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Oklahoma Journeys

David Payne Arrested, 1884


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This week on Oklahoma Journeys it's Boomers getting busted, territorial style. Indian Territory was meant to be the final home for many American Indian nations, but by the late 1800s, some whites felt that some of the unused land should be given up for settlement by non-Indians. It's David Payne and the boomers this week on Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

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

After the Civil War ended in 1865 the Federal Government used the fact that some American Indian tribes fought for the Confederacy as an excuse to renegotiate treaties and began to take part of the Indian Territory away from the Indians. In addition, they bought a large parcel of land from three tribes. This land, the unassigned lands, was a large rectangle in the middle of the territory, and it was the area that many whites felt should be opened up for settlement. The American Indians knew that if the unassigned lands were opened for settlement it would be just a matter of time before all their lands were gone.

It was illegal for anyone to enter Indian Territory without permission but that didn't stop groups of white settlers from trying to live there. The Boomers, as they were called, were colonists, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, who would illegally travel into Indian Territory and try to set up towns. The Boomer leader for the Indian Territory was David L. Payne, a Civil War veteran and part-time farmer. Payne led a number of trips into Indian Territory, all of them unsuccessful. He and other Boomers would gather in Kansas towns along the border, get fired up with speeches and rhetoric, and then head into the Indian Territory. They set up their towns in various places, once in present-day Oklahoma City, and another time near Stillwater and elsewhere. Regardless of where they encamped, the result was always the same. Federal troops from Fort Reno would arrive and either forcibly or peacefully escort the Boomers off of the land and usually into jail. Some of these encounters weren't friendly and some involved prolonged gun battles between troops and Boomers and other arrests were made without incident.

In August 1884 David Payne led what was to be his last Boomer movement into Oklahoma. Settling near Rock Falls, two miles southwest of the present-day Braman, Payne and his cohorts proceeded to lay out a town and began building structures, the first being the office of the Oklahoma War Chief newspaper. More than 300 people followed Payne to Rock Falls and started the process of settlement. It was in this week of 1884 on August 7th that soldiers from Fort Reno arrived at Rock Falls and ordered Payne and his followers to leave. Repeat offenders were arrested and first-time Boomers were escorted back to the Kansas line. The dozen or so primitive structure erected at Rock Falls were burned to the ground along with the printing press for the Oklahoma War Chief. Payne was taken to stand trial in Fort Smith but managed to get a change of venue to federal court in Topeka, which later ruled in his favor. Payne died from a heart attack the morning after the ruling was issued and didn't live to see the territory opened for settlement.

You can see some of his belongings on display and learn about him at the Oklahoma History Center on NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. 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.