Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893

United States - Scott #1360 (1968)
United States – Scott #1360 (1968)

My main goal in putting together this blog has always been to enrich my own personal education, hopefully in a manner others find interesting as well. I have loved the hobby of collecting stamps for nearly 45 years now but it was only in the past decade or so that I made a real effort to find out about the majority of people, events or objects portrayed upon them. Unless I add a new stamp issuing entity to my collection, I don’t plan out the subject matter of the articles too far in advance; I began a list once, using the stamps themselves, to try to put dates to subject matter but now I usually take a look at Wikipedia’s pages for a particular upcoming date to see if something interesting occurred on that date in the past. If so, do I have a stamp that represents that anniversary in some way? If nothing matches, I flip through an album or two or search through scans I’ve made of my collection waiting until a stamp catches my eye (the “first stamp I see” approach never quite worked).

Having lived in Kansas for most of my teenage years and young adulthood, I was only slightly aware of the Cherokee Strip land run that had occurred in Oklahoma nearly a century before. It was briefly mentioned in at least one history class (probably around 10th grade) and I can still recall the iconic photo in the textbook but I never knew the details. To me, Oklahoma was always the “place with the red dirt” that we had to drive through on the way to Texas or New Mexico. The longest stay I spent within a stone’s throw to the state was a summer archaeological field school excavation just north of the state line along the Arkansas River, the tedium alleviated the night a tornado tore through our camp…

Map of the Oklahoma and Indian Territories, circa 1890, including the Cherokee Outlet
Map of the Oklahoma and Indian Territories, circa 1890, including the Cherokee Outlet

What is usually mistakenly referred to as the Cherokee Strip was actually the Cherokee Outlet, located in what is now the state of Oklahoma. It was a sixty-mile (97 km) wide strip of land south of the Oklahoma-Kansas border between the 96th and 100th meridians. It was about 225 miles (362 km) long and in 1891 contained 8,144,682.91 acres (32,960 km²). Enid and Woodward fall within the historical boundaries of the Cherokee Outlet. The “real” Cherokee Strip was a disputed two-mile strip of land on the southern border of the state of Kansas, the result of a surveying error. This section of land was known as the Cherokee Strip but the term has often been applied to the whole of the Cherokee Outlet.

In 1825, the Osage Nation was given a reservation in eastern Indian territory in what is now Kansas. The Treaty of New Echota assigned the Cherokee Outlet, along with other lands, to the Cherokee Nation. Ratified on May 23, 1836, it was to be a perpetual outlet to use for passage to travel and hunt in the West from their reservation in the eastern part of what became Oklahoma. This was in addition to the land given to the Cherokees for settlement after their arrival from their home in Georgia. In the treaty, the northern border of the Cherokee Nation’s land was set as the southern border of the Osage lands.

When Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30, 1854, it set the southern border of the Kansas Territory as the 37th parallel north. It was thought at the time that the Osage northern border was also the 37th parallel. The Cherokees immediately complained, saying that it was not the true boundary and that the border of Kansas should be moved north to accommodate the actual border of the Cherokee land.

The situation languished during the troubles in Kansas leading up to the Civil War. After the war, the United States required a new peace treaty with the people of the Cherokee Nation due to their alliance with the Confederacy. The new treaty — ratified on July 19, 1866 — allowed the United States government to dispose of the land in the Cherokee Outlet: “The United States may settle friendly Indians in any part of the Cherokee country west of 96°… [sale proceeds] to be paid for to the Cherokee Nation.”

Map of the Cherokee Outlet published on September 4, 1893.
Map of the Cherokee Outlet published on September 4, 1893.

In the 1866 Cherokee Reconstruction treaty, the Cherokee agreed to cede, in trust to the United States, such portion of their land that is in present-day Kansas. A commission was set up to survey the disputed land. The survey, approved December 11, 1871, found that the border was off by 2.46 miles. The strip in question ran from the Neosho River to the 100th meridian and amounted to 434,679.36 acres (1,759 km²).

