By Joe B. Milam
The morning of Saturday, September 16, 1893, was one that will always live vividly in the memory of every man, woman and child who was, at that time, anywhere on the line of the Cherokee Outlet. It was also the dawn of a day which has gone down in the colorful history of Oklahoma as the grandest, the most awesome, the most colorful of all. Over eight million acres were added, in that one afternoon, to the Territory of Oklahoma and thus to the public domain of the United States; the population of Oklahoma Territory was increased by a hundred thousand; populous cities were born; pioneers who were not afraid of work or hardship, came to the "promised land" to stay, and to make it their home.
Hundreds of "sooners" had gone into the Strip during the night, but thousands of prospective settlers had arrived on the night trains, so that the crowds were greater than ever. Many of these newcomers had gone straight to the registration line that night, while others were there early in the morning.
It was a glorious, and yet an exhausting day. Few people had slept throughout the preceeding night. Excitement was too great; nerves were too tense; with the first red streaks of a dusty dawn, the camps were abustle. Camp fires had glimmered all the night, and now, with a bit of fresh fuel, breakfasts were hastily prepared, and the grimy faced throngs partook of their last meal on the line. Night would see them eating on their own homesteads. So thought every one, and yet, in their minds, lurked a fear that they might not be among the fortunate ones. Too many blooded horses were standing, nervously eager, on
the hundred-foot strip. Sure-footed cow ponies were ready to run twenty or thirty miles if need be. Farmers with heavy wagons, and slow, plodding teams felt rebellious. Many were afoot, while other thousands planned to take the trains.
Throughout the morning, preparations continued. Horses were fed lightly and rubbed down; wheels of vehicles were lubricated; canteen and haversack were securely lashed to saddles, or packed in buggies or wagons; last instructions were given to the women and children to be left behind.
As the hour of noon drew near, convenances of every conceivable description were jammed into line, so close together that a man could not squeeze between them, and their wheels locked. Sulkeys, two-wheeled carts, bicycles, prairie schooners, light buggies and heavy wagons drawn by horses and oxen, stretched away in a ragged column farther than the eye could see. Directly in front of them stood the horsemen in a line as straight as cavalry on inspection.
They were, on the whole, a jovial, good natured crowd, in spite of privations and suffering, and they cracked jokes and bandied words to relieve the tension of their nerves. But as the sun climbed high and neared the meridian men grew silent, to watch it and to listen for the signal, while horses pawed the dust in impatience, and champed restlessly at their bits.
In front of the line, which extended for miles in both directions, sat the cavalry trooper, grim representative of the government, as guard over the "promised land." Miles away down the line, the troop commander sat in his saddle stoically waiting, watch in hand, attended by a trumpeter at attention.1
Three railroad lines, two Santa Fe and one Rock Island, traversed the Strip, and created not only possibilities for desirable townsites and a market for products, but on
1Chickasha Star, Jan. 13, 1927, 2 of Magazine Section. See also Woodward Jeffersonian, Sept. 23, 1893; The Hennessey Clipper, Sept. 22, 1893; Chandler News, Sept. 22, 1893 (Arkansas City date line of Sept. 16).
this important first day, a means of transportation into the coveted lands.
Hoke Smith, Secretary of the Interior had designated that the trains come to the line at thirty minutes before twelve, and in that time, be made up. At Orlando, a village one mile south of the line, a last hour amendment to the order allowed the trains to stop in the town rather than on the line. At the latter place, however, there were five thousand people who had not heard the news in time to get back, and who, therefore, were left, angry and hurt.2
Deputy marshals attempted to aid the trainmen in keeping order; at the door of each of the big cattle cars stood a marshal with a gun. But the train had pulled in literally black with humanity. They were hanging from every slat, and the guard was draped with them. The big doors were locked to insure a place inside for those waiting on the line. When the engineer stopped, and the doors were thrown open, the most treffic scramble imaginable began.3 Men clambered over each other and grabbed wildly for the doors. Women vied with men; clothes were torn off, regardless of sex, delicate women were thrown down and trampled upon, men clung to window sills with their feet on the crossbars, and some rode on the trucks; the engines and tops of the cars were covered so that brakes could not be used.4 Ruthless greed and inhuman disregard for rights and wants of others became the dominant living force that day.5
One newspaper writer was fortunate enough to secure a point of vantage on the cab of the engine of the first train out of Arkansas City, and from there to take in the sights and scenes in all their grandeur, "if grandeur it could be called,"6 he ended.
