By A. Emma Estill, Head of History Department, Central State Teachers College, Edmond, Oklahoma.
The opening to settlement of the Kiowa-Comanche and Apache reservations, in the southwestern part of the territory on August 6, 1901, was the superlative event to this time in the history of Oklahoma.
It was the most interesting of all openings, the most exciting. It was different from the others, in that the run was to be discarded and a great land lottery or drawing was to be conducted by the United States Government. This change in plan may have been in part due to the chaotic conditions that had developed during the last run, that of the Kickapoo country.
The previous openings had so advertised the country, that people came by thousands to register after President McKinley, on the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence issued the Proclamation that the lands of the Kiowa-Comanche, Apache and Wichita reservations were to be opened. These reservations lay just to the west of the Chickasaw country and had an area of four thousand six hundred and thirty nine square miles, about the same as that of Connecticut.1 The permanent treaty by which these Indians were located on these reservations, was dated October 21, 1867, and defined the Kiowa and Comanche country. Its boundaries were, in general, the ninety-eighth meridian on the east, the Red River on the south, the North Fork of the Red River on the west, and on the north a line on the latitude of the Washita river.2 Another treaty of the same date confirmed the confederation of the Apache Nation with the Kiowa-Comanche, and their acceptance into the reservation on equal footing and with the same benefits. The government of the United States had eventually provided
2Kappler,Charles J., Indian Affairs, Laws, and Treaties, II, 977 Treaty with Kiowa and Comanche, October 21, 1867.
that the Indians of western Oklahoma might take allotments in severalty and their surplus lands be opened to settlement.
An agreement was made with the Wichita and affiliated bands June 14, 1891, at Anadarko, as to their cession and allotment.3 The agreement with the Indians of the Wichita reservation was approved March 2, 1895, but this reservation was not opened until the contiguous Kiowa-Comanche and Apache reservation was ready for settlement.
The agreement for cession and allotment of the Kiowa-Comanche and Apache reservations was made at Ft. Sill, October 21, 1892,4 and was not approved by Congress until June 6. 1900.5 In those days, much of the land in both reservations was leased to cattlemen, who were naturally very reluctant to quit business. It is very evident that these cattlemen had friends in Congress, which caused a long delay in the ratification of agreements by Congress.6
In accordance with the agreement of October, 1892, with the Kiowas, Comanches and Apaches and the Act of June 6, 1900, which approved it, the Secretary of the Interior reserved four hundred and eighty thousand acres of grazing land for the Indians. It was supposed to be for the benefit of the Indians but really was an act favoring the cattlemen. The cattlemen were paying only a few cents an acre for the leased land. This was selected in one large and three small tracts. The large tract, which contained four hundred thousands acres came to be known as the "big pasture."7
Two million acres, about three thousand square miles, were ready to be opened in these reservations in July, 1901. About three thousand five hundred Indians had received allotments, and the large area had been reserved from set-
3Senate Document, Number 253, Fiftieth Congress, first session. "Report Secretary of Interior 1887."
7Senate Document Fiftieth-seventh Congress, first session, vol. 22 Serial 4289. "Report of Commissioner of the General Land Office, W. A. Richards to the Secretary of the Interior 1901."
tlement.8 The Ft. Sill Military Reservation was enlarged to an area of fifty-six thousand acres and a forest reservation in the Wichita mountains was reserved from settlement.
In order to prevent the disorders of former openings, Dennis Flynn introduced a bill doing away with runs and providing the land should be opened by lottery. Many churches and people objected but this plan, when carried out, eliminated the "Sooner." The new rules drawn up by the Secretary of the Interior and included in the Executive Proclamation, directed that all persons desiring to take up homesteads on the surplus lands of either reservation should be allowed to register; that the names so registered should be written on cards and enclosed in envelopes, which envelopes were to be thoroughly shuffled then drawn out and numbered, the applicants to be permitttd to file in turn on homestead claims at the district land office in the order that their names were drawn.
