"The order was given, the bugle blew the blast -- charge -- forward. And that line broke with a hurrah and rush, and impetuous onward movement -- the cowboys firing their pistols and yelling, making a scene never before witnessed in this or any other country, settling up a country by the aid of a bugle call..."
- Arkansas City Republican Traveler, April 25 1889
With the crackling sound of that bugle, the Oklahoma Land Rush began at precisely noon on today's date, April 22 in 1889 (above). This was a truly unique moment, when the U.S. government, having declared nearly two million acres of land to be open for homesteading, simply put it up for grabs, and said "go get it!!" Of course the land had to belong to someone to begin with, and they -- the Indigenous Americans were pushed aside once again. And there would indeed be other land grabs until the government ultimately came up with a lottery system of handing out available public land. But for the sheer grandeur of it... for the spectacle of thousands of people lined up at the starting lines and then at the sound of the cannon, or the gun, or whatever, just racing off to grab their own plot of earth... nothing ever has or will equal this remarkable day.
"Indian Territory" Becomes Valuable
This large chunk of land which was being opened up for development was located in what had been called "Indian Territory". Previously, the area had been considered rather arid
"Harrison's Hoss Race"
After the reservations were all divided into allotments, any and all remaining land was declared surplus and opened up for white settlement under the Homestead Act of 1862. This act, which had been signed into law by President Lincoln, held that settlers who stayed on their claims for five years could own the land, free and clear. This was good for up to 160 acres provided the settlers stayed on the claim and made improvements on it. Harrison then announced on March 3 of 1889 that the land would be made available to anyone at all who was capable of getting to and laying physical claim upon it. This bonanza of land free for the taking
"sooners". Sorry if that offends all of you O.U. fans out there, but that's what all of the books say. Some of them were women (above), who were widowed, some with families to support. The sight of all of these people straining at their various lines of departure which encircled all sides of the territory, and then breaking free to stake their claims when the signal was given at 12:00 noon that day was memorable:
From the Caldwell Journal, 5/2/1889:
"What a sight! The horsemen start in a mad race with one another, leaving the wagons behind. For about a mile they keep together and then first one and then another will swing out to the right or to the left to get away from the rush, or to go to some place already chosen for their homestead. The sound from the earth made from this immense caravan sounds like the roaring of thunder."
"It was a thrilling sight. The great prairies, boundless and beautiful, were dotted with covered wagons and they looked for all the world like a fleet of ships upon the undulating sea. The horsemen were soon out of sight, and half an hour after the start the wagons were lost to view."
"At worst the run can be viewed as an act of conglomerated human greed, where citizens dashed frantically about to grab land that had once been faithfully promised to the Indian forever. At best, it can be seen as a fulfillment of God-fearing citizens who wished to build homes for themselves an for future generations. In truth, the Run of 1889 was much of both."
So now, let the whole story - both the good and the bad - be told.
"The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889" by Stan Hoig, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1984