At eleven minutes before twelve, a pistol shot rang out. Whether it was fired unintentionally or otherwise, was not revealed, but immediately some five thousand horses leaped forward with a spring and darted away. The
earth trembled, and the few soldiers who tried to stop the moving avalanche of animals and vehicles had no more effect than if they had tried to harness Niagara.7 This start was at Arkansas City.
At Hennessey, a similar false alarm was fired, and although some kept on, most of the settlers returned. One of those who made the break was Walter Cooke of Chickasha, who was the fifth man to arrive at Enid, but who found himself with a contest on his hands on the grounds of being a "sooner."8
Back to the stoical old troop commander—counting the seconds of his last minute, he nodded to the trumpeter, who raised his mouthpiece and blew the sweet, swelling bugle notes, followed almost instantly by the rapid barking of rifles all along the line.9
"When the signal sounded at Orlando and the crowd, like a mighty torrent, burst over the line into the land which to them had been so long a mystery, there went to the skies a roar so farreaching and prolonged that the very sense of hearing was stunned and the faculty of thought for the time seemed paralyzed. I have heard the roar of artillery—sixty batteries playing on the enemy at one time have listened to the federal yell and rah coming up from 50,000 soldiers' throats, have listened to the fiercest peals of thunder as it rattled amid the lonely pines of the Black Hills...but never in all my life did I hear a cry so peculiar—a roar of such subdued fierceness like to the awful agony of a mighty ocean in the storm throes of madness as that which rose on the morning air that fateful day of September 16, 1893. It seemed to me as if all the mad passions of an army of devils was let loose...and in dense and horrid clouds of sand and dust, were sweep-
ing down upon some world upon which they had planned to wreck a dire and awful vengeance."10
Confusion reigned everywhere. So closely together were the contestants placed, that even the start was full of hazard. Horsemen were unseated, wagons overturned, and pedestrians prostrated and trampled in the mad rush to be off. Cries of angry men, mingled with the neighing of panic stricken horses, with shouts, curses, the thud and clatter of hoofs, the rattling of wagons, the shriek of locomotive whistles, all combined to make a scene of pandemonium.11
For some time the vast mass was hidden by the mighty dust it raised; then gradually, the red sand began to settle and thousands of infuriated, unreasoning human beings began spreading out, until like a huge fan, it spread over the plains.12
The plucky, lucky writer perched atop an engine cab, pictures a scene marvelous to contemplate. The train, running very slowly on account of its great load, made a perfect vantage for sight seers. Ahead, on both sides, and behind, the racers came. The tops of the cars, one mass of surging humanity, horsemen away off in the distance, mounted on fine horses, and buggies and light wagons with fleet footed animals, going like the wind, the white topped prairie schooners, the ladies in their handsome riding costumes, the men on foot racing for claims, made a scene calculated to stir the moat cold blooded person. One young woman in a blue dress, mounted on a fine horse, raced with the train for several miles and was heartily cheered.13
Special trains of sightseers from Arkansas City, Caldwell, Wichita, Winfield, Guthrie, Oklahoma City, Norman, El Reno, Hennessey and other towns, left those places almost depopulated. But it was a scene that panited itself for a few brief minutes on the prairie, then was gone for. ever. It was worth coming across the continent to witness.
And many people had come across the continent to be there—some to participate, with a desperate hope for success, some for the thrill and wild romance the experience offered, some in answer to the lure of novelty, and still others with the sole thought of preying upon their fellowmen under such opportune conditions.
After the first few, officers made no further attempt to see registration certificates, and sightseers and homeseekers often were jammed together, so tightly that they could move neither arms nor legs. The pressure was suffocating.14 Ten trains of ten box cars each ran out of Arkansas City; a train of thirty-nine cars pulled by a huge Mallet engine, picked up its crowd at Hennessey;15 at Orlando, three engines were necessary to move the forty-two car loads. And so it was on all the roads. The Santa Fe sold eight thousand tickets to Kildare alone.16
It was estimated on the day of the run that from 30,000 to 50,000 people made the race from Arkansas City; 15,000 from Caldwell; 25,000 from Orlando; 10,000 from Hennessey; 7,000 from Stillwater; 10,000 from Kiowa; 3,000 from Hunnewell, and from 5,000 to 6,000 from other points. Of course larger estimates generally were given in local stories, but these figures appear to be fairly accurate.
