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At two o'clock in the morning of March 3rd, 1889, the Congress of the United States passed the annual Indian Appropriations Bill. Barried in the fine print, and almost ignored by the sleepy congressman, was an innocent looking writer to the bill. All it did was open up a part of Indian Territory to White Settlement. Two days later, Congress adjourned, having set the stage for a day of drama, confusion, greed, and glory. The day Oklahoma was born. It was a tiny part of the United States, much too small for the amount of attention it received. One fact made it special.
It was the last place in the whole country that wasn't claimed by either Indian or White man. It was called the unassigned land, and it was vacant. Pioneers who'd been dusted out of Texas and even drier places looked on it with longing. Landless farmers from the east and north heard of it and cursed that such country should go to waste. Once it had been a part of Indian Territory. But the five civilized tribes had watched as the great white father in Washington took it back, the penalty for southern sympathy during the war between the states. The civilized Indians held the land to the north, east, and south of the unassigned lands. In this part of the Indian Territory, they built towns, farms, schools, and learned more about the white man's ways than some white man. They taught their children the new ways and hoped for an Indian Commonwealth someday. The western part of their lands had been given over by the federal government to the plains Indians, a far more savage and uncivilized breed than their brother-red men to the east. Each tribe was given its part of Indian Territory, land of their very own.
While the white settlers took over their original homes and hoped that Indian Territory would rid them of the Indian problem. The tribes decimated by years of war against the whites moved into the western territory, said one old warrior, we are driven back until we can retreat no longer. Our hearts are broken, our bows are snapped, our fires extinguished. A little longer and the white man will cease to persecute us, or we shall cease to exist. In answer, the United States government gave them land in the Indian Territory, a place where they might live according to their ancient ways, a hunting ground into which the white man could not enter, a home in which he might not live. It was a land where the buffalo might be saved, with all the animals meant to the western Indians' economy, religion, and life. This land, we promise you, said the United States, or as long as the grass grows and the water runs.
But when all the western tribes were settled in their lands, and the five civilized tribes were at peace in their lands, there was one place left over. This was the vacuum of the unassigned lands. Rich in game, it attracted hunters who returned home with tales of their kills. The richness of the soil, the beauty of the streams, and the emptiness of the landscape. It wasn't long until someone found a reason for action. It is against the laws of nature for such land to go without settlement, cried one patriot. Meanwhile, the herds of cattle were beginning to move up the Chisholm Trail across the Territory into Kansas, and the most temporary of all inhabitants of the unassigned lands was moving in, the American cowboy. Right around and old, he's right around and slow for the fiery and the speedy are ready to go. I ride an old paint, I lead an old dam.
I'm going to Montana for a thoroughly hen. They feed in the coolies they water and the drum. Their tales are all matted, their backs are all raw. Right around little doggies, right around and slow for the fiery and the snappy are ready to go. The unassigned lands of Oklahoma were midway contrary to the cowboy. Between the South Canadian River and the Simuron, relatively free from raiding Indians and completely free offenses, the lands were pleasant indeed. They placed no claim on the land, all they asked was water and grass, and there was plenty of boat. Old Bill Jones had two daughters in a song.
One went to Denver, and the other went wrong. His wife, she died in a pool of fights, but still he sings from morning till night. Right around little doggies, right around and slow for the fiery and the snappy are ready to go. It is said that in the empty years of the unassigned lands the cowboys moved six million head of longhorns through the territory. If they kept moving the story might have been different, but after a few years some cattlemen set up permanent grazing on the unassigned lands. It wasn't long until farmers wanted to move in too. When I died, take my saddle from the wall, put it on my pony lady mall, but still, climb my bones to his back, turn our faces to the west, and we'll roam the prairies that we love the most. Right around little doggies, right around and slow for the fiery and the snappy are ready to go.
The cowmen and the Indians were not natural allies, but they joined together to keep the unassigned lands free from farmers. Now came a new invader into the empty lands. The Treaty of 1866 required the Indians to allow any railroad to build through their territory. By 1870 the first line was at the border, by 1873 the line was built to the Texas line to Denison, but the Indians were unimpressed. While Texans flocked to the iron horse the Indians ignored it. Indian territory population was scattered, towns were too small to generate much trapping.
Full blood, soul little, bought even less. Transportation meant so little to Indians that the railroad president claimed the distinction of being the only man in history to build a railroad 250 miles through a tunnel. Clearly the land would have to be settled by whites before the traffic situation could be improved. A railroad lawyer announced that the unassigned land should be open to the whites and if they were not the people would take the matters into their own hands. There were two railroad stations in the unassigned lands, one at Guthrie and one at Oklahoma station on the banks of the North Canadian. The station master at Oklahoma took some visitors to a surrounding hill one day and announced someday there will be a great city here, stretching as far as you can see in every direction. The visitors were impressed with the beauty of the land, but considered the station master a little off his rocker, though they decided not to mention it at the time. Captain David Payne as a little crazy too said some of his friends and it was easy to believe observing his actions.
