By Joe B. Milam
Most printed information pertaining to the coming opening was really of value to the men and women who intended to enter the new lands. Advice against accepting offers from the numerous parties who were offering to locate choice claims or town lots, was frequent in the newspapers, for the country was full of fraudulent, slick-tongued fellows, who "for ten dollars, or even for one dollar," would promise to get and to hold certain locations. Even though the intention might have been sincere, no man could have done such a thing.
People were advised to run in parties, groups, or colonies, in order to witness for each other, for even though a man were first on a given claim, he would be apt to lose, if three or four others witnessed against him. The dishonest speculators all were planning to travel in colonies, and it behooved the honest man to protect himself.
Detailed instructions, directing a settler in the finding of quarter and township numbers were of paramount importance to anyone intending to stake a claim, for a slight error made in filing was apt to cost a man his title.
One of the most valuable announcements which was made officially by the interior department, prior to the President's proclamation, concerned the method which had been adopted to prevent speculation and fraud.1 It is needless to say that the idea was borrowed from the Australian ballot system. Booths would be erected, it revealed on both the north and south sides of the Outlet and land office clerks placed in charge several days prior to the day of opening. Every homesteader would be required to go to one of these booths and file a declaration of his intention to take up land under the terms of the proclamation. He
would, thereupon, receive a certificate, which he would be required to hold until his selection was made. When he had chosen his land he would then be obliged to go to a land office and surrender his certificate. In this way, it was believed, there could be no possibility of taking valuable lands by proxy, as no one would be permitted to make a filing unless he were personally identified throughout the transaction by the certificates issued to him before the opening.2
Altogether, nine booths were to be opened, on September 11, as follows: on the south, four booths—Booth No. 1 at Stillwater in Payne county; Booth No. 2 north of Orlando in Logan county; Booth No. 3 north of Hennessey in Kingfisher county; Booth No. 4 south of Goodwin in Higgins county. On the north, five booths—Booth No. 5 at Kiowa, Kansas; Booth No. 6 at Cameron, Kansas, south of Anthony; Booth No. 7 at Caldwell, Kansas; Booth No. 8 at Hunnewell, Kansas; Booth No. 9 at Arkansas City, Kansas.3
Day by day, people looked and prayed for the proclamation of the President which should open the lands of the Outlet for settlement. Twenty days were required by law, following the proclamation, before the lands could be opened, and the summer was fast advancing. The Guthrie Daily News, which had been designated as the official voice to publish the President's proclamation, carried word on Sunday, August 20, that from the Interior Department had come indications that noon, September 16, would be the date of opening. The proclamation, it announced, contained 15,000 words, it being necessary to make the proclamation cumbersome, because the law prescribed that it should contain the law and other official utterances governing the opening.
With a last minute knowledge of the fact, by wire, the "News" shoved another story off the front page, and published, under an excited little headline, "THE PROCLAMATION!"
Look for the President's proclamation bright and early Monday morning. It has been returned, signed by the President, to Washington, and will appear without fail.
On the nineteenth day of August, 1893, the President of the United States placed his signature to the long-hoped-for proclamation, a lengthy document, in which was treated every detail concerning the opening of the Cherokee Outlet.4
It opened by recalling the agreement of May 17, with the Cherokee Nation of Indians, by which that nation ceded its lands lying in Indian Territory to the government of the United States. These lands, bounded on the west by the one hundredth (100°) degree of west longitude; on the north by the state of Kansas; and on the south by the Creek Nation, the Territory of Oklahoma, and the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Reservation, therefore, upon the initial payment of $295,736 (of the total $8,595,736.12) to the Cherokees, became a part of the public domain.5
Certain provisions, as provided in the treaty with the Cherokees, whereby seventy Cherokee citizens were to be granted allotments, were restated in the proclamation. Due to the fact that the Tonkawa and Pawnee tribes of Indians had previously ceded their lands to the federal government, so that they too were a part of the public domain, these lands were, at the same time and in the same manner as the Cherokee lands, to be opened to settlement.