During the long hot days of registration, when standing in line in the blazing sun had entrailed such suffering, the men had chivalrously surrendered their places in the lines, to the weaker sex, but on the day of the race, there was no chivalry. The race was a business affair, and no sentiment interferred with the transaction of the matter in hand. Women were forced to take their chances, for their sex availed them nothing in this contest.17
A man from Quincy, Illinois,18 said that when the train pulled up at Orlando, the crowd there was so wild and dense that almost any kind of an act could escape notice. He saw one man, who, not being able to get out the car
20Chandler News, Sept. 22, 1893 (Arkansas City date line of Sept. 16); Osage Journal, Jan. 13, 1927.
door, made a break for a window; there he stuck half way out; two men thereupon seized this opportunity to relieve him of a heavily laden wallet and of his watch.
He said, further, that he saw a man being deliberately held up a short distance from where the cars pulled up. The man stood stolid between two men, with the barrel of a pistol shoved into his side, while he quietly handed over his valuables to the men who were so daringly robbing him. After they had taken his money, they made him walk away a considerable distance. During the entire business, no excitement was displayed by any of the parties. Another man was found behind the station at Orlando, tied and gagged, robbed of everything he possessed, about five o'clock on the morning of the run.19
Cowboys on their sturdy ponies soon gained the lead in the race from Arkansas City. They had gone but a short distance over the prairie, when they spread out, and, dismounting, set fire to the thick grass, hoping thus to turn aside those who were following. The fire spread rapidly at first, but as the winds were blowing from the north and driving the flames south, they were soon stopped by the deep gully which parallels the line three miles to the south. The riders hesitated only a moment, then, putting spurs to their mounts, rode into the fire, severely scorching their faces and hands, and in many cases, burning the horses until the poor creatures were unable to continue the race.20
Hardly had they gone through the fire, when they came to this crevice or fissure in the ground; it was about ten feet wide and twice that deep; too much for most of the exhausted steeds. Many of them, in an attempt to make the jump, fell and broke their legs. There was nothing for their owners to do but to put them out of their suffering by shooting them.
Others, having surmounted this obstacle, rode on across the prairies, where frequently, they encountered one of those "sooners," who, having driven in the night before, was comfortably located on a choice section of land, with
perhaps a little ground already ployed, his team eating placidly, and a big barrel of water sitting invitingly in the wagon. The dusty parched racers begged eagerly for a drink, but were refused unless they could pay the price, usually one dollar a pint.21
As the crowds scattered, flags and stakes began to dot the landscape for miles. Little white flags were stuck in the ground nearly as thick as fence posts in some locations, until the claims looked more like townsites than farm land. Each claimant sat on his satchel or blanket and watched the others with a defiant eye.22
It was a giant drama, and the actors were also the spectators. Here a crowd of a dozen or more horsemen plunged through a mass of angry men on foot, some of whom were trampled down. There were shrieks and yells. Horses were seized by the bridles and hurled, with their riders, to the ground. The footmen rushed on, leaving their foes lying beneath their mounts, broken and mangled.23
Over yonder a lone woman lay on the ground. She had either fainted or was dead. No one went to see, no one cared. Farther on, a man had driven a stake. A group of rough men were about him; they tore up his stake and struck him in the face; for a moment he was dazed, and then as if seized by a panic, he turned upon his heels and fled. The three men who had beaten him drove their staks, and being friends, they pulled out a flask of whiskey and drank confusion to their enemies.24
All over the plains men were fighting and cursing and madly gasticulating, disputing as to who first struck that claim. At last one man, the notorious Jack Evans, who was well known in Oklahoma City, Kingfisher and Guthrie as Fingerless Bill, dashed in among a group, and with a Comanche yell, swore, as he brandished a long knife, that he would kill the first man who denied that he was the first man on the ground. Jack's word went, and so did the men
whom he had so successfully bluffed. Evans sold his interest in that claim two hours later for $300.