Payne, former homesteader, soldier, dreamer announced a personal campaign to settle the unassigned lands. For five years he devoted his life to the cause. His printed pamphlets and posters went out to every part of the country. The climate of these lands is perfect, he wrote. Topographically the inspirations are not wanting. They atmosphere is electric and full of life giving qualities. The readers believed and came by the hundreds. Eight times Payne led them into the forbidden land and eight times they were turned back by the U.S. cavalry. Payne was fined, thrown into jail, parole. Friends paid his fines, loaned him money and gave him encouragement. For five years his followers grew in number around the headquarters at Arkansas City. Twice a year, Payne took his boomers into the territory. Indian leaders pleaded for protection. The secretary of the interior asked Congress for stronger penalties against Payne and the boomers. The request was ignored.
In the autumn of 1884, David Payne died and meds to planning one more invasion of the unassigned lands. His successor was Captain W. L. Couch. By now, the Army stationed hundreds of troops on the Kansas Line to deal with the boomers, but roads were few, communications primitive. The settlers evaded capture for days and sometimes weeks. Some were armed and threatened to fight the whole Army, though none did. In January 1885, Captain Couch led still another group of boomers into the Stillwater Creek area. The Army was compelled to call for reinforcements. With food supplies cut off, the boomers allowed the cavalry to escort them back to Arkansas City. But the printing presses were running full speed. Railroad financed campaigns were bringing more settlers into the Kansas camps. South of Arkansas City is barbarism, one poster read. It's a territory that belongs to our brother in red who is always behind. A prominent creek full blood saw it better when he wrote, there is no longer a place for an Indian as an Indian.
The time of the boomers was at hand. Swarming into Arkansas City, they squatted in miserable camps until they doubled the normal population. In March 1889, Congress passed the bill providing for the opening of the unassigned lands. The date was set for April 22nd, 1889. The boomers were joined by others now from every part of the country. Their common traits, hope, determination and poverty. The morning of Monday, April 22nd, dawned clean and mild, a perfect spring day in Indian territory. Hardly a cloud moved across the sky. The thousands of boomers who saw homes in the unassigned lands moved through the Cherokee strip to the northern border of the lands near Orlando. 11,000 quarter sections lay in the land ahead. There were three or four men for every one of the better locations. The camps along the Kansas border were empty now. Their inhabitants competently on their way.
To the south, other eager thousands lined the South Canadian River. On the west, the reservation near Kingfisher and on the east, the Sack and Fox reservation were starting points. The railroads which had fought for the boomers caused for so many years provided special trains and they were so full, conductors had to give up taking tickets. Men sat on top of the cars and rode the rods beneath. Sharpies paid conductors $50 for a tip on which train would be the first to leave, only to discover later that the information was all wrong. Those with fast horses counted on their speed for an advantage over the multitude, others relied on sturdy long-lasting oxen. By late morning, the throng was online, waiting only for noon and the starting signal. Some said 100,000, but no one really knew. One thing was certain, there were far more people than there was land, and every man was determined to win his race for a home.
Slowly the sun moved upward, time stretched until it approached eternity. Then suddenly, it was known. In Guthrie, the confusion was unbelievable. When the first train arrived, the passengers found their amazement that the best parts of town had already been claimed.
And the reporter from the east swore the whole place was staked by deputy marshals who had been sent in early to keep the peace. Pitch my tent on this campground, pray old Satan's kingdom down just like a tree that's led by the water. I shall not be moved. I shall not be moved.
It wasn't long until the settlers discovered someone had made a horrible mistake. The run was hardly underway when some of the settlers began to realize that the whole thing was very badly organized, and now suddenly the sins of Congress came to light. No one had made any provision for any kind of regulation or government of towns and cities. There were no street surveys, existing law required cities to file with a local court to incorporate, but here there were no courts. No one knew how many town lots of man could hold or of what size. But if the government overlooks such matters, the citizens did not. They formed boards of arbitration in Guthrie and Oklahoma City, and went about deciding who was first on a disputed claim,
where streets and alleys should be, and enforcing laws all without any legal justification. Oklahoma City was surveyed by two competing groups. The Seminole town company was first on the scene since they claimed the railroad was private property and started their run from there. One of the leaders was Captain Couch of the Boomers. The other group made the run from the South Canadian River. Unfortunately, the two surveys did not match, resulting in a jog in Oklahoma City's downtown streets. There were eight to ten settlers on many lots, and dislodging them was a long and bitter effort. Later, with some amazement, everyone recalled that there were no drunks, no murders, and not much violence of any kind, and no one was able to say why. To Congress in Washington, the day must have been a shock. From one little rider to one minor bill had come all this, and now there were thousands of land crazy white men running around in the middle of Indian territory, with no laws of any kind. No laws of any kind to restrain them. It would be a year before matters could be straightened out.
