Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 13, No. 3
September, 1935
COLONEL CROCKER AND THE BOOMER MOVEMENT

BY DAN W. PEERY

Col. Samuel Crocker

Page 273

In the introduction to an autobiography, written to be filed in the archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society, Col. Samuel Crocker writes:

"It is January 13, 1913, and I am in my 68th year. I was born in Cumbrew House on the Crocker estate Devonshire, England, on Christmas eve. 1845. My father's name was W. N. Crocker and my mother's name was Fannie E. Crocker. My father was the son of a gentleman farmer and stock breeder. My mother was the only daughter of a British Captain, J. N. Tyte, who commanded a British East India Merchantman."

The records at Oklahoma City show that Samuel Crocker died December 17, 1921, however, there was little if anything said in the public press and no note was made of his departure. Colonel Samuel Crocker is one man to whom the people of this state are indebted. Had it not been for him and a number of other adventurous spirits like him, this state might have been the home of many other Indian tribes and the process of its opening and development into a great state would halve been much retarded.

Some years before his death, Col. Samuel Crocker, one of the men who had been most active in securing the legislation necessary for the legal opening of the unassigned lands in the Indian Territory to homestead settlement, wrote what he termed a biographical sketch of his life. It was written with a pencil and on a very poor grade of paper and some parts of the manuscript were hard to decipher. A few months ago Dr. Rayden J. Dangerfield of the Department of Government, University of Oklahoma, volunteered to have these dim manuscripts transcribed and bound, one volume to be kept for reference at the University and one volume he presented to the Historical Society.

For many years the writer was a friend of Colonel Crocker and has read with much interest these transcribed manuscripts. There is some valuable history in these papers, however much of

Page 274

it is more of a personal nature. He writes in detail about the many incidents of his childhood and early life in Iowa. He devotes pages to his early political career and his espousal of the "antimonopoly" and "greenback cause" early in life. He tells of political meetings that he had held all over the state and of the election of his candidate to Congress. He was the especial friend and champion of Gen. James B. Weaver who was, at one time, a candidate for President on the Greenback ticket. He had joined the "Grange," as well as most all of the labor organizations and spent much of his time traveling over the country lecturing, yet he found time to do some writing for progressive newspapers. The shackles of party politics never bound Colonel Crocker to any political party. He was a free-lance who followed the dictates of his own conscience, and even when he did not have a following he was apparently not disappointed.

It was while on one of his lecturing trips in 1884 that he became acquainted with the Payne Oklahoma Colony movement. He at once saw the injustice of the government permitting thousands of head of cattle to graze upon the millions of acres of rich land in the fertile Indian Territory country; while the multitude of men and women who had no homes were not permitted to put a plow in the ground. If these boomers attempted to camp a week on that part of the public domain within the boundary of the Indian Territory, they were driven out by the United States soldiers. Here was a real live cause for the Colonel to champion. He at once joined the Payne's Oklahoma Colony and became a boomer. Payne had died a short time before and Capt. W. L. Couch was selected by the boomers as the leader of the movement to invade Oklahoma and compel Congress to take immediate action to open the country to settlement.

Colonel Crocker spent the winter of 1884 and 1885 at his old Iowa home and made speeches over that state to arouse public sentiment for the opening of the unassigned lands in the Indian Territory for settlement under homestead laws. He also solicited members for the Payne Oklahoma Colony.

In connection with the story of the opening of Oklahoma, the historians have given but slight recognition to the part that Col. Samuel Crocker had in bringing about the legislation necessary to

Page 275

open up that part of the public domain known as "Unassigned Lands" to homestead settlement. They have never given to him the credit due for the publicity, that was needed to arouse public sentiment which demanded the action by Congress, necessary to clear the title so the settlers, prospective, might secure homes in the much coveted beautiful land of Oklahoma.

Colonel Crocker was not among the early boomers, he first arrived in Wichita about the time Capt. David L. Payne died. Capt. W. L. Couch, who had been Payne's lieutenant, was selected by the boomers, and was recognized by common consent as the leader of the movement to invade Oklahoma, and by constant agitation compel Congress to take action to open the country to settlement. In fact the boomers claimed that no legislation was necessary as the so called unassigned lands were in reality a part of the public domain.1 They would not object to being removed if they could get a hearing before the United States Courts so that they might establish by judicial decree their rights to make settlement. Colonel Crocker was a valuable accession to the cause for he was a voluble public speaker and had experience as an organizer of the people to promote progressive movements of all kinds. He helped to organize the colony to join Couch and other leaders in to Oklahoma in the spring of 1885. Colonel Crocker was not only a public speaker, lecturer and political agitator but he had in his earlier years learned the newspaper trade. He was an editorial writer as well as a type setter and was familiar with the mechanical work of printing a weekly newspaper.

The boomers had had a paper as an "authorized organ." It was called The War Chief. This paper had had a stormy career following the fortunes of the Oklahoma Colony. It had been published at more than a half dozen different places. The fortunes



Page 276

of the Colony were at a low ebb after the death of Captain Payne. The War Chief was being printed at a financial loss, at remote places where no advertising patronage could be had. The business men of the border town of Caldwell were anxious to have the paper printed there so that Caldwell might be recognized as the boomer town.

I will here quote from the Colonel's own reminiscence:

"The leading merchants and business men of Caldwell agreed to furnish me about $500 of locals and advertising matter if I would engage in the publication of such paper. I called on S. C. Smith, member of the Colony, who was a monied man and quite enthusiastic to the opening of Oklahoma to settlement. I talked the situation thoroughly over to him and finally convinced him of the necessity of the publication of a strong weekly newspaper, ably devoted to the Oklahoma question in order to stimulate the drooping movement."