"Over near Black Bear a man was seen about 11 o'clock with a knife driven into his heart and a number of papers scattered about. Your correspondent secured one of the most important, because it bore his name, "James Reardon, Wilford, Massachusetts." The body lay near a corner stone. I rode over northeast from the corner stone and saw two men in camp. A stake was driven in the ground near a small camp fire on which rested a coffee pot. I pulled up and conversed with them for a few moments and heard one of them addressed as 'Jim' and 'Jim Baily.' This man had a long sheath case for a knife hanging at his side. The knife was absent. They asked me to try some coffee, but I refused. After taking my bearings, I pulled out. I was satisfied Jim Baily had killed James Reardon of Wilfort, Massachusetts, and that his partner, whose name was not mentioned during the short conversation had a hand in the murder. I made no mention of having seen the body of the murdered man. I have since sent these facts to the United States Marshal Nix at Guthrie."25
Within nine miles of Perry another man was found dead—shot through the head. And yet there was a federal order that no man should carry a gun into the Strip.26
On the trains which started from Hennessey, most of the passengers were going to Enid, with the knowledge that they were to become involved in a fight between the government and the Rock Island railroad, the latter having a townsite, Wharton, about four miles from the government townsite of Enid. It was feared that the train would not stop at Enid, and tension was high. But in the meantime, passengers could not fail to see the sights along the tracks. Far out on the prairie, horsemen were vanishing from sight. An old "schooner" was
having rough going; the family of children were hanging on for dear life, when suddenly the father threw down the lines. His wagon had come apart, but he lost no time in throwing off the traces, and, mounting, was away, leaving his astonished family behind.27
Farther on two men jumped from the train, which was traveling only about five miles an hour, both intent on staking a bit of beautiful land beside the tracks. They had not seen each other until they reached the barbed wire fence which shut off the railroad's right-of-way. It was there the fun began. One attempted to climb over, while the other hoped to squeeze through. The fence was tough, but finally the squeezer went through and while his rival had achieved the top, a most savage barb caught and held him there. The other man drove his stake and then returned to give the poor fellow a lift.28
Another man, knowing well the chivalry and kindness which had been shown women, decided to impersonate one. He had armed himself with a mother hubbard dress—they cover the person like a tent. He had smuggled the garment until he was well through the fence, and then he started to don it, but when he got to the yoke and arm holes his troubles began. He was stuck. Those watching from the train saw a real woman creep through the fence and, going behind the struggling man, plant a stake. When at last the man's head emerged, he came up smiling and waving to the crowds, but as he turned and saw his neighbor, he gave a wild yell and dashed away.29 Others who jumped from the train broke legs and necks, but there was no one to give them aid.
When the train finally came to the townsite of Enid, there was intense excitement, as the train had increased its speed and it seemed hazardous to jump off. And yet, people were doing it continuously. Probably fear of damage suits made them finally slow up. Mrs. Lillian Bray, who was then only twenty-one years old, tells the story from there on, as follows:
"I grasped the iron rod across the door and turning, dropped to the ground, rolled over and came up standing on my two feet, not for long, however, for I was thoroughly frightened at my own courage. Conscious that the crowd must be evaded, I got through the fatal wire entanglement and started on the most wide awake run I ever took. Fright gave way to a thirst for glory and a desire to beat the others there. The town of Enid consisted of one wooden building 20x40, and acres of brilliant hopes, part of which I promptly annexed. The lot I located is now occupied by a wholesale grocery and is considered very valuable."
Another passenger on the same train, a reporter, tells of a respectable looking woman, crazed no doubt by enthusiasm, who jumped from the roof of one of those high cars while it was in motion, and after turning four or five somersaults in the air, struck the earth and broke her leg. And still nothing could be done to stop the train or to give her relief.30
"One pretty incident occurred near Enid, which is worth relating," said the same reporter. Two young men and a young woman had jumped from the cars and ran for a claim adjoining the right of way. The young woman was ahead, but in getting down on the other side of the fence, her clothing caught on the barbs and left her in a very embarrassing position. While she thus was hanging, the two young men arrived simultaneously on the claim and began to drive their stakes. By some sudden impulse both of them ceased, and fixing their eyes on each other for a moment, threw down their hatchets, walked toward the young woman, released her from the grip of the fence, pulled up their own stakes, drove hers on the claim, each giving it a blow, and retired admidst deafening applause from the train.31
Charlie Roff, who was a deputy marshal at Hennessey,
rode into Enid in the cab of the first engine, having loaned his horse to a friend, and was fortunate enough to stake a claim one-half mile from the track with nobody on it; in his own words:32
"Got off the train—saw a long train coming in from the north, from Caldwell. Antelope jumped out, ran toward the train, and then turned back. A Texas boy roped him on my claim and we sent for salt and had a feast. A fellow ahead of me lost his bedding and bread. Land of milk and honey—I arrive with nothing and have all this supplied."
