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  1. Cherokee Strip Museum
  2. Tales from the Cherokee Strip : Doug Nelson :
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  4. Tales From the Cherokee Strip

The post office at Arkansas City had to put on three extra men to handle and distribute the mail.


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Warnings were issued to watch out for pickpockets and thugs of all kinds, as the towns were full of them. Many and bitter were the protests of having been taken at the old shell game. Horses were put into training, and these were some complaints about racing through and near the towns. Harness was tested and strengthened, and wagons were gone over and repaired. An enterprising man from Wichita brought down a carload of horses to sell.

Farmers received many requests from homesteaders wishing to camp upon their lands. One man built a temporary house with a door on the state line, so that he would be ready to go at a moment's notice.

The campers were so thick along the border, and the weather so dry, that the soil was eventually churned to dust. Water was soon very scarce; wells were pumped dry, and streams and water holes dried up. Washing was almost an impossibility. Water sold for a dime a cup. Once the registration was begun, hardships multiplied. The booths opened only five days before the run was to be made.

Thousands of people stood in line before each booth, day and night, awaiting their turns. The heat was intense, and numerous cases of heat prostration and sunstroke, with some deaths, were reported. Those who had families could rely on them to bring food and water, which was often shared with others in the line.

Woman were usually ushered to the head of the line, the last piece of chivalry most of them were to see for some time. In spite of all precautions, fraud was still possible at the booths. People joined the registrations lines, only to sell their places for from five to 25 dollars. Many certificates were sold or obtained in other illegal manners. Some of the soldiers guarding the booths were bribed to take registrants in the back door; booth officials sometimes obliged acquaintances by selling them certificates after hours, in the hotels.

At Orlando, Oklahoma territory, the registration booths were robbed of certificates and the official stamp, and by the next morning thousands of forged certificates were on the market. The cattlemen had a meeting in Arkansas City on September 14, and sent a wire to President Cleveland protesting the booth system of registration as carried out at Booth No.

The wire said, in part: "7, people are now in line and thousands more arrive on each train. A conflict between parties that are not registered and the troops is imminent unless the system is abandoned The conduct of the soldiers at Booth 9 is despicable Photo courtesy Jessy Mae Coker. That same day between 4, and 5, persons were in line before the booth at Caldwell.

Hunnewell reported being "over-pressed," also. Orlando, Indian territory, had around 22, boomers, and the intense heat and bad water caused an epidemic of dysentery there. The Cherokees set a telegram to Secretary of the Interior Hoke Smith requesting permission to put well diggers to work on the Indian allotments "that water may be in readiness for the crowds that will run into the new country on Saturday, and who will certainly suffer intensely from thirst. The appeal for help on the registration problem was heeded, however, Extra booths were opened and many new clerks were added, in a last minute attempt to alleviate the hardships of registration.

Among the hundreds of people arriving daily were several special groups with plans for establishing colonies of their own. One such group was comprised of Presbyterians, reportedly on its way from Colorado. Their colony was chartered by the state of Kansas. Annette Daisy was also on hand. She had taken an active part in the three former openings.

This time she organized a colony of single women, widows, and spinsters, dedicated to the purpose of building a community "across the sacred borders of which no man shall pass. Thirty-four women had signed up by opening time. In Guthrie, a colony of several hundred Negroes arrived. Each one of them had a printed certificate granting him a farm upon his arrival. These certificates had been bought in Louisiana for ten dollars apiece, and were obviously worthless. Other people had bought tickets entitling them to draw for the land, paying several dollars for that privilege -- which was not to be granted.

Many of the people who traveled to the Kansas border before the opening day became disgusted with the crowds, the registration procedure, the dust and hot winds, and returned to their former homes. Their places were quickly filled by new arrivals. Fortunately, although the settlers had come from almost every part of the United States and from abroad, the great majority of them were from the Middle West, particularly Kansas, where climatic and drought conditions were not too different from those of the "promised land.

On September 14, , a Rock Island train crossing the strip was attacked, and despite desperate resistance from the trainmen, the Pullman cars were robbed of all their ice and water. The train crew was reported to bear the marks of fierce fighting. Thirsty sooners were not the only desperadoes loose in the strip. The Dalton and Starr gangs were making their headquarters there -- as well as many less well-known train and bank robbers. Trains were frequently held up, and the gunmen appeared in Kansas boldly and apparently at will.

