Chronicles of Oklahoma

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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 4, No. 2
June, 1926


Page 89

I settled in No-Man’s-Land in July, 1887, and continued my residence at Beaver without interruption until April 11, 1889. During my residence at Beaver, I edited the Territorial Advocate in association with George Payne. We were not burdened with business and a day always sufficed for getting out our paper, so I had six days of each monotonous week in which to meditate, to observe and philosophize.

The most urgent need in rounding out the historical writings concerning No-Man’s-Land is a fairer appraisal of the inhabitants of that land. In the strictly legal meaning it was a lawless country for it was without governing statute, but in the moral sense it was an exceptionally moral community. The fact that the region was without governing statutes made the inhabitants neither better nor worse. Laws are not made to cure the desires of the average good citizen, and it was the good fortune of the settlers that there was no incentive to draw the Ishmaelites and the Cains to that country, and had they gone there to escape the law of the states they would have found no concealment and nothing to subsist upon while endeavoring to hide. Furthermore, the absence of restraining statutes gave the settlers, and officers from the states, a free hand in the capture and removal of those who had broken state laws. Statutes frequently hamper the officer in his struggle with the outlaw while statutes never restrain the outlaw. But in No-Man’s-Land the officer was as free from legal restrain as the outlaw always makes himself.

It must be kept in mind that the settlement of the east one-third of the territory, known as the Panhandle, was about all that was appropriated by settlers prior to 1889, and that the change from range to a region with a settler on every quarter section came very abruptly, and without bloodshed. It was a peaceable change because both the stockmen and the settlers were peace loving folks. There were cowboys, but not of the movie sort. They were just industrious, hardworking young men, always sober except when they reached the

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rail shipping point with cattle herds, and their carousals on those annual occasions have been magnified tenfold so as to create heroes of very ordinary clay models of city marshals. The cowgirl did not exist. The young women did not go cavorting over the prairies astride bucking bronchos. The truth is that the females of the ranchers’ households rode very little, and those who were able kept their families in cities during the school year. It would have seemed exceedingly immodest for a young woman to get astride a horse wearing any sort of riding habit, and had one rigged herself cut in those days as cowgirls are now rigged out in the movies, she would have been classed as a bawdy house character, and every home on the plains would have been closed to her.

Those who settled No-Man’s-Land came from the farms and villages of the nearby states. They came out of the communities of those states which were freest from outlawry of every character. The settlement was a composite of the communities from which the people came, hence they respected the rights of others, were accustomed to the restraints necessary in congested areas, were typical Christian Americans reverently obeying God’s laws as they interpreted them and abiding by the will of the majority as expressed in the law of the Republic.

Frontiers usually have attractions for the social outcasts, of both sexes. For a period Beaver possessed some of the scum of civilization. But the period was brief. That class creates no wealth, nor does it attract wealth in any form. The territory was producing neither minerals, livestock nor farm crops. The settlers were living off the meager savings they brought with them supplemented by earnings of the family heads in gathering bleached bones, a wagon load bringing about $11 and requiring a like number of days to gather and market. When father got home from such a search for wealth, he didn’t toss a hundred dollar bill to the grown son to be squandered on Slough Foot Nell down at the dance hall. As usual the towns were overbuilt and oversupplied with merchants, but the hope that congress would act caused them to hold on for the golden harvest all believed would come when congress enacted a law permitting the settlers to prove up and mortgage their claims. So in the villages, also, there was a dearth of funds for Poker Dick and

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Queenie. The lack of opportunity to follow evil ways contributed to the uprightness of the community as such condition would anywhere, and the lack of the conditions which attract reduced the percentage of lawbreakers, that is, those who would be offenders where restraining laws existed) to a record-breaking minimum.

It is not the purpose to glorify the settlers of No-Man’s-Land or to create halos for them, but justice cannot be done those settlers until Daredevil Pete, Broncho Busting Dick, and Six Gun Mex are dethroned as the chief citizens of that community. And it is also necessary to wipe out the Don Quixotes and Sancho Panzas who blared forth in news dispatches to subdue imaginary outlaws.

The honest-to-God truth is that more people died from ennui and nostalgia than perished in outlaw combats.