At noon of September 16, there were but four inhabitants in the city of Enid; at three o'clock p. m. the population was estimated to be not less than 12,000. The people were scattered over about eighty acres of land, which they had staked off into town lots. Some had put up tents and were doing a rushing business in them, but the great majority had made no improvements whatever and were just sitting down on their lots, in hope that somebody would come along and buy them out for a fabulous sum. There were, that first night, sleeping accommodations for perhaps five or six hundred of the 12,000 people, while the remainder were compelled to sleep out of doors.
A hotel was open, and the crowd that sought admission into it for supper was so dense that men fainted and had to be taken away on cots to more comfortable quarters. There were also several restaurants, each doing "a land office business."33
Plans were made that afternoon for a city election. several candidates had their "hats in the ring" for mayor, and although nobody knew who the candidates were, save their friends, still the organization was going on, for a municipality must have a mayor and a form of government.34 At nightfall the town of Perry was strung out for four miles on each side of the railroad, and 25,000 people slept there that night.35
As the long shadows of evening fell across the tented
city, it began to fill with outlaws and undesirable characters. Since there was no government to maintain order, a council was hastily called by some of the town builders, with the result that some one was dispatched to Guthrie to bring Bill Tilghman, pioneer peace officer; it was wonderful to behold the effect that one stalwart government peace officer, wearing a brace of silver mounted 45's and a Winchester, could have upon a terror stricken populace. Almost immediately their fears were calmed and tranquility was restored.36
The usual game of chance was present in Perry, as in all frontier towns, it being operated by three brothers of the name of Hill. A saloon and a dance hall were also under their tent. The entire establishment bore the name of "The Buck Horn."37
Near sundown the crowds began gathering at the Buck Horn, which was well lighted by big coal oil lamps suspended from the ridge poles. At this time, Tilghman was leisurely walking about, for there seemed no occasion for him to use his authority, when suddenly he came upon a man known to be an associate of the Dalton-Doolin gang.
It is told by those who well remember the incident that Tilghman warned the man to leave, and not to let the sun go down and find him on the townsite. The man retorted that he intended to remain, whereupon the officer replied, "If you do, I shall have to kill you." Later, as Tilghman walked toward the Buck Horn, a man emerged from the tent and standing where the light from the big tent fell full upon him, with a gun in each hand, began firing upward into the air. With a quick eye he saw the officer approaching and knew that Bill Tilghman meant to keep his word. It was the critical moment. The two men stood for an instant watching each other's movement. Quick as a flash two shots rang out. When the smoke had cleared, the outlaw lay in a crumpled heap upon the spot where a moment before he had been shouting and shooting in defiance of the law.38
The incident, it is said, attracted little attention, for people were concerned with other things. The dancing had begun and it did not cease. Tilghman lifted his man and carried him into the tent. Putting him over near the wall, he streightened him and crossed his hands over his breast. There the body lay two nights and a day, while card games and dancing continued, with scarcely a glance at the body of the dead man.39
A threat to the ambitious little city of Perry was that of the negro colony, Liberty, which proposed to establish itself within the limits of the county seat and drive the whites down to Wharton. Many negroes were on the site that first day, having come from Guthrie, and from many of the Southern states.40
The government townsite of Pond Creek was first entered at 2:10 on the day of the run. By evening, it contained some 8,000 inhabitants, and boasted a good hotel, several restaurants, a dozen law offices, two general stores and six or seven grocery stores.
The government had previously dug at least one well on each of the government townsites, but Pond Creek's well was soon pumped dry, and an emergency well, dug by the soldiers, struck salt water. Water was hauled from the Salt Fork river and sold for five cents a cup, but it was not suitable for animals to drink, not to consider human beings. Beer sold for fifty and seventy-five cents a bottle, although it had not been iced. Horses were forced to drink from the few stagnant creek pools that could be located. And to add to the misery of being without water, a violent sand storm swept across the prairies, and fires raged in many sections.41
In the western portions of the Outlet, a somewhat different picture presented itself. There were crowds and there was tense excitement, but everything was on a modified scale, for so few realized the value of the western lands that they quite neglected them, to file six at a time, on sections in the eastern counties.