On the day before the run a scout appeared in Arkansas City, having just come from the Osage country, and notified all the banks that the remnants of the Dalton-Starr gang were camped about 30 miles south of the town. They were planning to rob the banks once the people had left town for the opening. A strong posse was organized to protect the banks, as almost the entire police force was going to make the run. The rain never actually took place. Hunnewell was having troubles of its own.

A town of approximately people, it was greatly overrun. Waiting lines were everywhere, at the hotels, restaurants, stores, post office. Feeling ran very high when it was discovered that four race horses had been killed and seven others had been hamstrung. Violence and death were not unusual during these days.

Men were killed for their money, or for their certificates. More often, they fought, and killed, over gambling, women, and even attempts to crash the waiting line at the registration booths. By far the vast majority of the boomers, however, were honest, hard-working people who behaved in an orderly manner -- until the run started. In Arkansas City the press seized its opportunity to extol the virtues of the town before a captive audience. Articles were printed enumerating the economic possibilities of the area, the water supply from two rivers, the three railroads, three newspapers, three mills, four banks, stockyards, streetcar lines, electric lights, and telephone exchange.

The industries included a reclining chair factory, a canning factory, and makers of bricks, carriages, mattresses, and wind machines, as well as a wholesale grocery. As the Canal City Dispatch, of Arkansas City, said: "We have the location, the water power and everything else necessary to make a city Inside of the next year Arkansas City's population will be three times what it is at present. It will be the supply point for the south. At Caldwell the press was also busy promoting the town.

There was one gloomy note. The Caldwell journal kept printing a notice saying: "We have on our books the names of a great many who owe us from one or two dollars on subscription. In all it reaches several hundred dollars. Many of these men will go into the strip without thinking of paying us. We can't afford to lose this money and ask all to call at once and settle.

For the last few days before the opening, prairie fires raged across the strip. Several sooners were believed to have burned to death. It was said that "If a crow attempted to fly the Cherokee Strip he'd have to take his own grub along. After the strip is opened, After the run is made, After the horses are buried After the debts are paid; Many a sucker'll be kicking, Many will have lost their grip, Many will wish they'd been hung, Ere going to the strip. At last the great day arrived. Well over , people were assembled on the northern and southern boundaries.

For hours they waited; gambling, singing, praying -- -even preaching.

Cherokee Strip Museum

Finally, at 12 noon five minutes earlier on the Hennessey stretch of line a shot rang out and was relayed along the line from soldier to soldier. The eager settlers, straining their eyes, could see the puff of smoke from the distant rifle before they could hear the sound of the shot. All along the line the horses leaped forward, and the great race was on. The horsemen and bicyclists were easily in the lead, followed by the heavier carriages and wagons. In the rear were those who were going in afoot. In one place, at the first steep ravine -- an foot embankment -- the bicyclists were forced to quit.

The horsemen, unwilling to lose time by looking for a more favorable spot to cross, in many cases leaped their horses down the embankment, often crippling them so that they had to be abandoned. Clouds of dust obscured the vision of the strippers, and one heavy wagon, loaded with six men, was accidentally driven over the same embankment. One man on the wagon suffered a broken leg.

There were many accidents. People fell off horses and were in danger of being trampled in the rush. A Mrs. Charles Barnes of El Dorado was killed under a falling horse. Broken arms, legs, and necks were not uncommon. Some who didn't fall from horses or wagons, or drive off cliffs, managed to fall off the overloaded trains which made the run, or be accidentally shot in the uproar. Sooners were shot by soldiers, and at lease one soldier was shot by a sooner. As the horsemen established a good lead over the rest of the boomers, some of them dismounted and set fire to the prairie, so that those behind them could not advance.

Other fires were set by claimants trying to burn off the grass and uncover their boundary markers. A number of people were burned to death, including a colored man named Tom Jameson [33] and a Mrs. Elizabeth Osborne of Newton, Mo. The fine race horses imported for the occasion did not hold up too well. They made good starts, but couldn't stand the distance or the terrain.

Many dead horses littered the prairie the next day. One man had a most uncomfortable ride when his thoroughbred race horse became excited in all the turmoil and ran uncontrollably for 24 miles before dropping dead. The trains which made the run were jammed to the roof. At Caldwell, although very crowded, the business of loading the Rock Island trains proceeded in a fairly orderly manner. As tickets were procured, the purchaser passed on from the east to the west side of the tracks, received successive numbers, were put into companies under captains, and placed in a position along the track ready, each company to board a car when the train came along.

