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Oklahoma Journeys

Cherokee Strip Land Run

2009-09-19

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When we think of land runs, we automatically think of the ‘89 run that opened central Oklahoma, but the largest run occurred four years later on September 16, 1893. That was the run that opened the Cherokee Outlet and more than a hundred thousand people are estimated to have participated. We’ll remember the land run of 1893 on Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I’m Michael Dean.

Oklahoma was the only state to have parts of its land opened by land run. That’s one of the things that makes our state unique. When we think of land runs, we automatically think of the ’89 land run that opened Central Oklahoma, but the biggest run was the one that occurred on September 16, 1893, that opened what had been the Cherokee Outlet in northwest Oklahoma. An estimated 130,000 people lined up on the Kansas border that morning waiting for the guns to sound ready to make the run.

The run was immortalized in the movie Far and Away. Director Ron Howard was born in Duncan and grew up listening to his grandfather tell stories about how he made that run. When Howard was directing the movie, he said he tried very hard to try to make the land run scenes as accurate as possible, because for him it was a part of his family story.

Tens of thousands gathered at registration booths located on the prairie with neither shelter nor immediate access to water and other necessities. Only forty-five clerks staffed the nine locations, so the lines often reached a mile long with people four abreast. Many held their places for days without water. Dry weather, choking dust, and smoke from nearby prairie fires afflicted the shuffling crowds. At least ten people died of heat stroke and similar problems. The newspaper in Arkansas City, Kansas, reported fifty cases of sunstroke in one day; six victims died that night.

Still more suffering and chaos faced home seekers. Drunkenness, fighting, and worse crimes increased markedly while federal officials delayed answers to two pressing questions until the last week. To restrain enthusiastic crowds, the president's proclamation opening the lands provided for a one-hundred-foot buffer zone around and immediately within the Outlet. Fearing damage to Indian lands, Indian agents and tribal spokesmen opposed applying those rules for entries at the eastern border. In response authorities issued contradictory instructions that caused widespread confusion.

Central and Western Oklahoma lands were opened using a variety of mechanisms. There were five runs altogether of which the Cherokee Strip run was the largest; six areas were opened by allotment; and there was one opening by lottery and one by sealed bid.

The only remaining sod house from the land run is now a museum, owned by the Oklahoma Historical Society, located in Aline. It is open Tuesday through Friday from 9am to 5pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 2pm to 5pm. The Oklahoma Historical Society is building a new Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid and operates the Cherokee Strip Museum in Perry. The Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City features a large exhibit on the land runs including an actual wagon that made both major land runs, in ’89 and in ‘93.

Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing our state’s past. I’m Michael Dean.