At Kiowa, Kansas, the stores all opened as usual, but after the morning trade, they were all closed again. On almost every public place a placard read, "Closed." Said the landlord of the Hardwick hotel, "The whole shootin' match has gone to the Strip; cooks, chambermaids, and waiters—all are gone!"42
At eleven o'clock, on a line a mile and a half south of town, there was formed a column about four miles long. This line is pictured as being much the same as those at Caldwell and Arkansas City, save that it was smaller. Soldiers with their carbines stood along the line ready to give the signal shot. Tension was high; the day had come when they were all to be land owners. And with this group, it was practically true, for from Kiowa, only eight hundred people made the run that morning, although 5500 had registered there.43 The rest had scattered along the line in order to select some particular section, for most of these men came from Kansas and from the borders of Colorado and Texas, and had been many times on the Strip.
One week after the opening "The Woodward Jeffersonian" appeared, carrying the story of the run." The first man to arrive in Woodward proper," it related, "was David Jones, one of the good men from the Panhandle of Texas, whose horse had more wind than the average newspaper man."
Three men arrived in town almost simultaneously, then five minutes later, nine more; it was three minutes later when the main body of about 700 horsemen came over the hill together, and lost no time in tumbling from horses and staking 25x150 foot lots. They were land owners. Stretched on the green grass they awaited the coming of the train, nor had they long to wait, for around the curve, down grade, came the iron horse as if "a thousand howling demons were after it." It ran to the center of the townsite before it began to slow up, and here is where the horsemen got face value for their long ride, says the very young paper, "for the tumbling that the passengers indulged in
to reach the ground was far superior to anything ever witnessed in Barnum and Bailey's circus.44
There were few sooners in the west, and not all the claims were taken for over a week, even in the good portions of that country, while farther west, claims went begging.45 Other towns in the Strip, which at the close of that first day, showed promise of living and flourishing, were Kildare, on the allotment of Chief Bushyhead; Medford, on the Santa Fe; Ponca City, Blackwell and Cross.
In many ways, it was a horrible day, for so many people had suffered pain and disillusionment; so many had lost property, and had failed to get a homestead; so many had been injured and wounded; and so many others had been killed, either accidentally or by murder, that it would long leave a shadow on the memories of thousands.
No rain had fallen for many weeks. The ground was baked and the tall prairie grass was as dry as tinder. Before the opening, soldiers had set fire to huge tracts in order to force the removal of cattle, and also to locate sooners, so that the landscape, in many sections, was one blackened ruin. Hot winds swept across the plains, polluting the air with a sooty dust. As the settlers sat homeless in their tents or in the open air, they sweat like patrons of the Turkish bath; and the black dust stuck. On the third day the air was so thick with dust that many who had begun foundations for buildings, gave up in disgust and sought refuge behind closely pulled tent flaps.46
Drinking water sold for five cents a glass; water for horses that was fit for use, was not obtainable; and the idea of washing had to be dismissed from the mind.47 Unwashed, unkept, torn and black, the pioneer women looked as if they had been living in a coal mine, and what was more, they didn't seem to care a snap about it. In fact, they seemed to stand it better than the men. And yet, as one reporter recalled, some of these same people had played the highly fastidious in Guthrie.48
The bright land of promise, the Cherokee Strip, had proved a land of disappointment and despair to hundreds of people who had rushed into it, full of hope and confidence. Now they were moving wearily across the route over which they had raced, thoroughly convinced that the country was not what they had supposed it to be. Trains out of the Strip were all heavily loaded with disheartened town-lot seekers as well as with the many who went in merely as sightseers. The prairie was dotted with settlers' wagons, tents and miniature sod houses, erected by those who located on claims. Small white flags, bearing the words, "This claim taken," flapped victoriously in the wind, and frequently, three or four on a single quarter section prophesied of the bitter contests to be fought before the land office.49
Men who felt that they could not face the conditions longer, sold valuable holdings for astonishingly low prices and left, never to return.50 Postoffices which had been established in the Strip were not open on Sunday, but their entire fronts were covered with cards and strips of paper on which were written communications to friends who had been lost in the great race, telling where meetings could be had upon the townsite, or announcing that the writers had left for home in disgust.51
And yet, numbers were determined to remain, the center of interest in each town being the land office, where the rate of filing average around a hundred a day. Wisely profiting by their experience at the registration booths, deputy marshals who had charge of the lines, gave numbers and took names of those wishing to file, lines being formed in companies of 100 each. This rule met everywhere with commendation, for by it, claim holders were able to tell, almost to a day, when their turn would come.52
At Kildare, Chief Bushyhead's allotment, there was visible great life and activity, while in the distance a mile away could be seen scores of tents on the townsite of Willow Springs. Below Kildare was the tented city of Pontiac,
and just beyond, the allotment town of Cross, which was the gateway to the Ponca reservation and the wealthy Osage nation. Here the railroad crossed the nation of Ponca and eighteen miles below, was Perry, the metropolis of the Strip.53
On Thursday following the opening, big banks of clouds appeared in the northwest and at five o'clock in the afternoon, rain began to fall and continued for six hours. The drought was broken; pure rain water washed and cooled everything, laid the awful dust, and brought new life and hope. People awoke to find on their own land, springs of crystal water, where the day before, had been only parched earth. In the warm days of early autumn, new grass sprang up, almost as if by magic, supplying food for stock and a rest for weary eyes.54
Too many thousands of honest settlers had risked everything they possessed in coming to the new land, to allow all the "sooners" to get away with choice claims which by rights did not belong to them. Friends had travelled together in order that they might witness for one another if need be, and as a rule, more than one man knew if his neighbor were a "sooner." Numbers of the unfortunate sinners were killed on the spot the day of the run.