The War Chief2 did stimulate the cause as thousands of copies were distributed all over the Western states and much interest was aroused in the question of opening Oklahoma country for home-


2The Oklahoma Historical Society has a volume of the files of the Oklahoma War Chief that was deposited in the newspaper collection by Colonel Crocker in April 1903. Not all the numbers printed are in this volume but it contains much of the history of the movement that compelled the opening of Oklahoma to settlement. The last issue bound in this volume is dated at Caldwell, Kansas, August 5, 1886, and it is probable that this was the last number of the Oklahoma War Chief. This paper was first printed at Wichita, Kansas, and was known as the "authorized organ of the Payne Oklahoma Colony"—A. W. Harris; editor. It was soon moved to Geuda Springs on the border—where it was published a few weeks. It was moved soon afterwards to Arkansas City, Kansas, and the name of W. F. Gordon appears as editor. The paper next appears at Rock Falls which is due south of Hunnewell, Kansas, but across the line in the Cherokee Outlet. The issues printed at Rock Falls bear the name of W. F. Cooper, editor. It was here on August 7, 1884, that the United States troops, under command of General Hatch, captured the press and other material used in the printing of the War Chief and the printers were taken to Muskogee as prisoners but no charge was filed against them. The Payne Colony soon purchased another press and other equipment for printing the paper and the next number of the War Chief is dated South Haven, Kansas, with one Charles Branscome as editor who was succeeded by W. F. Gordon who was editor and publisher until the death of Captain Payne in November 1884. It was afterwards published for a while at Arkansas City. It was then that Col. Samuel Crocker became associated with other members of the colony and purchased the plant and moved it to Caldwell where it was printed until its suspension Aug. 12, 1896—with Colonel Crocker as editor.

While editor of the War Chief in July 1885, Col. Samuel Crocker was arrested at Caldwell by a deputy United States marshal for "seditious conspiracy and inciting insurrection and rebellion against the United States Government." He was placed in jail where he remained for several weeks through the hottest part of the season. While in jail he continued to edit the War Chief and sent the copy to the office at Caldwell by mail. The case never came to trial and the distinguished prisoner was released from jail. Surely Samuel Crocker was a martyr to the cause of Oklahoma. This incarceration of the editor of the War Chief was an impetus to the movement. It was worth more in bringing the question to the people and to the Congress than anything that could have happened.

Page 277

stead settlement. Colonies were being organized in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska and a new colony scheme had started in Texas under Joe Works, better known as "Buckskin Joe." Buckskin Joe claimed that his colony was but an auxiliary to the Payne Colonies, all having for their object the opening of the Indian Territory country to white settlement. Everywhere the Oklahoma question was uppermost in the minds of the younger generation. Many thousands were anxious to get homes in the new country. This gave Crocker much publicity and he was generally recognized as one of the leaders of this movement. The Colonel had some influential friends in Congress, including Gen. James B. Weaver of Iowa. He had been the "Greenback" and Farmers Alliance candidate for President of the United States and had been afterwards elected on this ticket to congress from Iowa. He had spoken all over Iowa for Weaver and the Greenback party. Largely through his influence General Weaver became much interested in Oklahoma and was always recognized as one of the leaders in Congress in advocating the opening of Oklahoma to homestead settlement. Weaver had been a general in the Union Army and was an able man and stood high in the United States Congress and there can be no question but that his influence had much to do with the opening of Oklahoma in 1889.

While editor of the War Chief, Colonel Crocker not only published the paper, but he delivered many lectures over the country. He kept in active touch with Capt. W. L. Couch and made two or three trips with colony parties down into Oklahoma, having at one time camped for some time on the present site of Oklahoma City near where the Capitol now stands. He tells of all his experiences as a boomer in the biographical sketch of his life now in the archives of the Oklahoma Historical society.

As soon as he got his paper established at Caldwell, he joined the colony party, that had organized to again invade the promised

Page 278

land. In fact he came prepared to enter actively in to the movement and to be a real boomer. He wanted to familiarize himself with the country and, perhaps, select his homestead, as many of the boomers had done. They felt sure that "squatters' rights" would be recognized even if the country had not been declared open by the authorities at Washington.

In his autobiography, Colonel Crocker tells in great detail of the organization of the colony and of the many incidents of the trip from the Kansas line down in to the promised land of Oklahoma, however most of the story of this trip was concerning his own personal experience. It is quite evident that he had never had much experience "roughing it" but he soon became a real boomer. He learned to cook over a camp fire, although his fellow boomers did not think that cooking was the Colonel's calling. They found plenty of game and had deer and turkey almost every meal.

Colonel Crocker was very busy every moment from the time he became identified with the Oklahoma movement until the country was opened to settlement in '89. He soon became recognized as an authority on the status of the Oklahoma project—he lectured in many places throughout Kansas and wrote many long editorials. for the War Chief. He did not confine himself in his lectures to the Oklahoma question alone but he discussed many public questions. He was a friend to the "Knights of Labor"—an advocate of fiat money. He denounced J. Gould, the king of monopolists, who controlled the railroads of the country at that time.

An article appears in the War Chief which quotes the Wichita Beacon, after the Colonel had visited its office. "In the course of his remarks the Colonel said: 'The division of Indian reservations in severalty and the throwing open for purchase of the surplus will culminate the organization of the establishment of an orderly form of government in the territory and will tear down the barriers which are opposed to the advancement and development of the great central west, that discourages railroad building and thwarts enterprises of all kinds and prevents that freedom of intercourse which should characterize contiguous states.' "And Colonel Colonel Crocker and his conferees can flatter themselves that they have been the leading factors in bringing about these results. We find Mr. Crocker a man of honest convictions and fearless in the expres-

Page 279

sion of them. His sympathies seem to be largely with the masses, and always for the oppressed and opposition to the oppressor. He is thoroughly informed in the history of the territory and on the laws in relation to Indian affairs in this section."

