Native History: Land Rush for Oklahoma Indian Territory Begins
This Date in Native History: A cannon sounded at high noon on April 22, 1889, signaling the beginning of a frantic land rush into newly opened Indian lands in Oklahoma Territory.
As many as 50,000 white settlers participated, dashing into the nearly 2 million acres of “unassigned land” and staking out parcels for ranching, agriculture or homesteading. The event, which came two years after the Dawes Act of 1887, attracted settlers from all over the country and beyond, said Brian Basore, library technician at the Oklahoma Historical Society.
“This rest of the country was waiting for this to happen,” Basore said. “The Indian Territory was the last big city in the continental U.S. When they finally got cleared on it, it wasn’t just a national big deal. It was international.”
The Dawes Severalty Act introduced private land ownership to Natives, allowed the government to consolidate them on smaller tracts of land and slashed millions of acres from tribal land. After reservations were divided into allotments, any remaining land was declared surplus and opened up for white settlement. Under the Homestead Act of 1862, settlers who stayed on their claims for five years could own the land, free and clear.
Oklahoma’s Indian Territory, a catch-all for scores of displaced tribes, was one of the last places closed to white settlement, Basore said. As many as 40 tribes, including the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Cheyenne, Comanche and Apache, had relocated from their traditional lands.
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