On this date in 1889, the so-called “Unassigned Lands” in what is now central Oklahoma were opened to white settlement, the celebrated Oklahoma Land Run. The Native tribes, you may be sure, aren’t quite so enthusiastic about celebrating.
The first popular usage of the term “Unassigned Lands” started in 1879 when mixed-blood Cherokee Elias C. Boudinot published an article in the Chicago Times describing lands in the central part of the Indian Territory that could, and in his opinion, should be settled by white people. The boundaries of his so-called “Unassigned Lands” had been established externally through a series of treaties with Indian tribes. The border on the north was the Cherokee Outlet, created by treaty in 1828. To the south was the Chickasaw Nation, established in 1837. To the west was the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation, established in 1867. And to the east were the reservations of the Potawatomi (1867), Shawnee (1867), Sac and Fox (1867), Pawnee (1881), and Iowa (1883). Altogether, the Unassigned Lands covered 1,887,796.47 acres, or approximately 2,950 square miles.
This description overlooks claims by the Creek and Seminole nations to the area, which were dealt with in the time-honored fashion. From Born Grown: An Oklahoma City History by Roy P. Stewart (Oklahoma City: Fidelity Bank, N.A., 1974), the terms of the deal:
In January 1889, negotiations were held to recover interests of those two tribes … Relinquishment gave those tribes $2,280,000 and $1,912,000 respectively. Thus the two tribes received a bit more than $2 an acre for land for which the United States paid France four cents an acre.
I note purely in passing that the site of Halvor Steanson’s farm, on a sliver of which the palatial estate at Surlywood is located, would now go for $100,000 an acre, were there any acres to sell.
The winners, of course, get to write the history books. Still, the idea of holding Land Run reenactments in the local schools smacks of Rubbing It In, and for several years now, members of various tribes have tried to get those events banned, or at least toned down. (Audio regarding a current effort [41 minutes].) Certainly the Land Run as an actual historic event needs to be covered in the curriculum; however, I can’t work up any enthusiasm for the reenactments, which boil down to “You guys won, and you guys lost.”