As farmers pushed westward into Texas, Kansas, and other western states and territories after the Civil War, they experienced some difficult times. To meet these problems farmers began to form organizations such as the Farmers' Alliance. Besides facing such neutral problems as drought, farmers experienced low commodity prices, high freight rates, high interest rates, and other difficulties. They were very critical of the larger corporations, especially the railroads. These conditions and complaints were familiar to farmers in Indian Territory and to those who rushed into Oklahoma Territory in 1889 and later.
The Farmers' Alliance was first organized in Texas in the mid-1870s and soon spread to other states and territories in the South and Midwest. One of the main goals of the Farmers' Alliance was to form cooperatives. Farmers set up cooperatively owned retail stores and marketing organizations. The idea was to give producers more influence in buying their supplies and marketing their products.
The Farmers' Alliance was very strong in Texas and Kansas. Lying between these two states, Oklahoma and Indian territories, not surprisingly, offered alliance organizers an opportunity. In 1889 the alliance was organized by "outlanders," or non-American Indian farmers who had moved into the territory. The organization established a number of cooperatively owned businesses and published its own newspaper, the Alliance Courier, in Ardmore. However, the cooperative enterprises soon failed because of lack of capital, poor management, and insufficient patron support. With the failure of the cooperatives and the rise of the Populist Party, most of the Alliance members shifted their emphasis to politics.
The settlement of Oklahoma Territory came too late for the Farmers' Alliance to have much impact among farmers. By 1890, when the territorial government was organized, the main political issues were free homes and statehood. However, farmers were strongly interested in the growing demands of the Populists. The farmers' movement in both territories gradually blended into the larger farmer-protest activities that coalesced into Populism at the national level. Farmers demanded free and unlimited coinage of silver to inflate the currency and raise farm prices, government ownership of the railroads, taxation of income, abolition of national banks, prohibition of alien land ownership, and other reforms.
Although the Farmers' Alliance in the Twin Territories served as a background for the Populist movement, its more important influence may have been on the subsequent organization of the Farmers' Educational and Cooperative Union in 1902, which, among other objectives, strongly supported the formation of farmer cooperatives. Overall, however, the Farmers' Alliance did not play a significant role in Oklahoma's protest history.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Howard L. Meredith, "'The Middle Way': The Farmers' Alliance in Indian Territory, 1889-1896," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 47 (Winter 1969-70). Theodore Saloutos, Farmer Movements in the South, 1865-1933 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960). Terry Paul Wilson, "The Demise of Populism in Oklahoma Territory," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 43 (Fall 1965).
Gilbert C. Fite
© Oklahoma Historical Society