A company of Texas, Indian Territory, and Oklahoma men was formed in order to make a rush on the lands in the Kiowa-Comanche, and Apache Country, when it was opened to settlement. They said, "the United States Government had purchased the land and that it was public domain and open to settlement for the citizens of the United States and subject only to homestead laws and that there was no provision in the law for selecting claims by drawing lots." They were backed up by some excellent legal authority.9
On July 4, 1901, President William McKinley, signed the Proclamation opening for settlement all land acquired from the Kiowa-Comanche and Apache tribe of Indians and those of the Wichita and affiliated bands, excepting that set aside for grazing lands for Indians, townsites, sections sixteen, thirty-six, thirteen, thirty-three and other lands provided for in the Proclamation.10 These reservations to be opened August 6, 1901. The Proclamation, which contained ten thousand words, when signed, was turned over to Judge Vanderventer, the Assistant Attorney-General, who
had charge of the legal features of the opening. He immediately ordered Assistant-Commissioner Richards of the United States Land Office to go to Oklahoma and take thirty-three of his most efficient clerks, eight of whom went to Lawton and twenty-five to El Reno.11
The Proclamation provided for the country to be divided into two land districts by a line running east and west, with offices at El Reno and Lawton, all registrations had to be done at El Reno or Ft. Sill, though any person could register for either district, at either registration office. The applicant had to be sure and state in which district he desired to make entry, no one was permitted to register for a chance at both.
The registration offices were open at nine o'clock, Wednesday morning, July 10, and kept open until July 26, and the drawing began August 6.
The process of registration was simple, the first thing when the settler went to the registration officer he presented an affidavit, that he was over twenty-one or head of a family, that he did not own more than one hundred and sixty acres of land in some other State. Then he filled out a card with his name, date of birth, height, weight, and other information about himself. He was then given a registration receipt, which permitted him to go over the land and select a claim that he might want.
These reservations of two million acres were about all of the good lands left in Oklahoma. The great government lottery had about thirteen thousand homesteads to distribute worth from one hundred to five thousand dollars each. Though it is possible that some claims near the county seats may have been worth from ten thousand to forty thousand dollars.12
A few days before the registration booths opened Lone Wolf, Chief of Kiowas, and his associates tried to get out an injunction against the Secretary of the Interior restraining him from opening the Kiowa-Comanche, Apache reservations. Lone Wolf made a speech at this time which was a
11Assistant Commissioners Report to Dept. of Int. Fifty-seventh Congress, first session. Serial 4289. 1901.
model of Indian eloquence but Associate-Justice Bradley denied the application.13 Judge Springer argued for an appeal. Also at this time Secretary Hitchcock decided that there was no authority of law permitting a delay in the opening until October first. The cattlemen had paid their money up till October and felt that an injustice was being done them if the reservations were opened at an earlier date.14
The Interior Department held that no one could settle on the lands in violation of the Proclamation and that any one who attempted to do so would be precluded from obtaining any of the lands and would himself be subject to prosecution.
When they opened the registration booths July 10, great crowds were in both El Reno and Ft. Sill. The President's Proclamation had made El Reno the mecca of thousands of people who came from all quarters of the country to be one of the successful ones in securing a home. There were at first six regular booths where one might register, which was only a matter of a few minutes. Booth number one was at the Kerfoot Hotel; all day the Boomers lined up in front of it and no more than three hundred slept in line Tuesday night.15 It was estimated that ten thousand came into El Reno Monday night.16 There were over twelve thousand strangers tramping El Reno streets, mostly farmers and poor. Nine out of ten were farmers. Not many women participated in this rush, however, a special booth was provided for them outside the maddening crowd.17
Just how little preparation was made was shown by the fact that an applicant could only tell a registration booth by the long line of men standing, sitting or lying in line. There was absolutely no distinguishing marks for the registration office, not even a flag.
A little delay was occasioned the first day, Wednesday, because of the new order of work but as it was, four
thousand and eighteen registered in El Reno and the rest of the time everything moved like clock work.
On the second day, Thursday, there were six thousand five hundred registered but that night the crowd had thinned out wonderfully, hardly a man walked the streets, most people having secured accommodations.