The Secretary of Interior had been empowered by Congress to divide the Cherokee Outlet into counties, which he had done. The President's proclamation, therefore, included the boundaries of the seven counties created, K, L, M, N, O, P, and Q, and the reservation in each for a county seat, county court house, school lands, parks and lands for other public purposes.6 For public highways, there were reserved four rods between each section of land, the section lines being the center of the highways.7
There were set aside also, the lands of the Osage and Kansas Indians; those of the Ponca tribe of Indians; those of the Confederated Otoe and Missouria tribes of Indians; the reservation for the Chilocco Indian Industrial school; Camp Supply Military Reservation; and the three Saline reserves, located in eastern, western, and middle sections of the Outlet.8
Sections sixteen and thirty-six of every township were reserved for the use and benefit of public schools to be established within the limits of the Outlet.9 Section thirteen in each township, not otherwise disposed of, was reserved for university, agricultural college and normal school purposes.10
President Cleveland reiterated his announcement that a strip of land one hundred feet in width, around and immediately within the outer boundaries of the entire country to be opened, was set apart, temporarily, for the use of those persons intending to make the run, so that they might all have equal opportunity for a fair start.11
The foregoing exceptions having been made, and their boundaries carefully defined, President Cleveland was free to make that part of the proclamation which declared the lands acquired from the Cherokee, Tonkawa and Pawnee Tribes of Indians open to settlement, at the hour of twelve o'clock noon (central standard time) on Saturday, September 16, 1893.12
The Commissioner of the General Land Office, with the advice of the Secretary of Interior, was directed to establish nine registration booths on certain given locations, which should be open for business on Monday, the eleventh of September. Every person who wished to make the run was required to come to one of these booths and make a declaration in writing, stating his or her qualifications to make homestead entry for the new lands. These qualifications were enumerated somewhat as, follows: The party had to be twenty-one years of age, or the head of a family;
a citizen of the United States, or one who had declared intention of becoming such; one who had not exhausted his homestead rights by perfecting homestead entry for one hundred and sixty acres in any other opening, or who was the owner of one hundred and sixty acres of land in any State or Territory. To these avowals he must take an oath.
Similar certificates were issued to persons desiring town lots, and any person wishing to secure certificates for both homestead and town lots was allowed to do so. Thus, in case he did not secure a claim to his liking, he could possibly stake a town lot; he could not stake both, for it would have been difficult, no doubt, to convince the government that one needed a home in town when he had to live on his claim in order to prove it and make it his own.
No person not holding such a certificate would, under any circumstances, be allowed to enter or file upon any land in the Outlet.
Soldiers desiring to take a claim could, through a personal agent, do so, but no such claims were allowed by mail.13
After provisions for the opening, came the next question at hand, that is, that of filing. This was to be done first with the county recorder, and must include a description and boundary of the claim or town lot staked. Unless an exact copy of said plat were in the hands of the General Land Office one month after filing with the county recorder, the property was subject to sale to the highest bidder.
Claims were to be initiated under the homestead law, either by settlement on the land or by entry at the district office; in the former case, the settler should have three months after settlement within which to file his application for the tract at the district office; in the latter case, six months after entry at that office within which to establish residence and begin improvements upon the land.14
Lands in different sections of the Outlet were supposed to be very different in quality; therefore, prices were set on them according to their location. For land east of ninety-seven and one half degrees west longitude, the sum
of $2.50 per acre was to be charged for that between the degrees of ninety-seven and one-half, and ninety-eight and one-half, one dollar per acre, and also, interest upon the amount so to be paid for the land from the date of entry to the date of final payment, at the rate of four per cent annually.15
In addition to the price to be paid for the claim, there were certain required fees: for an entry of over eighty acres, a fee of ten dollars, and for an entry of eighty acres or less, a fee of five dollars, and in both cases, an addition of two per cent upon the government price of the land, computed at the rate of $1.25 per acre.16
Parties who desired to found, upon the new land, a town or city, were required to file with the recorder of the county in which it was to be located, a plat describing the boundaries, streets, squares, blocks, lots and alleys, the size of the same, land for schools, parks and other public provisions, together with the name of the town.