The train was made up of Montgomery Palace Cattle cars -- 35 cars -- and it was loaded with 5, persons who bought tickets and several hundred marshals and others, and officers of the road. In Arkansas City things did not go quite so well. The trains didn't pull out of the Santa Fe yards until long after 12 o'clock, and the jam then was terrible.

Special trains from Wichita, Winfield and other points came in loaded with sightseers Engineers were instructed to run carefully, for it had been said attempts would be made to tamper with the trains. Trains also made the run from the south. The trains had to stop at every station, and slow down or stop every five miles.

Tales from the Cherokee Strip : Doug Nelson :

They were forbidden to travel faster than 15 miles per hour. As a result, the men on horses arrived before the trains. Many of those who made the run by train were town lot seekers, or investors in town lot companies, such as the Ponca Town Company and the Cherokee Town Site Trust Company. At Orlando, Oklahoma territory, between 20, and 25, people were gathered for the race to the town site of Perry -- a distance of ten miles.

It took 45 minutes for the trains to get to Perry, and by that time there were approximately 1, horsemen there. By two in the afternoon there were 20, people in Perry, many of them without food or water. Some enterprising people made the run with improvised "water-wagons" and sold water for a dollar a bucket.

Fortunately the weather was not as hot as earlier in the week. Besides the difficulties of the run itself, there were the sooners and the claim jumpers to deal with. The leaders of the race frequently arrived, on sweaty horses, at a likely spot, only to find someone already there, with an unmarked horse, sometimes plowing a field near a partially-erected house. A whole town was reported stolen by sooners. Men made the run from the east side, contrary to instructions. Many cases were later taken to court, but it was difficult to prove a man a sooner.

Nearly every sooner had two friends to swear that his claim was legitimate and his certificate legal. In many cases men dropped out of the run and staked land unaware of the fact that someone else had already done so, or was doing so at that very moment. Some of these cases were settled on the spot, with a gun. Other claims were deliberately jumped. Alexander Gillespie was staking a claim near Arkansas City when another boomer with a Winchester rode up and dismounted upon the same claim. An estimated 30, people made the run from Arkansas City, and 10, from Caldwell, with a number going in from other Kansas border towns and the Oklahoma territory.

Some merely went in to see the show. Others were too late to stake a claim. While the excitement was going on in the Cherokee strip, the surrounding towns were practically deserted. The banks were closed and business was at a standstill. Everyone who possibly could had gone to see the run.

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However, within four hours of the start of the race, orders began to roll into Arkansas City for lumber and supplies. The eagerly awaited market had been opened. One of the most successful profiteers form the opening of the Cherokee strip was a lawyer who went into the strip several hours before the opening, but without attempting to get land. Instead, he collected evidence against some or more sooners and had no trouble in getting "an army of clients.

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Tales From the Cherokee Strip

The local press was shocked at the depopulation created by the opening of the Cherokee strip to settlement, but was pleased that it had "at last been wrested from the powerful cattle syndicate which for many years held dominion over it and would permit no home-seekers. Throughout the nation, though, criticism was rising over the manner in which the run had been conducted, and over the idea of having a horse race with the stakes a part of the public domain. The New York Times editorialized on September The whole trouble has arisen from the fact that our homestead laws have been bequeathed to us from a period when the Government and the Nation were greatly interested in making sure that the public domain was occupied and utilized.

That period is past. What there is left of the public domain is a national possession of great and increasing value that should be made to yield to the Public Treasury all that it is fairly worth. The New York Times editorial expressed the current but curious view towards the Cherokee strip and public lands:. The Cherokee Strip may be called the last remnant of the public domain. The United States of America do still own some land in various outlying parts, but this is the last great tract that is thrown open to settlement.

It is upon that count the more disgraceful and calamitous that the settlement of it should be attended by the outrageous scenes that have been witnessed during the last few days, and that are likely to be followed by scenes more disgraceful still. To back up this prophecy, the Times carried a front page story on September 19, with numerous titles and subtitles as follows:.

Conditions were bad, but it is doubtful if they were that bad! Discover the rich history of Oklahoma's Indian people and cultures and find attractions throughout the state where you can explore our American Indian history further. Brimming with character and vivacious spirit, these small museum treasures offer up fascinating collections of everything from historical trivia to pop culture.

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