Seven thousand people had congregated at Ft. Sill by Thursday night, July 11, as there was no railroad within miles, the people had come overland, bringing their provisions and supplies with them.18 It was an interesting sight, this long procession of people, some in wagons, some riding horses, some on foot. There were ten thousand people camped in the valley of Cache Creek, on the east side of the Post. Most of these people expected to remain until after the opening, August 6. When registration opened in Ft. Sill long lines of men stretched out into the country. Army officials immediately worked out a plan, with one hundred men in each company with a captain over each, then they could get out of line, be more comfortable, and wait for their time. Many funny incidents happened at Ft. Sill during the registration. Men lost their companions and wandered about for hours, perhaps for a day or two before finding them. Others strolled off and got back after their companies had registered, thus having to "start at the foot" and enroll in another company and wait three or four days more.19 Most of the people at Ft. Sill applied for land in the Lawton District, and those in El Reno the same.
Commissioner Richards announced that only notaries of Canadian county would be allowed to use their seals on application papers. This created consternation among people who had their papers made in Oklahoma City, Guthrie and elsewhere. Some were fake notaries, one fellow was chased to his room and almost lynched. One had used a seal out of date; he was arrested. Commissioner Richards said that all papers made out by foreign notaries up to July 12, would be all right but no more could
be issued.20 July 17, Commissioner Richards issued nineteen seals.
The crowd at El Reno was a good natured one, but at Ft. Sill it was rather troublesome and restless. A Mexican was killed at Ft. Sill for trying to break into the registration lines, after that the feeling was improved.21
Commissioner Richards said, "the story that clerks were accepting bribes for advance registration was absolutely false."
Over Sunday, July 14, the great crowds rested as there was no registration period. There were six excursions into El Reno Monday, over the Rock Island from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois. On Monday, the largest crowds yet surged through the streets in the terrible heat and sun.22
As yet there was plenty of water, food and sleeping accommodations. The government officials were loud in their praise of the ability of El Reno in caring for the crowds. Monday ten thousand nine hundred and seventy-six registered. Two of the peculiar incidents were a woman ninety-seven years old registered, and at Ft. Sill a girl registered weighing only forty-eight pounds.23 This was the largest of all of the registration days so far, making thirty-one thousand and fifteen in the first five days.
All kinds of questionable grafts were opened up. Every game of chance which had ever been heard of ran for a while at full blast. Permits were issued for "fakirs" to operate on the streets. The streets presented a lively scene. Finally, authorities ordered all of the grafters off of the streets.24
At Ft. Sill no whiskey or grafters were allowed. As soon as anybody appeared with any kind of queer game the soldier arrested him.25
Up to Thursday, July 18, sixty-five thousand was the grand total registered. Almost a different crowd, in nine cases out of ten as soon as the homeseekers were registered
they got out of town and made room for a new crowd. The Rock Island trains were crowded, a special train was made up in El Reno and the cars loaded down as soon as the porter unlocked the doors. The night trains on the Choctaw were jammed with people returning home. The railroads had a bonanza during the registration business. The notaries also conducted a large business, one man making seventy dollars before three o'clock one day making out blanks at twenty-five cents apiece.26
One of the most successful grafts was the Indian graft. About forty Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians in war paint came into town from the agency and gave a war dance. One thousand people paid a quarter to get inside the ropes. Eastern people who had not seen Indians before thought it was the most interesting thing that happened.27
Thursday, July 19, ten thousand nine hundred and sixty Boomers registered. A heavy rain in the afternoon prevented many from registering. The heat in the morning was awful, one hundred at nine o'clock in the shade. The rain bothered the Boomers by getting their clothing and papers wet but they were glad to see it and took it good naturedly. This was the best humored big crowd at any opening. As the time passed by, the people who came to register seemed to be a better class. Every day the crowd grew and improved. Monday, July 22, there was a vast number, a record breaking day and on Wednesday, twenty-fourth, all previous records were broken, sixteen thousand seven hundred and eighteen registered at El Reno and one thousand three hundred and forty-two at Ft. Sill. Total at El Reno ,one hundred and twenty thousand six hundred thirty-five; at Lawton twenty nine thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight, making a grand total of one hundred fifty thousand five hundred and twenty-three,28 two days before they closed and when they began to register the highest estimate was that about fifty thousand might register.