Under terms of Article 17 of the Treaty of 1866, the land was to be sold “at not less than $1.25 an acre [$309/km²]” for the first year and then offered for sale at local land offices. The first year 156,848.47 acres (635 km²) were sold, and the balance of 277,830.89 acres (1,124 km²) was turned over to land offices during the summer of 1879. As required, the proceeds were placed in the United States Treasury subject to order of the Cherokee national council.

The settlement of several tribes in the eastern part of the Cherokee Outlet (including the Kaw, Osage, Pawnee, Ponca, and Tonkawa tribes) separated it from the Cherokee Nation proper and left them unable to use it for grazing or hunting. After the Civil War, Texans began driving their cattle across the Outlet to markets in Kansas. Soon other European-American ranchers began using the land for grazing. In the early 1880s, with the support of the Cherokee, the ranchers using the land got organized and began fencing off individual claims. The Cherokee believed such organization would help them collect rents due them for land use. Also during the 1880s, Bill McDonald, acting as deputy U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Kansas and the Northern District of Texas, cleared the Cherokee Strip of cattle thieves and train robbers, who had taken to hiding out in what they thought was a kind of “no-man’s land”.

Waiting for the opening of the Cherokee Strip (or Outlet) at a camp near Arkansas City, Kansas. Photo taken by Walter D. Hutchison in September 1893.
Waiting for the opening of the Cherokee Strip (or Outlet) at a camp near Arkansas City, Kansas. Photo taken by Walter D. Hutchison in September 1893.

Starting with the publication of a Chicago Tribune article in 1879, a growing movement of those pressing for the opening up to homesteading of the unoccupied Unassigned Lands located in Indian Territory — people known as Boomers — began to gain widespread popular political clout. The Boomer’s views had already prevailed in convincing the government to open up public domain lands to settlement in the 1880s culminating in the Land Run of 1889.

In March 1883, Kansas cattlemen incorporated under the laws of Kansas to form the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association. They negotiated a five-year lease for the entire outlet for $100,000 per year, payable semi-annually in advance. At the end of the five years, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council put the lease up for bid, hoping to get a better price. The Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association eventually got the bid for $200,000 per year, but the lease was nullified by Congress, which then authorized purchasing the land for $1.25 per acre. Having previously rejected a bid from the cattlemen to buy the land for $3.00 per acre, the Cherokee protested in vain that the government price was too low.

President Benjamin Harrison forbade all grazing in the Cherokee Outlet after October 2, 1890, which eliminated all profit from leasing the land. The Cherokee came to an agreement to sell these lands to the government at a price ranging from $1.40 to $2.50 per acre the following year. Part of their agreement was that individual Cherokees were permitted to establish claims in the Outlet, an option many of them took advantage of. The Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association would disband in 1893, the same year the Outlet was opened to non-Indian settlement.

“Boomers Camp. Arkansas City, Kansas Waiting For the Strip To Open March 1, 1893.” Photo sourced from the National Archives Still Picture Records Section, Special Media Archives Services Division (NAID 516453).

At the same time, droughts, sharply declining agricultural prices, and the Panic of 1893 precipitated many to begin gathering in Kansas’s Boomer camps. Tension was high as the numbers of potential settlers waiting in tents or makeshift dwellings increased in the anticipation running up to the opening up of the last large remaining portion of tillable land that still remained in the public domain.

In 1889, Congress authorized the Cherokee Commission to persuade the Cherokee to cede their complete title to the Cherokee Outlet. After a great amount of pressure, and confirmed by a treaty Congress approved March 17, 1893, the Cherokee agreed, for “the sum of $8,595,736.12, over and above all other sums” to turn title over to the United States government.

The Land Run of 1893, also known as the Cherokee Outlet Opening or the Cherokee Strip Land Run, marked the opening to settlement of the Cherokee Outlet in the largest land run in the United States and possibly the largest event of its kind in the history of the world.