Lieutenant Arnold, in recalling incidents of September 16, said
"The sooners were in possession almost everywhere. Lots of them were shot and I saw one sooner hanged in short order...Not far from my claim two men were quarreling with drawn pistols, when a third interferred and endeavored to separate them. He got shot through the wrist, and then the two proceeded to kill each other. I saw one fellow lying dead with a handkerchief drawn tight around his neck. He had been strangled, and when searched, $450 was found on him."55
Following a petition signed by 2,500 citizens of Perry,
that ambitious little city was declared by the governor to be a city of the first class, and was granted privileges of election. Hardly had the rejoicing subsided, when the people of Perry found that a confidence game had been played on them by a group of Oklahoma "sharpers," who had managed to have included in the qualifications of a voter, a six months' residence in Oklahoma. Three-fourths of the property owners and residents of Perry were from other states, so that the one-fourth who were from Oklaohma, planned to run things to suit themselves.56 So much objection arose that Governor Renfrow decided that citizens of Perry who had been within the city for twenty days, might exercise their franchise. As a result of this wise change, there was much rejoicing in Perry.57
Enid also had its troubles from the first day, in the form of a competitive railroad townsite. The Rock Island Railroad Company refused even to stop trains at the "Government Enid," hoping to draw its population north to "Railroad Enid," as that townsite came to be known.58 Finally, after months of wrangling, the railroad officials agreed for the sum of $3500, they would atop the trains, business men of Enid hurried to raise $1000, which the company accepted, reserving, at the same time, the right to refund the same and to discontinue the stopping of trains if the remainder were not forthcoming.
That sum of money in hard cash was difficult to raise among a group of pioneers, and the railroad refused paper securities. The people of Enid grew desperate and sawed the railroad bridge out,59 letting a train go down. Other such threats to the road finally forced it to come to a satisfactory adjustment,60 and the announcement came that a depot and side tracks would be built at once. This signal victory was a reason for much rejoicing, as the future of the struggling prairie town was assured.
Location of the depot occasioned much interested talk, some persons reminding their fellow townsmen that the
worst part of a city always was located along the railroad tracks. A very fine site was finally decided upon, located one block from the south line of the city, at a point where trains starting either way would have the unusual advantage of a down-hill pull.61 Perry had a similar fight. Said a newspaper correspondent several days after the opening, "The Santa Fe passes through the town by merely whistling."62
By the first of October, the Enid and Perry Railroad Comapny had been organized at Perry, with a capital of $500,000. In the secretary's office a charter was granted shortly afterward to the new concern to build, construct, equip and operate a road by electrcity or motive power between the two cities. It was estimated that the proposed line would cost $400,000, plus equipment, $500,000. "Work will begin at once and the new road will be in operation before the snow flies...The building of this railway will give employment to hundreds of men, and will redound to the benefit of this portion of the territory."63
Railroad companies, sensing the possibilities and promise of the new country, vied with each other in constructing additional lines. Ten days after the opening, it was announced that right-of-ways had been granted to five railroads, to run through Oklahoma and Indian territories and connect them with adjoining states, two of which definitely affected the former Cherokee strip, namely, a branch of the Interoceanic Railway Company, beginning at a point in the Seminole nation, near the Wewoka river, and running to the south line of Kansas near Otto, and another, the Gainsville, Oklahoma and Gulf Railway, beginning at a point north of the western part of Cooke County, Texas, and running northwesterly through the two territories to the southern boundary of Kansas.64
In October, two more companies were chartered under the laws of Oklahoma, the St. Louis, Oklahoma, and Albuquerque, and the Kansas, Oklahoma Central and Southwestern. A lively struggle ensued for the possession of that
fine region of country between Coffeyville, Kansas and El Reno, Oklahoma Territory, as their routes as filed, lay parallel to each other.65
But one subject for conversation and newspaper stories and editorials which was inexhaustible, was that of the frauds in connection with registration, opening, and filing of the Cherokee Strip. At Enid, the two towns, Government Enid and Railroad Enid still existed, and through the months there had grown up a sort of feud. The people of Enid proper realized that such enmity would tend to retard the progress of both cities and made attempts through the newspapers, to "bury the hatchet." Enid's fight, they insisted, was against the railroad company for railroad facilities denied, and not against the north town.66 It was interesting, therefore, to see them join in celebrating the first anniversary of the opening of the Strip.