An agent of the State of Texas opened headquarters
in El Reno to boom his State — the sign read, "If you lose in the government lottery, come to Texas." Nebraska also had an agent there.29
It was estimated there were eighteen thousand people camped around El Reno. The covered wagon had had quarters at Ft. Sill first, but later they had been coming to El Reno from Kansas and Oklahoma counties. The camp extended five miles down the river. Reports were sent into the office that Sooners were tearing away the section marks made by the surveyors in the country, but only a little of this was done.30
Dennis Flynn registered and the enemies of the "lottery system" accused him of having the proposition so well handled that he would draw a winning number. His number was sixty thousand so drew nothing.31 It was reported in Texas that Republicans were permitted to register first.
When the booths closed the last day, one hundred and sixty-five thousand had registered in both districts.32
All day Sunday fifty clerks under Commissioner Richards worked compiling registration papers. These documents were arranged in alphabetical order and if one man had registered in more than one booth he was apt to be arrested.33
The plans for the drawing were very simple. A platform thirty-two feet square was erected in the street on the north side of the Irving school ground, upon which the drawing was conducted in plain view of all who desired to be present. Envelopes containing the names of registered applicants were placed in two boxes, ten feet long, two and one-half feet wide, and two and one-half feet deep, one for each district. They were large enough and so constructed and mounted as to permit a thorough mixing of the envelopes. On Monday, July 29, the envelopes containing the names of all who had registered; were brought to the platform in packages consecutively num-
bered, they were in paste board boxes, each box containing four hundred, one to one hundred and twenty-five; one hundred and twenty-six to two hundred and fifty and so on. The package of envelopes bearing the first numbers was placed in the drawing box and well distributed and this course was continued until all the envelopes had been placed in the box. After which the boxes were revolved for a sufficient length of time to insure a thorough mixing of the envelopes. The boxes were so constructed that five men could be employed in the drawing at each one of them. The first envelope drawn was to be numbered one, it was opened at once and the identification slip which it contained was given a corresponding number and the name and residence which appeared on this slip would be publicly announced. This course was pursued, numbering each envelope, until twenty-five numbers had been drawn from one box, when an equal number was drawn from the other box in a similar manner.
The drawing was to proceed in this manner until every envelope in both boxes had been drawn out. After the names had been drawn, they were to be recorded and a notice prepared and mailed to those whose names were drawn.34
The opening was in charge of three men appointed by the Washington Department of the Land Office. One thousand names were to be turned from the wheel the first day, five hundred from El Reno and five hundred for Lawton.35 On Tuesday twenty-four hundred were to be drawn. The envelopes were of different colors and besides were marked "Lawton" and "El Reno."
Homeseekers from different states elected a committee to sit on the platform to witness the drawing.
There were tents and booths everywhere around the drawing platform. It looked like a county fair.36
Monday, July 29, Oklahoma's great land lottery began in earnest and when the Commissioners adjourned for
the day, one thousand of the choicest of the thirteen thousand, one hundred and sixty acre claims in Kiowa-Comanche and Apache reservations had been awarded Colonel Dyer just before the drawing commenced said, "I never saw a better crowd assembled together. You are all here with equal rights as American citizens. We have selected young men not having chances in this lottery to draw out the names. We have selected them knowing the families they represent are the foremost in the territory. This is to be absolutely fair and every person interested is to have an equal chance. We rely upon every citizen assembled here to see fair play and justice done to every man."37
All filing cards were taken to the El Reno district. The El Reno district cards placed in one box and the Lawton district in another.
Fully fifty thousand persons witnessed the drawing. The day was one of excitement. The immense throng was wrought up to the highest pitch. The drawing of the first few names was followed by a mighty shout, that must have been heard for miles over the prairies. Each succeeding winning for a time was met with shouts of applause and merriment. All was good feeling. Every man, although he did not draw a prize from the wheels, had steadfast faith that tomorrow or next day would surely see him the possessor of a slip giving him clear title to one hundred and sixty acres of Oklahoma land. So when friends were successful, unfortunate ones instead of bewailing their fate cheered lustily as familiar names were called out.