The amount of land to be included in a city was to be proportionate to the number of inhabitants; in a town of one hundred and less than two hundred inhabitants, there could be entered not to exceed 320 acres; two hundred and less than one thousand inhabitants might enter not to exceed 1280 acres; for each additional one thousand inhabitants, not to exceed five thousand in all, an increased amount of 320 acres. When the number of inhabitants of a town happened to be less than a hundred, the townsite was to be restricted to the land actually occupied for town purposes by legal subdivisions.17
Four land districts were originally established by the President, to be located as follows: the Enid district, in County O; the Alva district, County M; the Woodward district, in County N; and the Perry district, in County P. Each of these districts was carefully bounded as to extent of territory, so that there could be no question in the mind of a settler as to where he should file his claim or town lot.18
The document was signed by Grover Cleveland, President of the United States, and by W. Q. Gresham, Secretary of State.
It must be remembered that in the whole Strip, there were approximately 6,500,000 acres, and that of this number 5,600 acres had been taken out for allotments, 735,000 acres for school, public buildings and universities, 8,640 acres in the Chilocco Indian school reservation, and 2,500 acres for county seats, to say nothing of the innumerable townsites already projected. Certain it was that a large proportion of the persons intending to make the run, would be disappointed and be forced to turn their faces wearily toward their former homes. Despite the knowledge of this fact, no one believed that he would be one of the unfortunates. Hope was springing in their breasts. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of 160 acres of land in the Strip seems to animate every man, woman and child now coming into Guthrie," commented a news writer, and continued to say that they had there in their midst cowboys prancing about on the untamed broncos, dudes on palfreys, staid citizens on stout draft horses, women on ambling gennets, young men on thoroughbreds, old men on spavined rozinatee, boys on ponies—every kind and variety, racing and rushing about as if in training for the opening race and the great stake of 160 acres of land each.19
Wagons were passing through the country in great numbers, since the actual day was set. Many of them had comical mottoes on their brown canvas. One read:
"If you get there before I do
Another said, "I won't be a sooner, but I'll get thar as soon as the soonest." Still another carried:
"In God we trusted
Most of these people were eager to get hold of a copy of the President's proclamation, and of maps of the Outlet,
many of which were printed. In Guthrie, more than 2500 copies of the proclamation were sold on the day of publication; more than a thousand were sold in Oklahoma City; large orders came in by telegraph, some as high as two thousand form one place, and for several hundred each for Mulhall, Orlando, Seward, and numerous other towns of Oklahoma.21
J. B. Tucker and Gordon W. Lillie also edited a small book of 97 pages, which they called, "A Topographical Hand Book of the Cherokee Strip," and which included practically every bit of information a future settler could wish to know, including a most detailed map of the entire Outlet.
In the evening boomers sat around their camp fires, studying—studying, with a map of the Strip in front of them; and by the light of the fire's, they carefully traced the creeks and river windings, picking out the eligible bottom lands and pieces of timbered country that they fondly fancied would soon be their own. The women, many of them, seemed contented and determined, with no apprehension of the dangers and difficulties ahead.
Of course, there were representatives of every type. Some looked prosperous and had provisions enough to last indefinitely; others showed that they had not enough to eat, and often were forced to give up the long wait, especially in the face of a winter on the new lands, with no opportunity of raising a crop until the next spring. Still others looked as if they didn't care what odds were against them—they would get there all the same; and the defiant looking guns hanging at their hips, proclaimed in a grim way the desperate character of the men who wore them.
The "Strip fever" seemed to permeate the very air. Every body was getting it, as witness:
The Beautiful strip,
Wild as hares,
Why nobody cares,
The Strip, the Strip,
The lunatic Strip,
Flippity flip !