The garlands and the paeans should be accorded to the heroic wife and mother who "held down" the claim for days and weeks while the head of the family was abroad gathering bones or in some other manner trying to get the means to purchase the bare food necessities for the family. Picture the desolation, not of a desert, because the land is rich and fruitful, but of the monotony of the deferred hope that makes the heart sick. The plains, big and treeless, are indeed beautiful to those who live in comfort and who have in the years that have passed since the days of first settlement surrounded their homes with trees and shrubs and grouped about the home the activities of an extensive industrial enterprise. But in those days the wife and mother in mind huddled her brood in a dugout or a sod house, neither of which is really bad with other conditions satisfactory, but picture that abode, alone, a full half mile from any other habitation or other evidence of the existence of man. The team is gone with its owner. There is no family cow and perhaps no chickens for they do not thrive on a diet of buffalo grass; no tree in sight, no shrub or flower growing near, no garden for gardens do not thrive on newly broken prairie sod; no highway with its passing throngs of covered wagons; monotonous winds and cloudless skies that in time become terrifying; in the larder enough food for two weeks; no cloth for making garments and no prospect of funds to renew the rapidly disappearing wardrobe. After a few months of such a life one would expect that sturdy

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pioneer woman to welcome the appearance of a wild Indian with upraised tomahawk, and to be charmed by his war whoop. Here’s a toast to the true heroine, to the wife and mother who held down the claim.

It is an uphill business, that of developing a country on its own earnings. Little do we realize how much help the usual frontier has from investment of outside funds, but this community had no such help. The meager fund each settler brought with him constituted the capital investment for development purposes. The settlers hoped in 1885 that congress would act at its next session—would extend to them the privilege of filing for a homestead, making final proof and then mortgaging to get a stake to start farming operations, but congress got into a wrangle over what was best to do, so nothing was done. Another and then three more sessions passed into history before the long sought relief came. And then only a handful remained to get the benefit.

Ordinarily as the farm lands of a frontier were settled upon, towns sprang up, counties were organized, school districts laid out and court houses and school buildings were under way, paid for with borrowed money. Such activities generally commenced about the beginning of the second year of settlement, about the time the funds the settlers brought with them were exhausted. And in other frontier activities railway construction often figured. Then when the settlers began to people the counties beyond, they passed through the frontier of the year before, and that through business came when most needed. But the settlers of No-Man’s-Land had no such reserve when their funds were exhausted. They were at the jumping off place. There was no railway construction, no public buildings constructed, the towns were mostly built of sod, and no farmer folks came following the pioneers with funds to build homes and barns, and to buy out the claim owners. A Pennsylvania Dutchman, with $10,000 in cold cash going into a year-old settlement, has been known to change it from a bread-and-flour-gravy diet to one including salt side and dried apples. But the Pennsylvania Dutchman demands deeds when he buys, and no deeds could be given, so the settlers went without those luxuries.

It has been said that these settlers had no thought of growing crops, waiting, hanging on, to get that mortgage

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money. It is true that they longed for that start in life that $1,000 will give, but they farmed, too, as best they could. The grain sorghums were just being introduced into the United States and so were little known to the settlers, and if they had grown them there would have been no market. Corn was planted, but corn did not thrive then, nor does it now. Wheat would have done well, so why didn’t they raise wheat? Who had the money to buy the seed? Who owned a reaper? Who could buy a reaper? But worse still, where was the market? And what was wheat worth in those days at Dodge City, Kansas, the nearest railway point? The settlers had no means to prepare for wheat growing and good No. 2 was worth thirty-five to forty cents at Dodge, from 80 to 100 miles from a No-Man’s-Land claim. When railways penetrated that region and freight rates lowered so as to leave a little for the grower, wheat growing became an important industry. Neither could the settlers engage in stock raising. A family was inhabiting about every quarter section and each settler had broken out some ground which he had planted to crops. He could not fence in his crops, and furthermore, a quarter section is not big enough for stock raising even on a small scale in that country. The old ranches were broken up completely and the cattle were gone, for ranching was impossible under the new conditions.

The townspeople were typical frontier villagers, except that the underworld characters starved out. The towns were mostly made up of three or four sod houses grouped about a more pretentious sod structure housing a country stock of merchandise. Beaver alone reached the dignity of a village. At its best in those days the population reached 800, and when federal laws were extended over that territory in 1889 there was scarcely a vacant habitation in the place, indicating, that the population had not shrunk much from its boom proportions. As in towns in the states, factions arose in Beaver, the only town in the territory big enough to take sides in a controversy. The factions were pretty much like those which destroyed the peace of Abraham. However, two very able, upright, self-willed, stubborn leaders aggravated the strife in Beaver. O. G. Chase headed one faction and Rev. K. M. Over street headed the other. Chase was a selfappointed leader, impetuous and tremendously annoyed by

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any show of opposition. He boomed by attempting to show an activity that was not genuine—the usual town booming method. He invested what capital he had and expected at the wind-up to pull out a hundred dollars for every dollar put in. Overstreet was a sturdy Scotch Presbyterian preacher. He could not tolerate Chase’s ballyhooing and he dearly loved a controversy. Their differences were trivial, but inconsequential things assume grave proportions in a village with nothing to do but argue. However, in this case those harmless and trivial differences resulted disastrously to those who had settled in No-Man’s-Land, for from those trivial differences sprung two factions, one pitted against the other in appeals to congress for relief, each accusing the other of self-seeking to the detriment of the community as a whole. The delay in providing relief has always been blamed upon congress, but what could congress do with the people most interested vehemently accusing each other of bad faith in their appeal for relief? The rift in the village was itself convincing evidence that it was no such community as pictured generally by outside writers of those times and by writers who have undertaken since to construct the story of those times, but that on the contrary it was a perfectly normal, peaceful village waiting for something to turn up.

