Land Run

It was born all at once. It has a birthday: April 22, 1889. Noon. Precisely at that moment, history flipped a switch. Before, there was prairie. After, there was a city.

— Sam Anderson, Boomtown, 35-36

Land Rush.jpg

One of the first things you learn growing up in Oklahoma is how tornados happen. A cold front from the North meets a warm front from the South and they clumsily dance, stepping on each other’s toes and dropping shoes over the prairies, spinning desperately to a song without melody, in a dance without rhythm.

In their wake, they leave chaos.

High Points in the Life of

A.D. Wright

Son of William Halsted and Eliza Wright

When starting West I had no idea what I would do or whether I would stay or not. On arriving in Omaha I went to the hotel for a day or two, spending my time looking around the city.

Not liking the idea of not having anything to do, went to the Novelty Carriage Works and applied for a job in the paint department, and went to work. The next morning found a room with a private family, moved my trunk from the hotel, bought a meal ticket and was settled at least for the present.

While in Omaha the proclamation was issued opening the Oklahoma lands for settlement April 22, 1889. A colony was organized there, holding meetings quite often. I did not join but went to the meetings.

I finally made up my mind to go down to the big opening that so many people were talking about. And the 14th of April, gave up my job at the shop to get ready for Oklahoma.

The Land Run happened just like a tornado.

Settlers from the North traveled down and stationed themselves along the Kansas border. Settlers from the South traveled up and stationed themselves along the Texas border. Indian Territory—future Oklahoma—sat in the middle like a pressure cooker, waiting for something to give in, waiting for chaos to drop.

When I left Omaha there was eight to ten inches of snow on the ground. And during the day the snow melted and would run down the curbs and freeze up tight at night. Arriving in Arkansas City the grass was two or three inches high and much vegetation was coming out. It was sure a big contrast. We arrived in Arkansas City on Saturday…

All grocery, hardware and drug stores failed to lay in supplies enough to meet the demands or wants of the thousands that were camped in and about the city. Arkansas City doubtless had, on that morning of April 22, 1889, many times more people than it has had at any time since.

I got a seat on the east side of one of the cars, next to the window so I could get out quick when the train arrived at Guthrie. The coaches were so crowded the conductor could not get through to take up the tickets. This train reached Guthrie about 5:00 p.m. I threw my grip out the window and jumped. Went up the hill from the depot about the distance of two blocks. Stopped, looked north, east and south; it was a mass of humanity milling about and many tents were up and many going up and many frame buildings were being built. Looking west I saw some people wading across Cottonwood Creek, to get lots over on the west side of the townsite. Near where I was standing I saw two men I had met in Omaha, they had a tent up. Leaving my grip and blankets strapped to it with them I went over on the west side and staked a lot, which proved to be on Noble Ave.

Guthrie Train.jpg

The 1866 treaty had specifically prohibited white persons from going into Choctaw and Chickasaw territory except for railroad employees, travelers passing through, and white mechanics, teachers, and so forth employed in the nations. But the federal government was intent on extinguishing title to as much Indian land as it could. By its postwar treaties with the Creeks, Seminoles, ad Cherokees, it had acquired their western lands, supposedly for the settlement of Indian tribes, but when it did not assign any tribes to the area, white men clamored for it and Congress opened it to white settlement. In the great land run of 1889, some 50,000 settlers and speculators surged into the unassigned lands, creating the are that would become Oklahoma Territory. The wedge had been driven, and the nations were left to salvage what they could of their territory.
— The Choctaws in Oklahoma, 153

On April 22nd, 1889, as A.D. Wright jumped out of the train window in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, my great-great-great grandmother Margaret Russell was living in Indian Territory one hundred miles to the south.

She hadn’t yet received her land from the government. The Choctaw Nation was in the midst of lawsuits and debate with the federal government over who qualified as Choctaw and who didn’t. One by one by one they were being counted as individuals on individual land in the individual state of Oklahoma territory.

Dawes was winning.

On the night of the day of the lot sale we had a big Indian dance, the first I had ever seen. The Indians had a big bonfire and danced around and around it until some of them were worn out.

With those brief, two sentences, A.D. Wright encountered Native Americans for the first and only time mentioned in his account.