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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


The April 1889 opening of the Unassigned Lands, or Oklahoma District, in present central Oklahoma had consequences far beyond the simple homesteading of public land. During 1889 much Congressional debate swirled around creating a new territory that would encompass the occupied and unoccupied federal lands west of the Indian nations of "Indian Territory." In December Sen. Orville H. Platte of Connecticut presented a measure creating a unit that would only include the Oklahoma District, which had rapidly filled with settlers after the opening. In January 1890 an amended bill enlarged the proposed territory and included a discontiguous area, the Public Land Strip, or No Man's Land. The House of Representatives also heard several proposals for territorial organization during early 1890. On March 13 the House passed the amended Senate bill, and a conference committee of both chambers fine-tuned the measure. It became law on May 2, 1890.

By the terms of the Organic Act, the boundaries of Oklahoma Territory were drawn to include all or most of present Lincoln, Payne, Logan, Oklahoma, Canadian, Cleveland, Kingfisher, and Pottawatomie counties, the Public Land Strip, and the Osage, Kaw, Ponca, Oto, Pawnee, Wichita-Caddo, Kiowa-Comanche-Apache, and Cheyenne-Arapaho reservations. Old Greer County was technically included within the territory's boundaries but was specifically exempted from the application of homestead law or further settlement until the Red River boundary dispute could be settled with Texas. The Public Land Strip, heretofore a closed part of the public domain, was declared subject to settlement under the regulations of the 1862 Homestead Act. The new territory specifically excluded the Cherokee Outlet until it could be acquired for the federal public domain and opened for settlement.

Territorial government was organized by the terms of the law. Officers, including a governor and a secretary, were to be appointed by the president. A two-house legislative assembly was to be elected to meet in a 120-day session at a provisional capital, Guthrie, to draft laws. A judicial system specified a supreme court, lower courts, and law enforcement officers. For the present, the laws of Nebraska were to prevail. A delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives was to be elected. The act formally established six counties from the former Unassigned Lands, with county seats at Guthrie, Oklahoma City, Norman, El Reno, Kingfisher, and Stillwater, and the Public Land Strip became Beaver County (the entire Panhandle), with Beaver as its seat. The rest of the territory was to remain unorganized until after tribal allotment was completed.

Other provisions had long-term effects. Two sections in each Oklahoma Territory township were to be reserved as public school lands, with money from land leases to be used to pay for public education. Section-line "highways," actually narrow, dirt roads, were to be maintained on each side of every one-mile-square section throughout the territory.

Certain sections of the Organic Act also applied to "Indian Territory," henceforward to be formally accorded that name. As provided in Section 29, "that part of the United States which is bounded on the north by the state of Kansas, on the east by the states of Arkansas and Missouri, on the south by the state of Texas, and on the west and north by the Territory of Oklahoma . . . shall be known as the Indian Territory." United States courts were to assume jurisdiction over civil cases other than those with tribal court jurisdiction. Finally, the act gave attention to Indian citizenship, stating that any member of any Indian tribe or nation residing in the Indian Territory could apply to the United States court to become a citizen of the United States; the members of the Confederated Peoria who had already received their allotments were declared to be citizens. With the implementation of the Organic Act, the stage was set for Oklahoma statehood.

Dianna Everett


Roy M. Gittinger, The Formation of the State of Oklahoma, 1803–1906 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939).

Seth K. Corden and William B. Richards, comps., The Oklahoma Red Book, Vol. 2 (Tulsa, Okla.: Democrat Printing Co., 1912).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Organic Act (1890),” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=OR004.

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