The Wichita Eagle was always in full sympathy with Colonel Crocker and the boomers. In fact that paper perhaps contributed as much or more than any paper in the United States to the opening of the country to settlement. The Eagle makes the followng comment on a lecture by Colonel Crocker on January 1886, quoted in the War Chief of January 21, 1886: "Hon. Sam Crocker lectured at the opera house last night, his subject being, 'The Oklahoma Question.' While his lecture was an engaging one and listened to by an appreciative audience, the lecture was entirely free and from the standpoint of the people was what might be termed a reflex of principles and the sentiment of boomers. His description of the country was quite interesting and showed he was familiar with its character which he pronounced to be one of the most productive sections of the west; also it was finely watered and timbered. He spoke as one who had traveled fifteen hundred miles in the territory. The speaker seemed to speak from the standpoint of independence and as a representative of the home seeker. He spoke in scathing rebuke of the corruption and favoritism shown certain cattle barons in that country with 60,000 head of cattle while the home seeker would be bounced out of the country summarily by the United States army. His allusion to the Indians was quite practical and he would divest that question of all eastern sentimentality. He reviewed the provisions of a bill which is to be introduced by sanction of the boomers. He stated that the leases of the cattle man were illegal from their very incipiency and was made in defiance of the law. He stated that arrests of the boomer heretofore made in the territory were all illegal if allowed to stand the test. He stated that the territory was not the property of the Indians but belonged to the United States by cession made in 1866 and it had been surveyed by the United States as such. He paid high tribute to the boomers, Captain Payne and Captain Couch, and appealed to his hearers to make all just endeavors to have the question settled in accord to the interests of the people and for the whole people."

Page 280

The leaders of the boomers felt that the country could not be opened to settlement without legislative enactment and their agitation of the question had brought matters directly to the attention of Congress. The boomers sent delegations to Washington, first in '86, headed by Capt. W. L. Couch and the Hon. Sidney Clark. A number of bills were introduced in Congress, having for their subject "The opening of the public lands," but this Congress accomplished nothing in behalf of the settlers, in fact it was strongly intimated that the influence of the cattle men had prevailed as no law was enacted that would advance the cause of the homeseekers.

In Colonel Crocker's reminiscence he tells in detail of the different commissions, of which he was a member, that were sent to Washington, which finally resulted in the opening of the country. This story of Colonel Crocker's gives some real history in connection with the opening of Oklahoma to settlement. It is as follows:

"In February 1888, Dr. Munford, of the Kansas City Times, Van Horn of the Kansas City Journal, myself and others succeeded in getting up the Kansas City, Interstate-Oklahoma Convention. The convention was held in Kansas City, Missouri, on February 8th, that year. With Captain Couch, Mayor Geo. Riley, of Caldwell, and a good many other delegates, I attended that convention, presided over by Al. Morehouse, then Governor of Missouri. There were many very enthusiastic delegates in attendance, and with many others I addressed that roaring convention, that resulted in the election of a legislative committee of nineteen members to go to Washington, present a memorial to President Cleveland, urging immediate legislation for the opening of Oklahoma to homestead settlement. Captain Couch, Sidney Clark, Dr. Munford, Van Horn, Chief Early, myself and the other members were to leave for Washington on the 13th of that month. Captain Couch was at Wichita and telegraphed me to join him at that city early on that morning, so I turned The Industrial Age over to a man named Whiteman and left Caldwell for the trip to the Capitol. I met Captain Couch and we boarded the Frisco train and was soon on our way to Washington to engage in the long and arduous struggle that finally resulted in the opening of Oklahoma to homestead settlement, on April 22, 1889. We all first put up at the

Page 281

National Hotel, but as the fare at that hotel was too rich for our blood, in three or four days' time we secured quarters at a cheaper place farther up Pennsylvania Avenue toward the congressional building or capitol. Shortly after this I boarded with a Mrs. Snyder on C Street.

Two days after I landed at Washington, Dr. Munford, of the Kansas City Times, drove up to the National Hotel and called me out. He said: "Colonel Crocker, get into this cab with me and we will go up to the White House and call on President Cleveland to arrange an audience with our legislative committee as early as possible as I must return home in a few days." I got in and away we drove to the White House. His secretary, Lamont, entertained us a few moments while the president was being engaged in conversation with strangers on some mission, the importance of which I did not learn. Secretary Lamont ushered us into the president's nicely carpeted and suitably furnished room. Dr. Munford had previously formed an acquaintance with President Cleveland. But as he was too timid and not well enough posted on the Oklahoma question he desired me to do the talking with the president. Dr. Munford introduced me to President Cleveland, as being a member of the Oklahoma Legislative Committee and well posted on all the details relating to the committee and the Oklahoma question. The president seemed glad to receive me and after shaking hands with me, said: "Mr. Crocker, what is your pleasure?" I frankly and plainly stated the object of my visit; that it was for the purpose of arranging an audience with him at the earliest possible time convenient to him, to receive the Oklahoma Legislative Committee, that we were there from quite a distance and at considerable expense and anxious to secure legislation for the opening of Oklahoma to homestead settlement. He then plied me with many questions concerning Oklahoma which I readily answered, seemingly, to his satisfaction. So, after about half an hour's conversation on the subject, during which he remained noncommittal, he said: "Mr. Crocker, I shall be pleased to meet the committee you and Dr. Munford represent, on next Tuesday afternoon, promptly at 2 o'clock p. m. and I will give your committee an audience for one hour." Dr. Munford and I shook hands again with him, bid him good day and departed, pleased with the result of our call. The driver of the cab landed us at the National Hotel,