The Land Run itself began at noon on September 16, 1893, with an estimated 100,000 participants hoping to stake claim to part of the 6 million acres and 40,000 homesteads on what had formerly been Cherokee grazing land. It would be Oklahoma’s fourth and largest land run.

Silver gelatin prints on 6 x 8.75 in. mounts with manuscript titles:
Silver gelatin prints on 6 x 8.75 in. mounts with manuscript titles: “One Minute Before the Start” Sep. 16th 1893 and N.W. cor “Chilloco Reserve Sept. 16th 1893. These historic images document the “rush” for new homesteads in the 225 mile long, 58 mile wide “Cherokee Strip” between southern Kansas and Oklahoma Territory. Sold by the Cherokee to the government, by the time of the opening, more than 100,000 people gathered on the border, nearly 30,000 alone around Arkansas City. At noon on the 16th, the homesteaders, most mounted on horseback, but others on foot and in wagons, “boomed” across the border to secured prime claims. The former with verso hand stamp of photographer L.D. Hodge, Arkansas City, KS, and the latter known to be from a negative made by W.S. Prettyman, also of Arkansas City.

Four land offices for the run were specially set up to handle the event — in Perry, Enid, Woodward, and Alva. Infantry troops were stationed at those sites in an attempt to maintain order, while Cavalry troops were stationed at encampments near Alva, Bluff Creek, Chilocco, Clear Creek, Hennessey, Pond Creek, South Wharton, and Waynoka. Despite that, ‘Sooners’ — those who started before the designated time — still managed to sneak in and secure some of the best locations, especially in the eastern third of the Outlet and at many of the townsites. With demand for the land far outstripping that which was available, a majority of the participants did not actually secure a claim for themselves.

The counties of Kay, Grant, Woods, Woodward, Garfield, Noble, and Pawnee were named following the run. Prior to the run, these seven counties had been assigned the letters K through Q, respectively. Upon Oklahoma’s statehood in 1907, four additional counties — Alfalfa, Ellis, Harper, and Major — were created in the Cherokee Outlet using existing land from Woods, Kay, and Woodward counties.

While there were certainly success stories, not all land claimants found prosperity. Despite the opportunity afforded by free land, many of the new towns were overbuilt, while some farmers found their land claims unsuitable for farming, resulting in many claims being abandoned by the end of the year.

The Garfield County land office now sits in the Humphrey Heritage Village at the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid, Oklahoma. Photo taken on July 21, 2011.
The Garfield County land office now sits in the Humphrey Heritage Village at the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid, Oklahoma. Photo taken on July 21, 2011.

Actual payment to the Cherokee Nation did not occur until 1964, when the Cherokee finally settled their claims against the U.S. government for the actual value of the Cherokee Strip land opened to settlement in 1893. This amounted to about $14.7 million, which was paid to the original allotment holders or their heirs. The tribe also received an additional $2 million in accrued interest.

The Organic Act of 1890 incorporated the Unassigned Lands into the new Oklahoma Territory. In 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state of the Union.

Scott #1360 — the 6-cent Cherokee Strip commemorative stamp — was first placed on sale at Ponca City, Oklahoma, on October 15, 1968. This stamp marked the 75th anniversary of the dramatic land rush into the northern part of the state, where 40,000 homesteads of 160 acres awaited successful claimants. More than 100,000 prospective homesteaders were on the Kansas border awaiting the signal that began the run on September 16, 1893. The brown stamp was designed by Norman Todhunter and was printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing using the rotary press in panes of fifty, perforated 11 x 10½, with a total printing of 124,775,000. It is one of very few U.S. stamps issued in the 1960s for which I don’t have either a mint copy and/or a first day cover. I’ll need to upgrade….

Flag of the United States (1891-1896, 44 stars)
Flag of the United States (1891-1896, 44 stars)
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