The factional split in the territory gave several outside interests an opportunity to use the rift to their own advantage. Overstreet had powerful friends in the states and among them was Senator Plumb, of Kansas, at that time a Dower in the senate. Chase early got in touch with the radical element in congress. The Greenbacker congressman Weaver took sides with Chase. So did Springer of Illinois, Burns of Missouri and others. The Cherokee strip had been held under lease from the Cherokees for a number of years by the Cherokee Cattle Association, but they feared that they would be ousted. Springer, Weaver, Burns and others in congress were attacking the right of the Cherokees to lease, and that group in congress was backing the boomers who were clamoring for the opening to settlement of that little tract in the center of the Indian Territory which about that time became known as Oklahoma. As a matter of fact the attack was aimed at the opening of all of the lands west of the Five Civilized Tribes’ deeded holdings known as hunt-

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ing outlet lands not set aside for the use of friendly Indians. In 1887 the Santa Fe became interested in the controversy by reason of having constructed a line of railway through the vacant lands which about that time were cleared of stockmen. The railway company desired the country opened to settlement so as to transform an uninhabited region into a revenue producing one. The company maintained a well organized lobby at Washington at that time. People have often wondered how the Oklahoma boomers could maintain a big lobby at Washington, for they were all wretchedly poor and taking up a collection would not have produced a carfare from the Indian Territory border to Kansas City. There was nothing immoral in those boomers accepting aid from the railways notwithstanding most of them belonged to the antimonopoly party. The Cherokee Cattle Association feared any change in the status of the Indian territory, hence they swung in line with those who wished to dispose of No-Man’s-Land without reference to other lands and without changing the status quo in the Indian territory. The boomers saw an opportunity to hitch their interests to the demand for action to end the anomalous situation in No-Man’s-Land. The Five Tribes and the Indian Rights Association got into the controversy through the consolidation of interests. They opposed any action changing the status of the Indian territory. Prohibition was also injected into the controversy to complicate matters and delay action. Senator Plumb had introduced a bill to attach the Panhandle territory temporarily to Kansas for judicial purposes. That would have extended prohibition over No-Man’s-Land without the consent of the governed, and while no objection was made to the extension of the Nebraska laws over the territory which prohibited every other evil except the drinking of hard liquor, a big howl was raised over the invasion of personal rights by the Plumb bill, not alone in the territory affected, for the greater part of the people directly affected would have welcomed prohibition, but those who had other ends to serve made much ado over it. Thus did the fate of No-Man’s-Land become involved with outside interests which precipitated a fight which lasted four or five years.

Chase, as has been stated, was a boomer. He came into the territory to boom a town—lay out one and prove it up

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under government laws. But he found Beaver already well started, so he cast his lot there, and took charge. His first vision was of getting possession of a hundred lots and proving them up as he had done in an addition to Pueblo, Colo., but he soon saw an enlarged field. At first he had in mind a county seat, a popular prize to the boomer, but he soon had visions of a land office the much sought after prize of the frontier. But Chase dreamed on, and finally he saw a territorial capital at Beaver—and to realize on that dream Cimarron territory was born, and to hold fast to that hope of reward Chase swung in line for the Springer bill. And Chase’s dream came within an ace of materializing. It was a shrewd play on the part of Chase. Springer proposed to create Oklahoma territory with boundaries precisely as they were when the territory was finally created, but with the mighty difference that Springer proposed to create the territory and establish a territorial form of government without having provided for opening of the other portions than No-Man’s-Land to settlement, but on the contrary he proposed to create a commission to negotiate with the Five Tribes for the extinguishment of their rights to the hunting outlet territory, that is for all of the lands of the territory not actually set aside for the use of friendly Indians. Had that bill passed the senate as it passed the house, a territorial government would have been set up at a time when there was a thousand dollar fine for settling in any part of the territory thus created except in No-Man’s-Land. No town existed cast of the 100th meridian and town building was forbidden. Beaver was the only town in No-Man’s-Land. Imagine Chase’s feelings when Senator Plumb took offense because his old enemy, Sidney Clarke, appeared as a lobbyist for the Springer bill, and because of his enmity toward Clarke started a filibuster which defeated the Springer bill, but which resulted in the opening of Oklahoma before the creation of a territorial government, thus putting an end to Chase’s fond dream.

