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

October 24, 2019

Sooners Enter Early To read about what led up to the Land Run of 1889, see last week’s blog, Prior to Statehood . . . Oklahoma’s Early History Explored, Part One. The Oklahoma Land Run was scheduled to begin at noon, April 22, 1889. But there were many individuals who slipped into the territory early and hid out until the legal time of entry so they could claim choice homesteads before others. These early folks became known as “sooners.” Hundreds of legal contests arose as a result of many of their claims, with the main argument centering on what constituted “legal time of entry”—sun time at high noon or meridian time. U.S. troops were responsible for monitoring the land run, but they were thinly manned and stretched over an extensive perimeter. In addition, some of the troops didn’t arrive until the day before the run -- far too late to effectively keep the many sooners from entering the area prior to the legally allowed time. Some of the early arrivals were known as “legal sooners” since they were present by virtue of working for the government in some capacity. Others onsite ahead of time due to their employment included: railroad men, carpenters, teamsters, lawmen, and woodcutters. A number of these individuals took advantage of their early arrival to stake claims of their own. Some of the most notorious for taking advantage of their early presence and legal authority were U.S. marshals and their deputies. The Land Run Begins It’s hard to imagine a day more fraught with excitement and utter chaos than April 22, 1889. It dawned bright and clear, and an estimated 50,000 people surrounded the Unassigned Lands. The largest groups assembled in three spots: at the line north of Mulhall and Guthrie, north of Kingfisher, and at Purcell. But there were thousands of others at other sites, some in small conclaves. As noon approached, people on horseback and in wagons, including a number of women, crowded into position along the line. At the stroke of noon, starting signals were given at many of the points of entry. In a number of instances this entailed a military officer firing his pistol or having a trumpeter play. In other locations one or more citizens fired their rifles into the air. However, the loudest starting signal of all was probably Fort Reno’s booming cannon. Whatever the signal, they all produced the same results: a tsunami of wagons and horseback riders all surging forward in one extraordinary moment, anxious to stake their claim on a new life. Next week’s Prior to Statehood blog will further explore the Oklahoma Land Run and its results.  
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