Prior to Statehood...Oklahoma's Early History Explored, Part One

October 22, 2019

Shortly after Andrew Jackson was elected U.S. president in 1828, the federal government began to force Native Americans to move from their homelands in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi to what was then called Indian Territory and later became the state of Oklahoma. The Choctaws, Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Seminole, then known as the Five Civilized Tribes, were the first to be relocated. Later, they were joined by tribes from the plains who were forced into Indian Territory from surrounding states. Due to overpopulation in the east and the devastation of many habitable areas during the Civil War, by the 1870s many Americans felt it had become vital for the U.S. to open a larger portion of the continent for settlement. Since Indian Territory wasn’t open at that time to anyone other than Native Americans, many citizens began to demand that Indian Territory be opened to settlers. As a result, Congress considered 33 bills in the ten years between 1870 and 1879 to open the Unassigned Lands of Indian Territory for settlement. The portion of Indian Territory known as the Unassigned Lands consisted of two million acres in the center of the region that had been ceded to the United States by the Creek (Muskogee) and Seminole Indians following the Civil War and on which no other tribes had been settled. By 1883 this area was bounded by the Cherokee Outlet on the north, several relocated Indian reservations on the east, the Chickasaw lands to the south, and the Cheyenne-Arapaho reserve on the west. This included all or part of what is now known as Canadian, Cleveland, Kingfisher, Logan, Oklahoma and Payne counties. In the 1880s this area was known as some of the best unoccupied public land in the United States. The Indian Appropriations Act of 1889 was passed and signed into law with an amendment that authorized President Benjamin Harrison to open the Unassigned Lands for settlement. Due to the Homestead Act of 1862, which had been signed into law by President Lincoln, the settlers would be allowed to claim lots of up to 160 acres, provided they actually lived on the land and improved it. At noon on April 22, 1889, approximately 50,000 potential settlers anxiously awaited the starting gun that would send them racing to stake a claim for land of their own. Next week’s blog will look at what transpired once the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889 began.
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