In contributing the following article to the "Chronicles of Oklahoma" telling of the opening of Oklahoma to settlement April 22, 1889, I do so with the view of preserving for the future my personal recollections of this epochal event in the history of our state. I also wish to give an account of the chaotic condition from a political standpoint that the new settlers were in for the first year after the opening. My story will also tell of the passage of the Organic Act and of the organization of the Territorial Government in 1890. Most of the events that I relate are of my personal knowledge and some of them were my own personal experience.
As my story relates to things that happened some forty years ago, most of the characters who were conspicuous at that time are either dead, or else have left the state and are unknown to this generation.
In this article I take the liberty to discuss the ability and character of many of the men who were prominent in the establishment of government for the future state of Oklahoma. I have not attempted to write of the growth and the material development of our state, nor of its churches and schools. These are things of which all good citizens are proud but it is not my story.
In writing the story of "The First Two Years of Oklahoma" I do not go back into the dim past and write of the early Spanish and French explorers and traders. I will not have anything to say about Coronado and the trail that he is supposed to have taken across Oklahoma in search of the mythical city, Quivira, nor of that French man, LaHarpe, the trader. These stories I will leave for the historian while I write of the beginning of Oklahoma and of its settlement by American citizens.
In order that we may have a proper prospective and thus understand why the Oklahoma country was not settled by white settlers long before it was, we will have to take into consideration the treaties made by the United States government with the five civilized tribes. As a result of treaties made from 1826 to 1845 the whole Indian Territory was set apart as a home for the Indians. When the five tribes came
West, they came to occupy the land that had been ceded to them in exchange for their old reservations east of the Mississippi River. Most all of the tribes settled in the eastern part of the Indian Territory, but in one way or another they claimed land as far west as the then domain of the United States, but much of this vast territory was the hunting ground of the wild tribes. I think the Muskogee, or Creek Nation as they are now known, got the biggest slice of the old Indian Territory, as the treaty of 1833 states that their west boundary is Mexico. However, the western boundary of the Creek Indian holdings was afterwards fixed at the 96° west longitude, which was made the east line of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe reservation. The Creek tribe also divided part of their original grant with the Seminoles. At the close of the war between the states new treaties were made with these Indian tribes. Many of the Indians, some of whom were slave holders, took the side of the South in the war, and the government was in a position to compel them to make any concessions that the United States might demand. New treaties were made with both the Cherokee and Creek tribes in 1866. In the treaty with the Creek or Muskogee tribe the entire west half of the original Creek reservation was ceded to the United States for a consideration of thirty cents an acre. However, it was not an unconditional title that the Creeks gave the government in conveying this surplus land to the United States. There was a provision in the treaty that this land was ceded and conveyed to the United States for the purpose of locating other Indians and Freedmen thereon. The entire purchase price was $975,500.00. Several of the smaller tribes were brought to Oklahoma by executive orders and were given reservations on the surplus land purchased from the Creeks, yet it was not all occupied. That part of this land that was ceded by the Creeks bounded on the north by the Cherokee Outlet, on the east by the Indian meridian, on the west by the 96th degree west longitude, and on the south by the Canadian River was never assigned to any Indian tribe. This unoccupied land was designated on the maps as unassigned land but generally known as the Oklahoma country. It was not purchased nor was it intended to be used as a part of the public domain and it was not subject to homestead entry. It was, it would seem, intended for Indians
and freed negroes. It was a restricted title that the government had to this tract but the “Boomer” was not considering that phase of the matter. Few of them knew that there was any restrictions on the government title. They only knew that it was public land and if the title was good enough for the cow-men it ought to be good enough for the homesteader.
By an act of Congress in 1886 the President was authorized to open negotiations with the Creeks, Cherokees and Seminoles for the purpose of opening to settlement under the homestead laws the unassigned lands in the Indian Territory which had been ceded by them in 1866 to the United States for the purpose of locating other Indians and Freedmen. The deal was made and all claim of title of these tribes was extinguished. The government paid the Creek Nation $2,280,000. This agreement was ratified by an act of Congress, approved by President Cleveland March 1st, 1889. The "unassigned land" was then indeed a part of the Public Domain.
Within three days after the treaty, or agreement, was ratified by making this original Oklahoma an unrestricted part of the public domain, Congress, by an amendment to the Indian appropriation bill, provided for the opening of this land to homestead entry, upon a day to be fixed by a proclamation of the President of the United States. While we "Boomers" and prospective settlers had been for years criticising the government for not opening the country to settlement; yet in the light of the facts we now are sure that the government had no right to open this unassigned land to homestead entry until the title had been perfected. No less credit was due the efforts of the "Boomers" for it was through their agitation and persistent efforts that Congress did clear the title and make the Oklahoma country subject to homestead entry.
DAN W. PEERY,