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The Oklahoma Land Run

American Indians and the Land Run

American Indians viewed the land run very differently than settlers. While those who made the run saw the situation as an opportunity to claim free land, American Indians feared they may lose even more of their land. At multiple times during the nineteenth century tribes had been forced from their ancestral homelands to reservations in present-day Oklahoma. Then, tribes were forced to accept individual allotments with the Dawes Act in 1887, which again reduced their land. Some of the land taken from tribal ownership became available for white settlement in various land openings.

After boomers such as David Payne continually violated Indian treaties by encroaching on their land, the United States government finally relented and, in 1885, passed an Indian Appropriations Act to allow natives to sell their unoccupied land. Furthermore, in 1889, President Grover Cleveland passed a new Indian Appropriations Act, which opened up the Unassigned Lands to settlement through the land run.

Elias C. Boudinot

Raised in New England following his father's assassination, Elias C. Boudinot studied law and dabbled in politics. This background proved instrumental in Boudinot's future. A loss in a Supreme Court case in 1868 led Boudinot to believe that American Indians should seek the protection of the United States Constitution and property rights as individuals rather than through tribal ownership. During the 1870s, Boudinot worked as a railroad attorney and spent much of his time in Washington.

On February 17, 1879, in a letter to The Chicago Times, Boudinot espoused his claim that fourteen million acres of Indian Territory, including the Unassigned Lands, should be considered public domain and opened to non-Indian settlers. Boudinot's letter spread to other papers throughout the United States, motivating David Payne and other homesteaders to seek land in the territory.

Boudinot died in Fort Smith on September 27, 1890, just a year after the first land run.

Cheyenne-Arapaho Ration cards used to keep track of and receive rations at the time of the 1889 Land Run. (American Indian Archives, OHS) (7)

Cheyenne-Arapaho Ration cards used to keep track of and receive rations at the time of the 1889 Land Run. (American Indian Archives, OHS) (8)

Ledger book from the 1890s to record rations to American Indians. (American Indian Archives, OHS) (9)

Ration ticket bag used to hold ration cards assigned to American Indians at that time. (American Indian Collection, OHS) (10)

Memorial of Elias C. Boudinot to the forty-second US Congress to accompany House Resolution 603 regarding the sale of Indian land. (Courtesy of the National Archives) (11)