American Indians and the Land for the Run

American Indians viewed the land run very differently than the settlers. While those who made the run saw the situation as an opportunity to claim free land, American Indians feared they may soon again lose even more land. In varying 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. The resulting land cleared of tribal ownership resulted in available land for the run.

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 on March 2, 1889, which opened up these Unassigned Lands to settlers, which was distributed by land runs.

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 Indians should seek protection of the United States Constitution and property rights as individuals rather than tribal ownership. During the 1870s Boudinot worked as a railroad attorney and spent much of his time in Washington.

In a 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 card used to keep track of and receive rations at the time of the Land Run (Indian Archives, Series 7, Box 554).
 Ledger book from the 1890s to record rations of American Indians (OHS American Indian Collection).
Ration ticket bag used to hold ration cards assigned to American Indians at that time (OHS American Indian Collection).
Memorial of Elias C. Boudinot to the Forty-Second U.S. Congress to accompany House Resolution 603 regarding the sale of Indian land. (National Archives Collections, www.archives.gov)

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