Spiritual Lessons From The American West
Volume 26, February, 2011
The Oklahoma Land Rush
Though usually used in the singular sense, there were several “rushes” in the Oklahoma Territory during the nineteenth century.
In 1828, the Congress of the United States designated the land that would later become the state of Oklahoma as “Indian Territory.” White settlers were required to leave, and a number of eastern and southern Indian tribes were forcibly moved into the area from land they had called home for untold centuries. Most prominent of these were those of the group known as the “Five Civilized Tribes.” These included the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole.
A generation later, these five tribes allied themselves with the Confederacy during the War Between The States. When the Confederacy was defeated, the United States government looked upon these tribes as defeated enemies. This, combined with increasing demand to open up the Indian Territory to white settlers, prompted the “Oklahoma Land Rush” of 1885, and another in 1889. Neither of these rushes made a major impact on American History or the settlement of the West.
However, at twelve noon on September 16, 1893, the sound of a cannon unleashed the largest land rush in American history. Participants lined the Kansas border and utilized trains, wagons, horses, and even bicycles, while many traveled on foot. At the sound of the cannon, an estimated 100,000 people raced forward to claim plots of land in the “Cherokee Strip,” the northern part of the Oklahoma Territory. The big one was on!
With almost 42,000 parcels of land available, there were not nearly enough. Many “Sooners” had snuck into the area ahead of the cannon. By the time the “Boomers” arrived, many of the best parcels of land had been taken. During the rush, many were wounded and several killed. Some of these were direct results of the human stampede. Others were in answer to the question of who actually got to a particular parcel of land first. In many cases, several people claimed a parcel and swore they were the first on it. Of course when it was finally settled, the ones with the most guns had been there first!
The impact of the land rushes transformed the dry and barren land of Oklahoma forever. Farms and ranches instantly sprouted. Villages and towns sprang up as if by magic. Where once buffalo had roamed by the millions and Indians by the thousands, now cattle, sheep, horses, and white men ruled.
Though many claimed land and began new lives in the Territory, just as many sadly trooped back toward the Kansas line, tired, hungry, and disenchanted.
Though the believer often travels through a dry and barren land, his home is already prepared for him in a much finer place. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb. 11:8-10).