude cabins sheltered the white settlers of the area of present-day Oklahoma. In May 1890 the U.S. Congress passed the Oklahoma Organic Act, which created the Territory of Oklahoma and attached No-Man’s Land, or the Oklahoma Panhandle, to the new territory. By 1906 the lands of western Oklahoma had been settled by land runs, allotments, and lotteries; of the Indian Territory, only the land of the Five Civilized Tribes remained. Other tribal lands had been allotted to individual Native Americans and as private property became part of Oklahoma Territory. Within a generation Native Americans had become a shrinking minority within the Indian Territory. The 1890 census recorded that full-blood and mixed-blood Native Americans comprised 28 percent of the territory’s total population and by the 1907 Oklahoma statehood census, Native American population was only 9 percent, the smallest of the three major racial groups living in the former Indian Territory. "Oklahoma" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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