It was one thirty before the first name was drawn. When all was ready, Ben Heyler placed his hand in the El Reno wheel and withdrawing an envelope handed it to Colonel Dyer. It was passed to Chief Clerk Macy, stamped and handed back to Colonel Dyer. The Commissioner walked to the front of the platform, raised his hand for order and in a loud voice exclaimed, "Stephen A. Holcomb, Pauls Valley, Indian Territory, draws the first number." The crowd yelled for three minutes, as much delighted as if every one had drawn
a prize. Then the second, Leonard Lamb of Augusta, Oklahoma. In quick succession the envelopes were drawn, amid cheers. When the twenty-five names were taken from the El Reno wheel then attention was turned to the Lawton wheel. James T. Wood, a hardware clerk, at Weatherford, was first and Miss Mattie Beal, a telephone operator of Wichita, Kansas, was second. Colonel Dyer gave her description, twenty-three years old, five feet three inches high, just the height of Woods. Instantly the crowd yelled ,"they must get married."
The crowd had fairly exhausted themselves. And when the close of the drawing was announced at six o'clock, hundreds who had neither eaten or drunk during the day sank to the ground where they stood from fatigue. The day was remarkably free from quarrels and a general satisfaction with the government's method of disposing of the land was felt. 38All night long it seemed that people walked along the streets and talked of the drawing. It was the topic of all conversation.
Drawing commenced promptly at nine o'clock on the second day. The weather was favorable, the sun being under the clouds. The clerks worked much faster and one thousand names were drawn from the boxes before noon. Everything connected with the drawing went along smoothly. As soon as the names were taken from the boxes, the clerks made official records and a list of names of the fortunates were sent to different corners of the school ground and read. The crowds were much less in number than on the first day, and there was no rush around the platform. People stood farther away and did not pay much attention to the ceaseless drawing of names, evidently feeling that everyone was getting a fair show. If a man, whose name was taken from the box was in the crowd, he was promptly shoved to the front and made to show himself to the other homeseekers.39
It was found that several hundred had repeated and lost their rights.
The drawing continued on the platform until all were drawn. As there were only thirteen thousand claims, six thousand five hundred in each district, the last envelopes drew blanks ,but the Commission desired to impress on the public the fairness and honesty of the drawing, so every one of the one hundred sixty-five thousand envelopes were drawn.40
There was a much greater number of applicants for claims in the Lawton district than in the El Reno district.
There was a prominent Washington lawyer in El Reno to defend "Sooners" who settled on claims. He said, "the lottery was not conducted according to the Proclamation, that the officials had violated the Proclamation by not having envelopes on hand in which to place registration slips." He also made the statement that many slips were destroyed or blown away.41
Some of the men familiar with the topography of the new country made money by locating successful homeseekers on choice land.42
Postal cards were sent out which gave the date upon which the recipient must appear at the office of his respective land district and file his entry.
The date of the opening was August 6. In each land district one hundred and twenty-five persons were allowed to file daily. Those holding one to one hundred and twenty-five inclusive, August 6. one hundred and twenty-six to two hundred and fifty, August 7; two hundred and fifty-one to three hundred and seventy-five, August 8; and so on, until all were filed and applicants in order of their number selected their allotments. Six out of the one hundred and twenty-five, who had drawn numbers in the lottery and were entitled to file the second day of the filing failed to put in appearance and in consequence forfeited their rights. The clerks called their numbers as they reached them, passed on and when one hundred and twenty-five had been called read them again and at four o'clock when they
failed to respond they were forever barred from their rights.43 At Lawton six hundred and five failed to appear while at El Reno seven hundred and fifty-seven failed. Thus there were left in the two districts one thousand three hundred and sixty-two claims.44 The land could be taken, one hundred and sixty acres, in the shape of an "L". "T", "Z", a mile strip or a square as the homeseeker chose.45 It was supposed that Woods who had drawn number one, would take a quarter section adjoining Lawton and Miss Beal, the one next to it, as they would have the privilege of making first filings in that district and these claims were estimated as being worth twenty thousand dollars to forty thousand dollars each. But Woods filed on a mile strip, along the vacant townsite, instead of taking a square quarter, thus preventing Miss Beal from filing on a claim adjoining the townsite.46 Immediately a protest was filed against Woods entry at Lawton, signed by five hundred of the business men. They said, "Woods had violated both the spirit and the letter of the Homestead Act."47 However, it was held that Woods had a perfect right to take the land in this form if he desired.