Page 282

we got out and informed Captain Couch, Sidney Clark, Hon. Dave Harvey, Van Horn and others of the arrangements we had made with the president to receive the Oklahoma Legislative Committee. At the appointed time our committee waited on the president. The Hon. Sidney Clark was appointed spokesman, did the main talking and presented President Cleveland with a copy of the Kansas City Interstate-Oklahoma Legislative memorial. Then all bid the president good day and withdrew from the White House and repaired to our hotels and rooming houses. All of the members of that committee, but Captain Couch, the Hon. Sidney Clark and myself, left Washington for their homes within a few days thereafter, leaving the entire responsibility, the labor and the expense for us to perform and to meet, aside from $50.00 each, which was raised at Kansas City at the time of the convention, with which to pay our expenses. This small amount hardly covered car fare expenses to Washington. At that time, besides owning considerable property, I had about one thousand dollars in the Caldwell bank; and it is mighty fortunate too that I had that much ready cash at that time, as I could not have returned to the border. Captain Couch, Sidney Clark and I lost no time in advancing the Oklahoma bill before the Committee on Territories. The Hon. William Springer3 was chairman of that committee. He was associated with Congressman Weaver and others devoted in pushing the bill through to its final passage. The bill was finally com-


3The bill pending in Congress in 1888, known as the Springer bill, was the hope of all Oklahoma boomers. It provided for the opening of the unassigned lands for immediate settlement and also made provision for territorial government. It passed the House February 1, 1888, went to the Senate and referred to the Senate committee which reported out and recommended its passage. This report put the Springer bill on the calendar of the Senate but there it was blockaded and its friends could not get it called up for consideration and final passage. While the failure of the Springer bill to become a law was a disappointment to many thousand prospective homeseekers, yet everyone knew that public sentiment was strong for the opening of this land for settlement and it would only be a quesion of a short time when it would be opened. Few of the enthusiastic home seekers knew or cared that the title was clouded for the reason that both the Seminole and Creek Indians had deeded their surplus land to the government for the specific purpose of locating other civilized Indians and freedmen and not for white settlement. It is true that when the Springer bill was inroduced an agreement had been made by the government with representatives of both tribes in which all claims of the Creeks and the Seminoles against the unassigned lands were extinguished by the government agreeing to pay the two tribes an additional sum per acre, which added to the amount paid under the provisions of the treaty of 1866, would make $1.25 per acre. This agreement had not been ratified when the Springer bill passed the House in 1888 but was ratified only a few days before the President's proclamation.

Page 283

pleted and ready to be reported and placed on the legislative calendar. Many efforts to call the bill up for consideration failed on account of the stubborn opposition with which it met at every turn. However, it was finally considered and then went over. The emissaries of the cattlemen were numerous, active and daring. They fought the bill in devious ways, early, late and all the time. Then we had to meet other unavoidable abstracts. For instance: On the regular suspension day of each month for four long, tedious and tiresome months, one member of Congress and the other, and one official and the other just happened to die in time for Congress to adjourn on those days in honor of the deceased. Then on other suspension days, alphabetically arranged, when the Springer bill came up for passage, Congressman Barnes of Alabama would rise in his place and object and call for the reading of the voluminous District of Columbia bill to obstruct the passage of the Oklahoma bill. This was aggravating in the extreme, still, we for months had to unwillingly submit to such unstatesman-like tactics, employed in the interest of the cattlemen. I worked hard day and night with Captain Couch and others to get the bill up and put it on its final passage, but all in vain, until near the close of that unruly session of Congress. Then General Weaver, who had been misrepresented through the press as playing into the horny hands of the cattle barons, took the bull by the horns and blocked the wheels of Congress for four long and expensive days in order to force the members of Congress to put that important bill on its passage in the House of Representatives. What a brave and manly fight he made then, to be sure. The daily press came down on him like an avalanche of unescaping destruction. But he never winced. The parliamentary fight went on in all its fury and enormous cost to this great nation until the vote was reached and the bill for the time being was defeated. General Weaver had engendered so much opposition by this unequaled legislative fight for the rights of the homeless, homeseeking poor that it was lost by a very few votes. Captain Couch, General Weaver, myself and other active members skirmished all that night to save the bill. We finally found a member of Congress who promised to move the reconsideration of the bill the next day. He did so and the bill passed the House with quite a majority and was referred to the Senate. I rejoiced as did the others in this long, drawn out fight

Page 284

and repaired at once to the telegraph office to send the glad tidings to our friends on the border. This was surely an occasion for rejoicing and brave General Weaver came in for many congratulations. I with others tried hard to get the bill up in the Senate, but as Congress was on the eve of adjournment we did not succeed. Congress shortly afterward adjourned.

Captain Couch instead of returning with me to the border went to Iowa with General Weaver and spoke through his congressional campaign, while I set about organizing the Wichita Interstate Oklahoma convention that met on the 20th of November, 1888, in the Opera House on Douglas Avenue. I had enlisted Marsh Murdock of the Daily Wichita Eagle, the Board of Trade and the City Council. We all met and talked over the advisability of calling the Interstate Oklahoma Convention at Wichita. I fully explained the object of the convention. They all fell into line and we went right to work and formulated plans to successfully bring it about on the 20th day of the month. I worked with the various committees for several days. After the plan was thoroughly worked out, public notice was given through the daily press, calling a delegate meeting for the Wichita-Interstate Oklahoma convention to meet at the Opera House in Wichita at 10 o'clock a. m., on November 20, 1888. I then returned to Caldwell and called a meeting of the citizens of that city and vicinity for the purpose of electing a delegation to attend the Wichita-Interstate Oklahoma convention, November 20th. The meeting was held in the Opera House, just about one week before the Wichita convention was held. Maj. George Riley gave the welcome address, in which he tendered me the keys and freedom of the city. I was made chairman and delivered an address covering my stewardship at Washington and gave an account of my success at Wichita in arranging for the Wichita-Interstate Oklahoma convention. At the close of which I was complimented with an ovation. The delegates were then selected to attend the Wichita convention and the meeting broke up.