In Guthrie, no one waited. Carloads of lumber were on the sidings, and men went to work building. As train load after train load of settlers poured into Oklahoma City, the settlement became a civic madhouse. Man leaped from moving trains and tumbled head over heels and came up running in search of an unclaimed lot. One elderly lady drove her stake into the center of the railway and refused to budge. Any kind of building material was precious. The station master was deluged with freight. 10,000 people milled about looking for lots selling and buying claims, putting up tents. Contractors and builders offered their services to anyone with an undisputed piece of land. But most everyone was forced into the do-it-yourself category for a lack of money. In a few days, the Seminole Town Company, which had already been declared illegal by the Secretary of the Interior, was in full control of Oklahoma City. Captain Couch was elected mayor. On June 15, 52 days after the run, the Oklahoma City Gazette made a census, which showed 4138 men, women, and children.
By adding transients, soldiers, and 10% for omission, the Gazette boosted the city population to 5,923. They lived in 1,500 frame buildings and tents. The business survey was even more interesting. There were 34 groceries, 11 feed stores, 5 newspapers, 10 milkmen, and two lightning rod men, among others. The survey did not include any of the several gambling houses. Two months later, another survey showed even greater progress. The town boasted five miles of graded streets and five miles of sidewalks, 10 feet wide. Best of all, there was more than one well. On August 27, the 14 barber shops announced that henceforth all shops would charge 25 cents for a haircut. Guthrie was growing, too, by August the town had electric lights, an amazing luxury, only half a dozen towns west of the Mississippi could boast them. The council had no authority to raise funds for operation of the government, so fell back on finding gamblers, $5 a week on draw poker, $15 on stud poker.
All through the summer and the next winter, the settlers kept their one bond, a lack of money. The overwhelming majority had almost no cash, but those who stayed had what they came after, land, and they had the freedom they sought, or most of them did anyway. When I first came to this land, I was not a wealthy man, so I got myself a shack and I did what I could, and I called my shack, breaking my back, but the land was sweet and good, so I did what I could. When I first came to this land, I was not a wealthy man, so I got myself a cow and I did what I could, and I called my cow, no milk now, and I called my shack, breaking my back, but the land was sweet and good, I did what I could. When I first came to this land, I was not a wealthy man, so I got myself a duck and I did what I could, and I called my duck, out of luck, and I called my cow, no milk now, and I called my shack, breaking my back, but the land was sweet and good.
When I first came to this land, I was not a wealthy man, so I got myself a shack and I did what I could, and I called my wife, run for your life, and I called my duck, out of luck, and I called my cow, no milk now. And I called my shack, breaking my back, but the land was sweet and good, so I did what I could. When I first came to this land, I was not a wealthy man, so I got myself a son, and I did what I could.
The unassigned lands of the Indians never turned out to be the promised land so many had hoped for. The land was as dry and dusty as most other places in crops veiled here too. The winters were as cold, the summers as hot, when these things were discovered a lot of boomers packed up and moved on. Those who stayed found opportunity in strange places. In Guthrie, a grocery clerk named Rigley noticed a strong demand for chewing gum and started making it in a back room of the store. A reporter for Harper's Weekly was not so impressed, sitting in the dust and heat of Guthrie shortly after the run. He wrote, The original boomers who caused Oklahoma to be open for settlement have much to be responsible for, not the least of which are tears and cries of hungry children who look about for bread and see only the red sand shimmering in the heated air. If the projected monument to Captain David Paine is ever built, the expense of it will not be borne by the man who went into Oklahoma on the 22nd day of April.
The outlook for the future is certainly not brilliant. It is one of the quirks of history that the monument to Captain David Paine never was built. In fact, the only monument is a statue immortalizing the common man who made the run and it stands in Oklahoma City on Couch Drive, named for Paine's assistant Captain Couch who got a head start from the railroad tracks in Oklahoma City. As for the landless multitude, they built their own monument that day, the state of Oklahoma, the outlook for which was more than brilliant. If you see this planet by the water, I shall not be moved.
Oklahoma Land Run
Oklahoma Heritage Film "The Run" Oklahoma Land Run
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OETA (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
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Episode Description
This segment of Oklahoma Heritage Film on the Land Run includes black and white footage with from March 3, 1889. It also included material related to the passing of the Annual Indian Appropriation Bill that held the rider allowing For Indian Territory to be opened up to white settlers. This segment discusses the legal basis for opening the Oklahoma District, now called the Unassigned Lands put into effect in 1889 when the U.S. Congress and Illinois Representative William Springer amended the Indian Appropriations Bill to authorize Pres. Benjamin Harrison to proclaim the two-million-acre region open for settlement. This covers the land run for the unassigned land in Indian Territory, David Payne and his Boomers, the Chisholm Trail, and Cowboys. Native American life prior to the land run is covered and addressed.
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Copyright Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA). Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (
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Moving Image
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OETA - Oklahoma Educational Television Authority
Identifier: AR-1063/1 (OETA (Oklahoma Educational Television Authority))
Duration: 00:25:09
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Chicago: “Oklahoma Land Run; Oklahoma Heritage Film "The Run" Oklahoma Land Run,” 1988-05-18, OETA, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 16, 2024,
MLA: “Oklahoma Land Run; Oklahoma Heritage Film "The Run" Oklahoma Land Run.” 1988-05-18. OETA, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 16, 2024. <>.
APA: Oklahoma Land Run; Oklahoma Heritage Film "The Run" Oklahoma Land Run. Boston, MA: OETA, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from