And sell out the shops
And sail for the Strip
If the whole world stops
The Strip, the Strip
The boomerange Strip
Flippity flip !
And spend our last dollar,
But what does that matter
So long as we holler—
The Strip, the Strip,
The whoop-a-lah Strip
Following the proclamation, the main interest moved to the registration booths along the line, north and south. Because Arkansas City had spent years in advertising, and because people naturally go to the places they know about, the greatest crowds gathered around that little city; but as other towns realized the pecuniary compensation to be
derived from the settlers-to-be, they all launched into the most extensive advertising this section of the country had ever seen.
In the west there were no papers; there were very few people, and they had no means of advertising or even of fighting the poisonous propaganda that was being printed concerning the "dollar lands." And yet, there is another side to be considered. Farmers all along the Kansas line, and for miles north, knew that the western lands were rich and valuable, and they did not want the fact widely known, for fear of too much competition. Mr. Solomon F. Milam22 tells of riding all over the Strip, from Arkansas City west, taking cattle to market, and of his experiences as a cowboy; always he carried with him on these trips a spade, for the purpose of examining the fertility of the soil in various sections. "I would dig a hole three or four feet deep," he recalls, "and I knew there was no soil in the Outlet to equal that of what is now Alfalfa County."
Much talk was circulated. Some claimed that Secretary Smith would make all go on foot; others that no trains would be allowed to carry passengers, and still others, that passenger trains would enter, but would be allowed to run only five miles an hour; while it was said that Secretary Smith's rule would be that all who wanted claims must enter in a lumber wagon drawn by a span of white horses and driven by a red-headed girl. Notwithstanding all this talk, those who intended winning, and who could, purchased good saddles and horses, fed dry feed, and trained the animals to run long distances.23
Jealousy brought about numerous crimes in the form of poisoning and hamstringing fine race horses, in order to eliminate them from the race. It was said that a group of three or four shiftless boomers at Hunnewell formed themselves into an organization to "do up" everybody whom they thought better fitted than they to make the run.24 Popular indignation was so great and so threatening, that this sort of thing did not gain much headway.
Not until the twelfth of September was the final order given, permitting trains to run on the day of opening, all previous orders having been to the Contrary. It came in the form of a wire from Secretary Smith, and including nine separate articles:25
1. Trains must be for general use and not leased to any favored passengers.
2. The trains must be standing on the edge of said lands at least thirty minutes before the hour of opening and shall not be entered by passengers earlier than thirty minutes before said hour of opening.
3. No one shall be allowed to enter either of said trains as a passenger unless he holds a certificate from one of the booths.
4. Trains may start upon said lands at any time after the hour of opening.
5. Trains must stop at every station and at intermediate points not more than five miles apart.
6. Trains wild be limited in speed to fifteen miles an hour.
7. The regular local rates of passenger charges shall not be exceeded.
8. No person shall be allowed to board said trains after they enter the Cherokee Strip.
9. The United States officers in charge will give effect to this order.
One prominent Santa Fe railroad man, in speaking to a Wichita Eagle reporter concerning Secretary Smith's orders that no one without a certificate be allowed to ride, remarked:
"I am afraid that Mr. Hoke Smith has not the proper conception of the aggressiveness of one Oklahoma boomer, to say nothing of ten or twelve thousand of them.
The Santa Fe, he continued, would have at the line that day, ten trains of ten box cars each, which would accommodate from 10,000 to 12,000 people 'the same as sardines are accomodated in a box.' "
How, he wanted to know, could sixteen conductors examine, in the thirty minutes allotted, all the certificates that it had taken fifty clerks five days to issue? And suppose, he suggested, that they found several thousand people boarding without certificates. Just who would put them off? "To be plain with you," he concluded frankly, "I think Hoke Smith was talking through his hat, at least when he made that portion of the order."