Maj. George Riley, myself and ten or fifteen other gentlemen were elected and, on the night before the convention, we all landed at the Cary Hotel. There we found General Weaver, champion of our cause, Congressman Springer, Congressman Charles Mansur

Page 285

of Missouri, and other members of Congress who were in attendance at the Wichita-Interstate Oklthoma convention. The next day the convention was held. The Opera House was filled to suffocation. Many speeches were made. Captain Couch, the Honorable Sidney Clark and myself were again selected and urged to go to Washington and push the bill that had passed the House, through the Senate and, hence, open Oklahoma to homestead settlement at the earliest possible moment. This, the last, Interstate-Oklahoma convention, was a roaring success. The convention adjourned and all left for their homes.

Captain Couch and I went to Washington the first week in December, as Congress convened on the first Monday of that month. As soon as we arrived we went immediately to work to get the bill up in the Senate, but after laboring for weeks in vain, we found it so completely pigeonholed in the Senate that we began getting up a substitute bill in the closing days of the session. This was put on foot in February by General Weaver, Springer, Mansur and others. But few days remained to accomplish this task.4 The bill


4Colonel Crocker in his reminiscence, no doubt refers, not to a new bill, but to the amendment to the Indian appropriation bill. This amendment is generally known as the "Rider" amendment that opened Oklahoma to settlement. This amendment became Section 13—Indian appropriation bill—and is as follows:

Sec. 13. That the lands acquired by the United States under said agreement shall be a part of the public domain, to be disposed of only as herein provided, and sections sixteen and thirty-six of each township, whether surveyed or unsurveyed, are hereby reserved for the use and benefit of the public schools, to be established within the limits of said lands under such conditions and regulations as may be hereafter enacted by Congress.

That the lands acquired by conveyance from the Seminole Indians hereunder, except the sixteenth and thirty-sixth sections, shall be disposed of to actual setters under the homestead laws only, except as herein oherwise provided (except that section two thousand three hundred and one of the Revised Statutes shall not apply): And provided further, That any person who having attempted to, but for any cause, failed to secure a title in fee to a homestead under existing law, or who made entry under what is known as the commuted provision of the homestead law, shall be qualified to make a homestead entry upon said lands: And provided further, that the rights of honorably discharged Union soldiers. and sailors in the late civil war as defined and described in sections twenty-three hundred and four and twenty-three hundred and five of the Revised Statutes, shall not be abridged: And provided further, That each entry shall be in square form as nearly as practicable, and no person be permitted to enter more than one-quarter section thereof, but until said lands are opened for settlement by proclamation of the President, no person shall be permitted to enter upon and occupy the same, and no person violating this provision shall ever be permitted to enter any of said lands or acquire any right thereto.

The Secretary of the Interior may, after said proclamation and not before, permit entry of said lands for town-sites, under Sections twenty-three hundred and eighty-seven and twenty-three hundred and eighty-eight of the Revised Statutes, but no such entry shall embrace more than one-half section of land.

That all the foregoing provisions with reference to lands to be acquired from the Seminole Indians, including the provisions pertaining to forfeiture shall apply to and regulate the disposal of the lands acquired from the Muscogee or Creek Indians by article of cession and agreement made and concluded at the city of Washington on the nineteenth day of January in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and eighty-nine.

Page 286

was finally drafted as a makeshift measure and approved by the committee and ordered printed. General Weaver came to me and said: "Crocker, how long will it take you to get this bill printed" "Well," said I, "if I have not far to go to get the work done, in a printing office where there is force enough, I can have that bill printed and place it in your hands in one hour." "How far away from here is the printing office?" "Why, it is almost a mile, away down on Pennsylvania Avenue." "Give me the bill and I will see how quick I can get it printed and return with it." As I took the bill, the attorney for the Santa Fe railroad handed me a dollar, saying: "You may need this." "Now, Mr. Crocker, fetch that bill to us as quick as you can for Chairman Springer wishes to introduce it before adjournment." I shoved the bill into my pocket, ran out and caught the first street car down the avenue and soon landed, a mile away at the printing office. Up the flight of stairs, pulling out the bill from my pocket as I ran, and I suppose, dropped the dollar bill in my haste. I called the foreman's attention to the importance of getting that bill set up and printed on short notice and in the quickest time possible. I suggested that he cut the bill into a dozen pieces, if he had that many printers, so by that means the type would be set in ten or fifteen minutes, as the bill must be printed and introduced that evening. He did so, got the type together and run off quite a number of the bills in little or no time. I grabbed the pile and away I ran to board the first car back to the capitol building, but when I thrust my hand into my pocket the dollar bill was not there, but as luck had it, I found a nickel and made the trip in time. General Weaver and all the party waiting my return however, were greatly surprised at the time I made. But when I explained the method adopted, they all saw through the printer's scheme. Being used to work of this kind, it was an easy problem for me to solve. The makeshift bill was introduced and finally became a law when signed by President Cleveland on the 2d day of March 1889. The bill however, was

Page 287

in such a condition after it passed the Senate that it had to be referred to a conference committee, and Congressman Perkins of Oswego, Kansas, happened to be on that committee and prevented its defeat. As I have said, it became a law and proved to be the entering wedge that finally opened the entire Indian Territory to homestead settlement. Captain Couch and the Hon. David Harvey of Topeka, Kansas, left Washington the last week of February in advance of me. I left on the 25th for the border, but being short of money I returned by way of Chicago in order to get transportation from Chicago. The attorney for the Santa Fe gave me a letter of introduction to James G. Blaine, Jr., who at that time held an important railroad office at Chicago. I called on him and presented the letter of introduction but, owing to his having been changed officially the day before, I failed to secure transportation. I had barely enough money left to reach my parents' home in Iowa where I borrowed $25 of my mother and hastened on to the border. When I reached Caldwell I at once mortgaged my city property there and proceeded to Arkansas City.

