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Oklahoma Memories

Cherokee Strip Land Run

2010-09-20

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"Well, I made the run in a little two-wheel cart with a pony."

That was Nancy McClain describing the largest land run in Oklahoma History, the run of September 16, 1893 that opened the Cherokee Strip.

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

In all there were five land runs that opened up portions of what would become the state of Oklahoma. When the words land run are mentioned, we usually think of the first land run, April 22, 1889, that opened up the central part of the territory. That run was followed by two more, then on September 16, 1893, the largest land run of all began.

The Federal Government granted seven million acres of land to the Cherokee Nation in treaties of 1828 and 1835. The United States guaranteed to the Cherokee Nation that this land would be a perpetual outlet west for tribal hunting grounds; it measured 58 miles wide and extended 220 miles along the northern border. Following the Civil War, a number of things began happening to that land. First, the federal government took back some of it to use for relocation of additional Indian tribes, then the railroads came through along with cattle drives. People began clamoring for the land to be opened for settlement, so at noon on September 16, 1893, cannons boomed, guns were fired, the run was on, with more people running and more land to be claimed than in any previous run.

Among those making the run was young Nancy McClain with her cart and pony...

"Well, in the first place, I was in that little cart, and horsebackers on each side of me, and they all carried a stake to stake their claim, and when my cart would be swerved to the right the boys over there would line it up and to the left they would line it up until we got out where they thinned out and then it was very nice going."

It was a hot day and dry; clouds of dust rose from the barren prairie, the dust made worse because much of the grass had burned off in a large prairie fire days earlier.
"And I remember this, too, the prairie was all burnt off, and a girlfriend and her brother ran with me and left us there so they could go on farther, and we slept on that prairie that night with a blanket and a parasol to keep the dust out of our eyes; however, there were two men got in there ahead of us, and they had regular racehorses from Nebraska, and they were very much elated because they had wives that we could all be together, and we were there three hours before anybody came to stake on school land and then tried to crowd us out. They stayed with us, and all we had to eat the next day these boys killed an antelope. Of course they didn't know what it was, but I happened to know, so we skinned that and toasted that over a fire and we were near a creek where we could have water."

McClain was one of an estimated 100,000 people who made the run. By that evening the towns of Alva, Enid, Perry and Woodward had risen where no had lived previously. Those first weeks many slept on the ground or in their wagons. Soon they began building sod homes. Many of those who came to the territory in that run were farmers from central and eastern Europe, wheat farmers. They found soil and conditions similar to their homelands and began growing wheat.
The Oklahoma Historical Society will open the new Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid this November 5. It's been under construction for three years. The only remaining sod house from the land run is now a museum owned by the Oklahoma Historical Society, located in Aline, and the Oklahoma Historical Society operates the Cherokee Strip Museum in Perry. The Oklahoma History Center on NE 23rd Street just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City features a large exhibit on the land runs, including an actual wagon that made both major land runs, the 1889 run and the 1893 run.

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