The Santa Fe road superintendent issued warnings to the runners to keep their horses, for the trains would not be able to carry near all the people who would want to enter that way.26 This followed reports that many disgruntled persons were selling their mounts.
A rumor that a number of fast horse owners had organized a gang of sooners to go upon the Strip and burn the railroad bridges and thus shut off transportation to the thousands who would ride the trains, led to all railroad bridges being heavily guarded by deputy marshals.
The booths opened for business at seven o'clock on Monday morning before the run on Saturday, the sixteenth. At Arkansas City, people had been forming in line and had held their places throughout the two days and nights. Those waiting in line slept on the ground. Some had blankets, others were without coats. Towards morning of Monday, the weather changed and became very chilly, causing a good deal of suffering. Hot coffee peddlers passed along the line all night, and to some degree, relieved the chill. When the clerks appeared for business in the morning, the drooping spirits revived somewhat, and a cheer went up from the grimy, chilly boomers.27
It had not rained any that summer, and the long continued dry weather had covered the roads with a fine dust, which was kept in the air by the constant stirring of the crowds. It hovered over the throng continually. There was no water within two miles of the booth, and the supply had to be hauled from Arkansas City in tank wagons. As the day progressed and the sun shone down through the
27The Oklahoma Times Journal, September 14, 1893. (Reprint from an Arkansas City date line of September 12).
dust and grime, people began to suffer for lack of water; nevertheless, in spite of the dust, the lack of food and water, and the absolute lack of sleep, the crowd exhibited no impatience.28
At Caldwell, Kansas, about a thousand persons received certificates the first day, although there were five thousand waiting in line. Requests for more booths here, as well as at Arkansas City, were granted for the second day. Several hundred women were registered before noon, as most of the strippers were gallant enough to resign their places in the line to members of the fair sex. Said one report:
The sight of so many blooded horses is working the poorer classes into a frenzy, and if all doubt of a train entering is destroyed, many will grow desperate and turn "sooners." It will be the greatest handicap ever run on American soil and worth coming a thousand miles to see.29
The line at Orlando, in Oklahoma Territory, numbered at least fifteen hundred at the time of the opening of the booth for registration, with hundreds pouring in every hour. "The great gathering of tents and wagons of every variety makes it seem as if there were many thousands of people present,"30 admitted one news writer on the grounds. A police force had to be organized at this small town on the first day, due to the unusual amount of petty thieving which took place, and to the great number of confidence men and gamblers who were there to ply their trade.
More than one news story told of an old man, no less than eighty, of the name of Baker, who swore he would get a claim or die. He had two revolvers swinging at his hips, and was as confident as a young man of twenty.31 On the second day conditions grew worse as the crowds increased, and people were forced to stand in line before the booths without any shelter from the blazing sun.
On September 13, an Arkansas City paper headed its Strip column, "Lines of Death." One hundred degrees in
the shade, the air filled with suffocating dust, and one of Kansas' noted hot winds blowing across the parched prairies "as if straight from the mouth of a seven times heated furnace," were the conditions that the boomers along the line were forced to face. Some could not endure, and succumbed; some rallied, but others did not. At Arkansas City over fifty were overcome by heat on that one day, six of whom died before night; at Caldwell twenty were sunstruck, two of whom died; at Orlando, twenty-two sunstrokes were reported and two deaths; at Hennessey, eighteen, with one death. The sun went down that night in a clear sky, with promise on the morrow of even worse.32
It did not fail. Out on the prairie where there was no shade, little water, and where the air was thick with dust, the suffering amounted to agony. The clerks struggled bravely in their effort to register everyone, but the crowds increased so rapidly that instead of dimishing, the lines continued to grow.