"From there I went to the Oklahoma station, landing in a shower of rain, some time in the night, March 2d. I remained at the depot until the rain was over, then took my satchel and gun and went southwest to where the Wheeler park is located and found David Ross and Jo Pubsley in a tent near the river. I awoke them and they got up and let me in. They were both glad to see me and, more than glad that the Oklahoma bill had passed. We chatted pleasantly until breakfast was ready, then sat down and ate our boomer breakfast. I took my gun and went hunting, then returned for dinner. After dinner we all strolled up to the depot. There I received a telegram from Captain Couch to come at once to Purcell. I rode down there in the cab of the engine with old Mae, the engineer. On arriving at Purcell I found Captain Couch, Congressman Charles Mansur and many others I had formerly become acquainted with. Thousands of homeseekers and not a few of the old time boomers were there in camp, in and about the city. The neat day was inaugural day, March 4th, and a meeting was called in a church and it was addressed by Captain Couch, John A. Blackburn, John Furlong and myself. A committee to draft a memorial and suitable resolution to forward at once to President Harrison, urging him to throw the country immediately open to

Page 288

settlement, was selected. I was made chairman of that committee. I went immediately to the Santa Fe Hotel, kept by A. C. McCord, and began drafting the memorial and resolutions, as the committee left the entire work to me. In less than one hour I had completed the work and submitted my report to the full committee. My report was adopted without any change and forwarded by mail at once to the president. The memorial cited the absolute necessity of throwing Oklahoma immediately open to settlement; that the border was crowded with thousands of homeseekers; that the spring was far advanced and, unless the settlers were not favored at the earliest possible time, it would be too late to grow any kind of crops and great suffering would surely follow an untimely delay. The resolutions embodied the features of the preamble and cattle question that seemed to be somewhat in the way of opening the country that late to settlement. On March 21st, President Harrison issued his famous proclamation fixing April 22, 1889, at high noon, for the opening. I left at once with Congressman Mansur of Missouri, for Caldwell, Kansas. He spoke to quite a large crowd at the Opera house that night upon the opening question, fixed by the proclamation of President Harrison. I also expressed my views about the matter. The people seemed to be greatly pleased to know that the vexatious Oklahoma question had been finally settled. The meeting finally broke up and Mansur and I sought our beds for a long deserved night's rest. He finally went to his home at Chillicothe, Missouri, and I was busy for some time looking after my business affairs that had been neglected for one long year while I had been in Washington helping to get the bill through to open the much coveted country to homestead settlement. By the time I got my affairs straightened up and bought a team and buggy and made suitable arrangements to have that team and a load of provisions, tent, bed and bedding, cooking utensils, dishes, etc., conveyed to Oklahoma on my old claim north of Seventh street, I then took the train for Oklahoma station to engage as time and bookkeeper of Captain Couch's grading gang that put in three quarters of a mile of side tracks, preparatory to the opening of the country to settlement on April 22, 1889. I also shipped quite a lot of pine lumber down to build a home with. On the afternoon of the opening my teams arrived, and it was mighty lucky, too that they did, for supplies were difficult to secure

Page 289

here then, and I fed an array of old boomers at my camp who would have gone hungry but for the provisions I had hauled down.

After the meeting held at Purcell, on March 4th, Captain Couch called my attention to the fact that we four speakers had addressed the people on the Oklahoma question, at Arkansas City just four years previous on inaugural day when Grover Cleveland was inducted into office, president of the United States. It was a rather singular coincidence, nevertheless true, and by no means so arranged by any of the four men who addressed those meetings.

On April 22d I left the grading camp just before high noon and went up the Santa Fe Railroad tracks, opposite to the northeast corner of my claim. Then at high noon I went onto my claim. In the afternoon my teams arrived with tent and provisions, bed and bedding and cooking utensils. I put up my tent and moved in. I secured the filing on my 80 acre claim and then hired some breaking done. My brother Stephen and I went right to work and by the 16th of May, I moved into my new home. It was the first house that was built on a farm claim in Oklahoma. I put in a good garden and planted two or three acres of melons, a patch of buckwheat and two acres of turnips. I had an abundance of nearly everything in the garden line. I sold more than two hundred dollars' worth of melons and turnips, in addition to those used at the house. I then broke out more land for the next year's crop."

In his reminiscence, Colonel Crocker devotes much space to the members of the Payne Colony who had carried on the campaign to open the country to settlement—for years. The writer of these comments was well acquainted with many of these old boomers and knew them to be good citizens—engaged in lawful undertakings. I believe that they should have had some reward for the work they had done, however, many of them never got homes for the reason that they had not complied with the law and proclamation of the President which forbid them entering the land until Noon, April 22, 1889. It is true that they might not have gotten the land they had previously selected but they would have, no doubt, been able to file on good land as they were familiar with the country. I think many of these old boomers were victims of

Page 290

bad advice. Men to whom they looked as leaders were only trying to find some subterfuge so that they could get on the land which they had selected, before anyone else. Some of the leading men directing the forces of the boomers took the view that if they were on the right of way of the railroad and not on the particular tract of land they would not be violating the proclamation of the president.