Cimarron territory was another way of spelling territorial capital. Chase may have believed that a territorial government might be made to function without federal sanction and federal backing, but always he devoted his energies to getting before the outside public and particularly before

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congress statements that the Cimarron government was functioning when in fact he knew that at home the move was never taken seriously, except by a few persons who had been appointed to high office by Chase. How can one write of a thing that never existed? True, Chase existed and Chase was Cimarron territory, using a dozen good men as pawns to move from place to place as needed. A call was made for an election, and in some neighborhoods elections were held for the election of members of two legislative bodies, and a dozen or perhaps fifteen persons met and qualified as legislators. A collection was taken up to pay for the casting of a great seal, and thereafter that great seal was kept almost at melting point in transmitting petitions and papers to Washington. The Overstreet crowd almost subsided after that great seal arrived, for that was a badge of authority and Chase owned the seal. Overstreet’s petitions found their way into waste baskets while Chase’s were filed with other state papers. It was used to call together the legislators in extraordinary session, but no laws were enacted at that session. Some claim that the first legislative session adopted the laws of Colorado but nobody had a copy of the Colorado statutes so nobody knew what was done. The government didn’t have the means to buy one after the great seal was paid for, so the laws of Colorado, if they were ever really adopted, were never put in force. But to put laws in force it is necessary to have enforcers generally in the form of county governments and judicial districts, but no county was ever organized, that is nobody ever heard of it if such action was taken. The territory was divided into three counties as now because that put Chase’s town in the middle of one and insured a county seat, but others had county seat ambitions and insisted on six counties so as to make more county seats and to place John Dale’s town of Benton in the middle of the east one. Others stood with Dale for the right to have a county seat. None but Chase actually possessed a town, but there were lots of good places to build county seat towns. As a governing force Cimarron never had existence. It was not stillborn, it was an abortion. It did not even create a disturbance, as often results from such organization attempts. It at no time or in any degree undertook to maintain order through officials holding commissions from it or from county organizations sponsored by it.

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But if Cimarron did not function, who maintained order, who prevented or punished encroachments upon property and personal rights of residents? There was little need for repressive measures to maintain order and to protect property rights. The people were from choice peace loving. There was little property to protect, hardly any trading, no police regulations were necessary to protect life as in congested communities, the territory was remarkably free from underworld characters, and in addition the people were careful not to press a dispute to the point where force must settle it. In the years without legal restraint only three or four homicides occurred which were the result of differences between residents. The outstanding cases of homicide were due to differences between residents of the states temporarily in No-Man’s-Land. But as had been made plain in these notes, the people were normal human beings with the culture, the self restraint, and the forbearance of normal persons in the quiet country communities of the surrounding states. They broke the prescribed bounds occasionally, and then the neighbors stepped in and invariably prevented a homicide or attempted homicide from developing into a feud involving the entire community. They had no established or settled method. Each case was settled on its merits without regard to precedent, but when trials were resorted to the procedure was as nearly that of established courts as the participants could remember. The first act of the hastily organized courts was to take charge of all concerned. Then the plan of carrying into execution the verdict of the jury was agreed upon. In no case was there a death penalty agreed upon. Generally both sides, the families or friends of the participants, agreed upon the form of verdict. Exportation from the territory was the punishment in case of guilt in all cases brought to the attention of the writer, while a promise was exacted that in case the jury returned a verdict of not guilty the defendant would not be molested. Such agreements were never broken. But in a two years’ residence but three trials of that nature were held. During that two years several homicides took place in summary fashion through the concerted action of enraged settlers, two of which were at Beaver. One man who was shooting up the town while crazed with whiskey, endangering the families of residents, was dispatched while still shooting, and no hearing was held or

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deemed necessary to establish the cause of death. The other was a settlement of a seemingly organized effort on the part of a little group of men, who had recently arrived, to jump claims. Two of the men fell in a battle with a hundred or more citizens who, thereupon without trial or consent of the accused, put the belongings and families of the two slain men into their wagons and then told the families to choose the spot where they wished to leave the territory. There were three or four adults in the group which made deportation necessary.

A hundred pages of history are devoted to a year of war and one page to a hundred years of peace. The days of No-Man’s-Land were profoundly peaceful notwithstanding the general belief to the contrary. These notes are not intended as a chronicle of the, activities of the people and are not a part of the history of the times except to the extent that they, undertake to portray the true character of the people, and to right the wrongs done those splendid pioneers by sensation mongers.

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