The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 started at high noon on April 22, 1889, with an estimated 50,000 people lined up for their piece of the available two million acres. The Unassigned Lands were considered some of the best unoccupied public land in the United States and included all or part of the modern day Canadian, Cleveland, Kingfisher, Logan, Oklahoma, and Payne counties of the Oklahoma. The Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, allowed legal settlers to claim lots up to 160 acres. Provided a settler lived on the land and improved it, the settler could then receive the title to the land.
Harper’s Weekly reported the rush like this:
“As the expectant home-seekers waited with restless patience, the clear, sweet notes of a cavalry bugle rose and hung a moment upon the startled air. It was noon. The last barrier of savagery in the United States was broken down. Moved by the same impulse, each driver lashed his horses furiously; each rider dug his spurs into his willing steed, and each man on foot caught his breath hard and darted forward. A cloud of dust rose where the home-seekers had stood in line, and when it had drifted away before the gentle breeze, the horses and wagons and men were tearing across the open country like fiends. The horsemen had the best of it from the start. It was a fine race for a few minutes, but soon the riders began to spread out like a fan, and by the time they had reached the horizon they were scattered about as far as eye could see. Even the fleetest of the horsemen found upon reaching their chosen localities that men in wagons and men on foot were there before them. As it was clearly impossible for a man on foot to outrun a horseman, the inference is plain that Oklahoma had been entered hours before the appointed time. Notwithstanding the assertions of the soldiers that every boomer had been driven out of Oklahoma, the fact remains that the woods along the streams within Oklahoma were literally full of people Sunday night. Nine-tenths of these people made settlement upon the land illegally. The other tenth would have done so had there been any desirable land left to settle upon. This action on the part of the first claim-holders will cause a great deal of land litigation in the future, as it is not to be expected that the man who ran his horse at its utmost speed for ten miles only to find a settler with an ox team in quiet possession of his chosen farm will tamely submit to this plain infringement of the law.”
A number of the individuals, however, who participated in the run entered early and hid out until the legal time of entry to lay quick claim to some of the choicest homesteads. These people came to be identified as “sooners.” This led to hundreds of legal contests that arose and were decided first at local land offices and eventually by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Today, I’m blogging at http://www.caseycrow.com/ on “It’s All About Diving In” Tomorrow: The Louisiana Purchase & Lewis & Clark Rita Bay