Captain Couch and many of his leaders were here near the Santa Fe depot before the opening. The Captain had taken a contract to grade a half mile of side-track for the railroad company and was at work on this grading contract at 12:00 o'clock, April 22, 1889. He claimed that he was in the country legally and lawfully and not on the quarter section he claimed. Colonel Crocker himself was on the railroad right of way acting as "timekeeper" for Captain Couch's grading outfit until noon, April 22, 1889. When the hour arrived they quit their work and ran right out on the choice land they had selected for their homestead near where Oklahoma City is now located. They had selected the rich land in the valley of the Canadian River and its tributaries. They were on their land one hour or more before anyone could have possibly come from the line.

Colonel Crocker located on the NE Quarter of Section 32, Township 12 North, Range 3 West. He went at once to the United States Land Office, which had opened at Guthrie at 12:00 o'clock, noon, of that eventful day. He made homestead entry at the United States Land office at Guthrie upon the tract described; in other words, he got the filing and if anyone else claimed the land he would have to file a contest in the United States Land Office and the rights of the claimants would be determined in a hearing before the Register and Receiver at the Land Office.

Although Colonel Crocker was unquestionably the first man on the quarter section of land he claimed for his homestead, yet in less than one hour after 12:00 o'clock, noon, he found that he had company. He saw a man on horseback cross the railroad and head straight for this particular tract. The man was about 35 years old, a hale fellow and a splendid horseman. His horse was in a lather of sweat as he had run for miles on that bright April day. The rider seemed to know just where he was going and

Page 291

when he reached the place, he dismounted and stuck a stake in the ground and on the stake was written these words: "Frank Gault's Claim."

Gault was just as familiar with the country as Colonel Crocker or, in fact any of the other boomers. He knew where the city would be built and he wanted his homestead to adjoin the city. He had been with his uncle, "Bill" McClure, in operating the 7 C ranch with headquarters in the Pottawatomie reservation on the south bank of the North Canadian River about fifteen miles east of this coveted quarter section. While their ranch was in the Pottawatomie reservation, yet it adjoined Oklahoma and there was no fence to keep their cattle from grazing on the rich herbage that grew along the valley of the North Canadian in the Oklahoma country that had been forbidden to the cattle men as well as to the homeseekers. Of course these cow hands had to look after the cattle when they strayed over on the Oklahoma side of the line. These boys from the ranch knew where the corner stones were placed by the United States engineers in 1873 and 1874, and they knew just where the best land was and most of them knew the numbers of the land they hoped to homestead.

There being two men claiming the same tract and Colonel Crocker being, not only the first on the land but the first to make homestead filing, it was incumbent upon Frank Gault to file a contest against the entry of Crocker at the United States Land office at Guthrie. Gault engaged as his attorney, Judge Frank Dale of Guthrie, afterwards Chief Justice of Oklahoma, and Colonel Crocker was defended by several able attorneys including Amos Green who was also a very distinguished lawyer. Gault alleged in his pleadings that Crocker was disqualified to hold land by reason of his having been in the country and had taken advantage of his presence to enter the land in violation of the provisions of the law and the proclamation of the President. Crocker's attorneys admitted that their client was in the country but on legal business and he had not entered the tract upon which he had filed his homestead entry until it was lawful for him to do so. It was also alleged that Gault was not a qualified entryman for he could not have possibly placed his stake on the land at the time he did if he had come from the line. The writer of these comments can per-

Page 292

sonally testify that Frank Gault, Bill McClure and Frank Cook all left the east line, near where the town of Choctaw is now located, at noon. They were there on their horses, with two or three hundred other mounted men waiting for 12:00 o'clock on that historic day. Some of us were watching these three men as we knew that they were acquainted with the country on ahead and when they started we all started in the great race. They got to the site of Oklahoma City before anyone else, not that they had the best horses in the race, but they had sent horses on ahead by some Indian boys who were holding them beside the trail and they changed horses twice before they reached their prospective homesteads.

This was only one of many hundreds of contests filed in the United States Land Office. Most of these cases were the contests against those who claimed no legal rights but had slipped in to the country and had hidden waiting for the country to open. In some instances there would be several of them together and they would swear each for the other that they had left the line at noon and had not violated the law. Several were convicted of perjury committed in the courts and some served short terms in the penitentiary, besides losing their claims.

In the case of Colonel Crocker and many of the other old boomers, a different question was involved. They admitted that they were in the country but that they had a legal right to file on land that they had not entered upon nor occupied before the hour fixed by the proclamation of the President.

The case of Gault vs. Crocker was appealed from the local land office to Washington and Gault was awarded the claim. The case was transferred to the United States Court upon the question of law involved. The litigation lasted seven or eight years and until it was finally determined that no one could take advantage of the fact that he was in the country on legitimate business, or that he was not on the particular tract at noon, April 22nd, to enter upon and occupy it as a homestead before others could come from the line. It was afterwards said that the court ruled that there could be no such thing as a "legal sooner." Colonel Crocker had possession of the land and lived upon it for some two, or three years after the opening.

Page 293

Notwithstanding the fact that Colonel Crocker was rather visionary in some of his political views and loved nothing as well as expressing his views in public speeches and lectures, he was a thrifty man and could see the possibilities of raising something to eat and to sell on his claim as the reader may note. He was also a business man and saw at once the opportunity of making money in the real estate business. In this he was quite successful. He opened an office in the business section of the new city and listed lots and claims for sale. When the prospective settlers arrived he had all the information about the country as well as the fast growing city. He sold and traded quite a good deal of real estate and soon acquired some valuable property of his own. In his reminiscences he speaks of making clear $7,000 in one year.

Although the Colonel was in business and quite successful, yet he did not relax his interest in politics. He was recognized as one of the leaders in the Populist party, yet never was elected to office, however, he was a candidate for delegate to Congress once or twice.