The futile protests against the method of registration, and the injustice to the homeseekers in compelling them to stand in the sun and dust for days, almost without hope of getting registered, aroused newspaper correspondents in Arkansas City to the necessity of putting the matter squarely before the Secretary of the Interior, and September 13, they sent him the following telegram:
In the name of the papers we represent, we respectfully request that you take immediate steps to alleviate the suffering of the homeseekers who are seeking registration at Booth No. 9 near this city. The booth is situated on a dusty road, four miles away from water and shelter, and the weather is extremely hot and hot winds are blowing a gale. The suffering is great. A large number have been stricken down and some have died. Registration is progression so slowly that thousands of men are compelled to stand in line for days, exposed to the sun, dust, and thirst. Can you not cause the booth to be removed to this city and put on a larger force of clerks or abandon registration at
once? For the honor and welfare of the administration, we beg you to take immediate action. Humanity demands it.33
Registration progressed much faster the day following, and feeling regarding the registration system was considerably molified. Secretary Hoke Smith was evidently influenced by the flood of telegrams that poured in upon him, requesting additional registration facilities, and especially by that of the newspaper correspondents, for he repeated it back to the officers in charge of the booths. He instructed them not only to employ all the clerks necessary, but to open registration booths in Arkansas City, if it were deemed advisable.34 A corps of new clerks was put to work that same day, and from then on registration continued twenty-four hours a day, with the clerks working in shifts.
A group of cattlemen, nevertheless, were still so disgusted with the entire system that they sent a detailed epistle to the secretary, in the form of a telegram, picturing the situation as it was. Seven thousand people, they told him, were still in line, with thousands more arriving on each train. A conflict between the troops and parties not registered, was certain to come unless action were taken soon to relieve the congestion. Registration, in their opinion, was all a farce. There was continual trading of registration certificates, persons not desiring to undergo the siege at the border, often being willing to pay well for a certificate. Many fraudulent certificates had been placed on the market, selling at as low as fifty cents apiece; many persons bought them, some unknowingly, but others with the idea in mind to use the fake certificates temporarily while they soonered, and to hold a claim while some friend with more leisure secured a real certificate, and brought it in to them. Or perhaps they hired a sooner to go in with the fake, and came later with the genuine article, only to pay the man a wage for his services. Altogether, the cattlemen's telegram said the things that needed saying,35 and, no doubt, the secretary in Washington knew more
about the situation in the Strip when he finished reading it than he had ever known before.
The suffering from heat and thirst, although almost unbearable, did not diminish the ardor of the homeseekers in the lines, save only as they fell prostrated, and had to be carried out. The names of those who died in line were most difficult to obtain, unless they had friends in the camp, for everyone was too exhausted, and had too many worries of his own to take heed of those of his neighbors.36
On Wednesday an old man named Billings, a Civil War veteran who had been holding his place for two days, and was quite near the front of the line, fell to the ground, dead. When the booths opened Thursday morning, one man was seen to remain motionless, wrapped in his blanket. A neighbor shook him, but there was no response. When the blanket was pulled from his face, he was seen to be cold and dead. Another old soldier, with his army badges, his faded blue coat, his broad-brimmed hat crushed over his brows—there he was, dead, with his certificate almost within his grasp. He was G. B. Higgins, of Milwaukee.37
Although the conditions at Orlando the first day were not so bad, each day they grew worse, until some 10,000 men and women were standing in the sweltering heat and thick dust. One third of the people in line were more fitted for the hospital than for the run, one reporter, commented. They kept the doctors busy; and that particular class, being largely represented by quacks,38 did little good and made a bad name for itself. Many of them rushed about dispensing pellets that could do no good whatever, and collecting small fortunes for that crime.