Rain had fallen the night before and the day was cool and pleasant. At least 40,000 people were in attendance, two-thirds coming from the country within fifty miles of Enid. One of the interesting features of the day was the reproduction of the race into the Strip for homes, which took place on a school section near there. It was witnessed by at least 30,000 people standing in line. Sixty Bush Indians from Fort Reno, with their squaws and papooses were in attendance, and indulged in horse racing, war dances, and other Indian capers all day long.
The crowd finally formed in a huge procession and marched around the court house square, revelling in the growth of a year. Merchants vied with each other in exhibiting the best trades day display, and altogether, the day was a happy one.67 The city of Enid, including its various additions, had at that time, about 5,000 inhabitants, anal was a natural supply or trading point for many more.67 Said the Woodward Advocate in September, 1894: "One year ago today, the Cherokee Outlet was a wilderness, inhabited by wild beasts. Today she has large cities with
street cars, electric lights, manufactures, colleges, schools and churches."69
But all was not so lovely and colorful, for in the same paper appeared a story, pointing out the hardships and injustice existing on the plains. The farmers had entered the "Strip," dirty, ragged and hungry, and with not a dollar in their pockets. Another class of "slick looking fellows" entered the Strip a few days later with commissions in their pockets, some of them with more than one good county office in their possessions. The first group could not attend public worship unless they went barefooted. They lived on corn bread and molasses, and the men worked all day in the summer heat bareheaded. And they were forced to pay taxes to support the "slick ones with commissions. "70
During the months prior to the opening, very damaging untruths were circulated through the daily newspapers in the east with reference to the drouth in the western section of the "Outlet." The fact was, that the eastern part of the "Strip" had suffered as severely as the West, and that both sections had at the same time, received heavy rains.71 Had these reports ceased with the opening, matters would have been bearable, but papers in the eastern section of the newly opened lands took up the question after the run and continued to keep up the delusion that the west was nothing but an arid, sandy waste. Western newspapers finally opened hostilities and began to fight such stories in earnest. As a rule, news writers do not like to have the public know that their stories have been false, and so they merely stopped writing about the west.72
It was estimated that forty per cent of the people in M County (Woods) were from central and southern Kansas. People wondered why a Kansas man would settle in a country so much like Kansas. To this question, the Alva Pioneer gave a reasonable sounding explanation. These Kansans had come west from eight to twelve years before, all alike ignorant as to what the soil and climate were best
adapted to produce; if they made one good general crop, they forthwith became enthusiastic, mortgaged their homes to buy more land, to make (in many instances) unnecessary improvements, or to speculate in cattle. A partial failure of crops came and interest could not be met; mortgages took their farms. Had they kept clear, they could have lived well. This class of farmers were sensible enough to see and acknowledge that their "bad luck" was the result of their inexperience or mismanagement; now they knew what crops were best adapted to the soil and climate, and they wanted to try it over again; most of them succeeded.78
Because there is very little land in the outlet that is not tillable, the principal occupation of its people naturally became agriculture. Much wheat was raised in every section, and corn especially in eastern sections. The early settlers built on a firm foundation and did very little business on borrowed capital: Although that policy probably retarded development temporarily, in the end it proved itself a wise course.
As the people became established in their homes and relieved themselves of pressing necessities incident to settling the new country, they gave more attention to the organic features of society. It was not long before churches of many denominations were established in the outlet, and very nearly all the large secret lodges soon were actively organized.