After the opening of the Sac and Fox and Pottawatomie reservations in the fall of 1891—and the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation in April 1892, it became necessary to redistrict the Territory for representation in the Territorial legislature, the members of which were to be elected in November 1892. Congress passed an act providing for a commission to redistrict the country. The three parties were represented on this commission. Gov. A. J. Seay for the Republicans, L. P. Ross for the Democrats, and Col. Samuel Crocker to represent the Populist, or Peoples party. The work of this redistricting board is one of the high lights in Colonel Crocker's reminiscence. He writes an interesting story of their trip. The work was to be completed in October 1892. The Commanding officer at Fort Reno, acting upon instruction from Washington, furnished them transportation, a man to drive the four mule team, and also a cook. The commission traveled all over the country recently opened, to get the information necessary to redistrict the state for the election of the second Territorial legislature.

While Colonel Crocker has never been given the credit due him, yet he was one of the first men to advocate "free homes" for

Page 294

the settlers who had located on the surplus lands in the Indian reservations, after the Indians had been allotted. The homesteaders on Indian reservations were required to pay the government from $1.25 to $2.50 an acre, besides the land office fees, before they could acquire title from the government, and also had to comply with the homestead laws as to settlement. The settlers in original Oklahoma had only to comply with the homestead laws and pay $14.00 as a fee to the land office to procure patent to the land they had entered. The settlers on the reservation lands felt that they too should receive full title to their homestead without paying for the land. These pioneer settlers were not able to pay from $200 to $400 to procure title to their quarter sections after they had complied with the homestead laws. They felt that they should be given their title without additional payment, other than the Land Office fees. Thus started the movement for "free homes."

When Colonel Crocker went in to the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation with the Commission to district the territory for legislative purposes, their first stop was at Cloud Chief, the county seat of Washita County. Quite a large number of the new settlers assembled there to meet the Governor and the other members of the commission. It was an opportunity for him to make a speech. When he spoke of free homes for the settlers, his talk met with the instant approval of his audience. At the close of his address he organized a "Free Homes Club" and the membership included every settler present. This, I believe, was the first "Free Homes Club" in the territory. He made his speech at Arapaho and at Watonga and organized clubs at both of these towns. "Free Homes" afterwards became a political slogan with the political office seeker and Hon. Dennis Flynn became the recognized leader of the movement for free homes to the settlers. Flynn was elected to Congress in the fall of 1893 and was reelected three terms. It was largely through his efforts that the Free Homes bill became a law, however, Colonel Crocker was first to organize "Free Homes Clubs" and initiated the movement to give the settlers free homes.

The Populist party of Oklahoma County indorsed Colonel Crocker as their candidate for congress in the summer of 1896, but the Territorial Convention of that party, when it met in Guthrie

Page 295

later, nominated J. Y. Callahan, who was afterwards indorsed by the Democrats and was elected in November 1896.

In 1899 he purchased a tract of land southwest of Oklahoma City down on the South Canadian River. There was a spring on this land which possessed wonderful medicinal qualities—while it was not the "fountain of youth" that Ponce De Leon was seeking, yet, according to testimonials, it had great curative virtues. The Colonel had been in poor health for some time but after about six months' use of this water he became entirely well. He became so much interested in his medicinal springs and the entrancing environment that he spent much of his time there, yet did not give up his business in the city f or two or three years. He finally decided to lease his business and resident property and make his home at the farm place, if I may call it such. He made many valuable improvements on the place, fixing up the springs by building stone walls where needed and the erection of houses that he might be able to entertain remunerative guests. He named his resort Mistletoe Mineral Springs. He established a depot in the city for the sale of this water and many thousand gallons were sold in the city. While living at Mistletoe Springs the Colonel was not idle; he entered actively in to the work of beautifying and making necessary improvements. To quote from his own story:

"I began quarrying rock and built a stone barn. and stone house in to the hillside. I drank of the filtered spring water every day, and just before meals I drank a tin cup of that water as hot as I could take it in to my stomach * ' * *. In six weeks after I began drinking that exhilarating water I was completely cured and could do as good a day's work as any man working for me."

Although he made his home at his resort for several years, recuperating his health, enjoying the tranquility and contentment of this sylvan retreat, yet he kept closely in touch with public affairs and with his business interests in Oklahoma City. His interest in politics never waned and he made speeches in every campaign, always for the progressive candidate. His political views at that time were considered very radical, yet, today, some of his advanced ideas are on the Statute books. He was in every way a progressive, public spirited man and did everything in his power in the interest of the public welfare.

Page 296

Nothing did Colonel Crocker enjoy better than to attend the reunions of the '89-ers and early settlers. He could always be counted on for a speech—and sometimes a long one. He was a wholesome character, always advocating those things he believed to be right, but never obtrusive. Defeat never worried him for it was his belief that right would prevail in the end. He wrote several books and pamphlets—most all upon political subjects. There is a book in the library of the Historical Society, written by Colonel Samuel Crocker, the title of which is: "That Island—A Political Romance." It is a well written book, well worth the student's time to read. He advanced ideas that are worthy of consideration. He was an independent and not afraid to think.

Just why he was called "Colonel" I never knew—he never held a commission in the military service, but he was always called "Colonel Crocker." It is true that he looked the part of a Colonel but had none of the characteristics of the proverbial Kentucky Colonel.

Nowhere in the story has been mentioned anything about Colonel Crocker's wife or family. This explanation closes the manuscript left with the Historical Society:

"One of the most supreme follies of my life has been that I never married, as I believe in marriage and have always in the lawful union of man and wife as being of the most sacred obligations associated with civilization. But having devoted so much of my life to public affairs—I did not marry."

Return to top


Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site