Suffering seemed greatest among the women. News writers so often bemoaned the pitiable condition of the women along the lines, their faces black with tears and dirt, their eyes red and in many instances almost blind, their hair hanging disheveled over their shoulders, their dresses torn and bedraggled, their health broken.39
It is a shame, a crying shame, that women should be allowed to participate in this mad struggle for land. If they have friends, they should look after them. They thought they were going on a picnic, and instead they found that the horrors of the situation for them were inconceivable. There are no kinds of accomodation for them whatever, and the intelligent reader knows what that means. Forlorn, woe-begone, the sight they present is pitiable in the extreme. Fights are constantly occurring, and the most obscene and vulgar language is continually falling upon their ears, but so deep is their own misery that they are deaf to the scene around them.40
The dreadful lack of water, and the impossibility of getting any, was not the least of many stupendous obstacles to be overcome. Fire and starvation on the prairies faced many, if they did manage to make the run and secure a homestead. Winter was almost upon them, even though it was difficult to realize in all the heat of those September days.
On the fourteenth of September, about four o'clock in the afternoon, word came by telegram from Washington, establishing a booth for registration in Guthrie. In ten minutes, 500 people were in line, and clerks were at work issuing certificates. They registered until six, stopped one hour for dinner, and went to work again at seven, issuing 381 certificates. After being in existence about six hours, suddenly it was discontinued, when Col. Swinford appeared in the office with an order to that effect. People who secured certificates in Guthrie were fortunate indeed, for they were legal in every way, having been issued by government orders.41
Stillwater had its share of ill fortune when eleven business buildings burned on Wednesday night of that famous week, constituting a loss of about $40,000. The fire was believed to have been of incendiary origin.42
On the other hand, Stillwater was unusual in that it
was able to keep up with the demand for certificates made at its booths,43 although the heat and dust produced the same suffering there as elsewhere.
At Hennessey, as soon as a person received his number he could drop out of line and wait until almost time for his turn to receive a certificate thus saving long hours of standing; this method would have been a life saver, had it been used at Arkansas City.
Finally the boomers at Orlando, in order to get rid of speculators, would not permit any one in line to sell his place. It was astonishing to see how the line thinned out, leaving, no doubt, only bona fide home seekers.44
Booths at Cameron and at Cantonement were established after the opening day, to relieve the press, but did not have to serve the crowds that some of the Kansas booths attempted to handle. Cameron was located at the terminus of "Hog" road in Harper County, Kansas, while Cantonement was fifty miles west of Hennessey.45
A group of Iowa Indians gathered at the booth location at Stillwater, to claim the right of homesteading. Their allotments contained only eighty acres each, so that they were not barred out by the 160 acre clause. They had certainly never received the benefit of the homestead law, and they were citizens. There was therefore, nothing to prevent them from seeking claims, and as they could easily outride the white men, it was prophesied that they would get among the choicest lands.46
All along the lines, boomers yielded to the seductions of the faro bank, the roulette wheel, and to the persuasions of professional gamblers, until many of them had not enough money left to buy their horses a ration of food before the run. Men with families were left without a penny with which to care for them.47
As the day for the run approached, the feeling against the Sooners grew intense; the fact that so many sooners
were already in the land was demoralizing to the honest homeseekers, who felt that this was, after all, perhaps the only way to get a homestead. These fellows were hidden along all the creeks, in hollows, and behind clumps of bushes and tall grass. In order to dislodge them, the soldiers started fires all along the Strip, and did succeed in running out great numbers. One of the best ways to find them was to watch the watering places, for men could not live long without some way of quenching their thirst.48 One group of fifty-three sooners was brought into camp at Orlando. All had their registration certificates, and protested that they had crossed the border in good faith, believing that the certificates entitled them to reenter.49
Back in the home towns, people were almost afraid to go to the big opening, because rumors were rife that many of the towns would be raided by various gangs of outlaws, that jails would be broken into for the purpose of releasing their members, that banks and stores would be robbed, and that it would be dangerous for anyone who tried to interfere with these plans.50 Rumors were also current that the Ottawa Indians intended to sack Oklahoma towns while the men went to the Strip. Military protection was sent to more than one town, while police forces were increased, jails were heavily guarded, and banks set their safety locks so that the vaults would not open on September 16.51 Word of these preparations must have reached the Dalton and Starr leaders for no raids were attempted.
