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Oklahoma Journeys

No Man's Land Becomes Oklahoma's Land, May, 1890


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This week on Oklahoma Journeys, No Man’s Land finally gets a home. The panhandle of Oklahoma is an interesting part of our state. It juts out into the west all by itself, stoically going about its day-to-day business with seemingly little concern for the rest of the state. The panhandle not only looks interesting, but it has a very interesting history as well, and that’s our story on this week’s Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

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

For those of us who have lived in Oklahoma all of our lives, at least for a long time, the shape of our state doesn’t seem odd to us, yet if you take the time to really examine it, it does have a rather unusual character about it. The skinny little panhandle juts out into the western lands not only providing a distinctive shape for the state but also helping to secure a record for the state of Oklahoma of being the state that touches more borders on more states than any other, seven in all. Oklahoma’s panhandle, however, wasn’t always a part of Oklahoma.

What is today the panhandle really just appeared out of the blue one day as the various borders of other states and territories formed around it. France, Mexico, Spain, and the United States all surveyed, plotted, and argued over this chunk of land but when the lands and territories of Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and the Indian Territory were surveyed and made official, government workers didn’t realize that they had inadvertently created a rectangular chunk of land that now didn’t belong to any state or territory. It was truly a no man’s land. No rules or regulations affected this area, and without territorial status, very few settlers were willing to take the gamble of setting up house in the region. No homestead laws applied and land was virtually free if you could take it and hold onto it.

Between 1850 and the mid 1880s No Man’s Land played host to travelers on the Santa Fe Trail, witnessed a large number of cattle drives, harbored unknown numbers of law breakers, and well that was about it. By the late 1880s, however, interest was taken in the land around the present-day town of Beaver, Oklahoma. A small sod general store appeared there to re-supply cattle drivers, and the area eventually took on the appearance of a settlement. By 1886, people settled near Beaver had formed their own government. They created the Territory of Cimarron and applied for statehood. If granted, this new state would have been about the size of Connecticut, about four-and-a-half times larger than the state of Rhode Island, but Congress felt the area was too small to sustain itself on agriculture and cattle and rejected statehood and territorial status for this lonesome land. It was only after the first land run opening up Oklahoma Territory in 1889 that definite action was taken on the matter of No Man’s Land.

It was in this week of 1890 that a bill was put through Congress making the panhandle officially a part of the territory of Oklahoma. The area was added on as one block officially titled Beaver County. You can visit the No Man’s Land Museum in Goodwell to learn more about this fascinating part of our state. And by visiting the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City you’ll find exhibits spotlighting the history of all the parts of Oklahoma. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing of our state’s past. I’m Michael Dean.