The Lure of the Land: A Social History of the Public Lands from the Articles of Confederation to the New Deal

By Everett Dick | Go to book overview

XVII

"Run for Your Land"

IN THE 1880's, as people realized that the public domain was melting away like a late spring snow, there was a frenzied rush for the land that remained. In earlier times, people had often ignored the laws when they were contrary to their desires and immediate interests, but in the final rush for the soil, agitators and determined promoters worked systematically to crash the gates of unopened territory. The Indian reservations began to appear as more juicy morsels than ever before to the land-hungry borderers. In 1870, when the Osage diminished reserve lands were sold to settlers, there was a feeling that other reservations also would be opened if the subject was agitated.

The first big body of land to become the subject of agitation in this era was the area known as Oklahoma. This was not the region that comprises Oklahoma today but only a small part of it -- the central core in which Oklahoma City is now located and which is the area called Oklahoma in this chapter. In the Jacksonian era, various tribes from east of the Mississippi River had been given the land in the eastern portion of present-day Oklahoma, which for about three-quarters of a century was known as Indian Territory. When the Cherokee tribe was located in the northeast corner of present-day Oklahoma, they insisted on a corridor through which they could travel, unmolested by wild tribes, to the buffalo-hunting grounds in the West. This area -- about sixty miles wide, extending from the Kansas boundary to Oklahoma, and from the 96th meridian on the east to the 100th meridian on the west -- was called the Cherokee Outlet, or Cherokee Strip. Oklahoma was a rich area extending from its south boundary to the Canadian River, consisting of more than two million acres. During the Civil War, the Five Civilized Tribes, who held the lion's share of the central and eastern part of the state -- as of today -- had the misfortune to choose the wrong side and supported the Confederacy. As a result, the federal government compelled the Seminoles and Creeks to cede the

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