In an assembly such as was gathered on the Outlet lines, there were sure to be many novel and interesting incidents, some happy, some human, some tragic, some most laughable. In order to alleviate, to some extent, the suffering from thirst, the young people's society of Christian Endeavor at Arkansas City and at other towns, pledged money and service to haul water carts of free water to the camps.52
It was astonishing to learn of all the people who planned to make the run. Everyone, from the clergymen
down to the fellows who worked in the livery staples, were heading for the Strip. Housewives could not get servants of any sort; they were all going to the Strip. Here was a chance to get a piece of land—a splendid bait for a husband. Hired girls and old maid school teachers, tired of the drudgery of life, entered upon this as a great romance, taking their little savings, and—off for the Strip. It was difficult to find enough police to keep Arkansas City; but then, everyone else was going, so what did it matter? Hotel keepers complained that they could keep no one on duty, and that rooms were unkept. Everyone was going to the Strip!53 "We had a threshing machine," said Mr. Daniel W. Peery, now Secretary of the Oklahoma Historical Association, "but everybody was going to the Strip, nobody would work, and so we just quit for a week and went along."54
Secret conferences among townsite companies and the Cherokee Indians who received allotments, was a common occurrence, and seemed to be bringing a good deal of satisfaction, both to the Cherokees and to the townsite syndicates.55
The first woman to register at Orlando was a Mrs. Kuster of Guthrie, who had camped at the door of the booth all night and led the long line of homesteaders. She returned to Guthrie on the train that same afternoon, and attracted the attention of all beholders, because of her unique dress. She was a large woman, and was clad from head to foot in a cape of black shining oil cloth, while over her head was spread an umbrella of wonderful proportions. In her left hand she carried a diminutive grip. "The question now for Mrs. Kuster," said one newspaper correspondent, "is, will she get a claim? A certificate is one thing. A quarter section another, and the main thing."56
A Guthrie paper for September 9, carried the following story:
Vast hordes of colored people are leaving Guthrie for the strip. The republicans contemplate this evacuation of their main-stay with pain and dismay. Most of these popular citizens are leaving on foot. Every man is furnished with thirty rounds of watermellon.57
A special from El Reno to the Guthrie State Capital announced that a novel wedding on horseback would take place on Saturday, September 16, between two of El Reno's young society people, the lady riding a coal black Kentucky mare, the groom a handsome chestnut. Judge John H. Pitzer, who would perform the ceremony, would ride Bill Cook's "Rabbit" and would receive a fee of fifty dollars. Two young men, riding Apache broncos presented to them by two Indian maidens, planned to ride as best men.58
Supplying food for the masses was a stupendous task. Daily, scores of boarding houses went from various towns out to the Strip. Bakers turned out thousands of loaves of bread. The tomolo man made his fortune. Several thousand cases of eggs were hard boiled and shipped daily to the lines. Sandwiches of unknown materials were produced in unknown quantities, and a vast amount of other death-dealing concoctions was prepared for the unfortunate beings who, from dead necessity, were often compelled to purchase such. Drug stores, not to be left out, manufactured innumerable drinks.59
At Arkansas City, on the last afternoon before the great day, reports said that 20,000 men, still unregistered, were standing in line, filling the air with their angry curses. There they had waited patiently beneath the sun's powerful rays, and were seemingly no nearer a certificate than when they came.60
Extra booths and extra forces of clerks worked all night and until noon the next day, in order to get them registered. The air was filled that last night with a strange tenseness—an awful suspense. Thousands had staked their all on this chance of getting a homestead, and
they realized that many of them of necessity would be doomed to failure, for there was not nearly enough land to give every man a claim. And yet, every man and woman, with a desperate hope, believed that he or she would somehow, be among the successful.
Horses were fed carefully that night; wagons were examined, tightened and wired; a final look at the map was made to assure themselves of the location of the claim they intended to make their own, and weary people retired to attempt sleep. But it was a restless, turbulent night, like no other night in the hisory of the world.