George Powell, a Kansas University student, who filed, fell heir to a forty acre field of corn. Some Indians had cultivated it, believing it was an allotment..48
As the time approached it became obvious that there would be a few hundred claims left in each district to be entered under the ordinary homestead laws of the United States, since the plan of the opening provided that any lands left at the close of that period, by reason of those who drew numbers failing to appear, should be considered as ordinary government land. Some days every one of the hundred and twenty-five appeared but more often they did not. Some people had registered hoping to draw a very early number and soon sell their land. For various reasons many did not appear. There were hundreds of people waiting however
to pounce upon anything that might be left. The Land Office issued a circular stating the exact time of the closing of the sixty day period was midnight, October 4.49 This, then was another run.
Over three thousand five hundred homeseekers who failed to draw lands, could lease choice Indian lands, the only stipulation for the first two years being that the land must be cultivated and a house erected. The lessees had no trouble in getting a continuance at one dollar and fifty cents an acre annual rental.50 In most instances Indians only retained twenty acres and rented the balance.
Secretary Hitchcock had been authorized by law to divide the two reservations into counties. He designated three counties, Caddo, Comanche, and Kiowa, and in each of them a county seat was established, Anadarko, Lawton, and Hobart.51
Under the law opening the reservation to settlement, the town lots were to be sold at auction and the proceeds of the sales were to go for the building of bridges, improving of roads, and the building of a court house not to exceed ten thousand dollars.52
The blocks were three hundred and twenty by four hundred and twenty feet. Only three hundred and twenty acres could be reserved under the provision of the law for townsites. The business streets running east and west were to be one hundred feet wide. Those running north and south eighty feet wide, and the alleys twenty-four feet wide, the residence lots were to be fifty feet wide and the business lots twenty five feet. The court house was to be in the center of the town and the ground reserved for it was to be one city block.
The sale was to begin at nine a. m., August 6, and extend until all lots were sold. They were to be auctioned off to the highest bidder for cash and not more than one business and one residence lot to a person.
When the day for the sale of lots in the county seats
arrived great crowds congregated at Anadarko, Lawton and Hobart. Although Lawton was a considerable distance from railway connections, the largest crowd was there, and the demand for town lots was greater than in either of the other towns. The total amount received for sale of lots was as follows: Lawton, four hundred and fourteen thousand eight hundred and forty-five dollars; Hobart, one hundred and eighty-eight thousand five hundred and ninety-five dollars; Anadarko, one hundred and thirty two thousand five hundred and ninety-three dollars.53
The first lot in Anadarko was sold for seventy dollars and the first one in Hobart forty dollars.54
Lawton, the most prominent of the three, became a town over night. Shortly after the opening a census was taken and there were four thousand five hundred inhabitants.55 The Land Office and the booth where the auction sale of lots was carried on were the two chief centers of attraction. The Land Office opened each morning at nine and closed in the afternoon at four, being closed from twelve to one for lunch. No one was permitted inside the building but the officials and the entrymen, except the latter might be accompanied by his "locator" or attorney who would see that he put down the correct numbers when his time came to file. A large map of the district hung on the wall and as fast as entries were made a land office clerk would mark "X" across the tract entered, this map was in plain view from the window and a crowd of prospective entrymen was assembled about this, seeking sometimes by means of opera glasses, to discover whether or not their own particular "selections" were still waiting for them.56
The lottery method which was so entirely new and different from all previous methods of openings, of course, met with more or less disfavor and criticism, but upon the
53Hills History of Oklahoma. p. 307. The Rock Island was nearing completion as far as Lawton at this time.
54Daily Oklahoman, August 6, 1901. The price of lots increased enormously during the next few months.
whole the system of registration and drawing proved satisfactory and nearly all agreed there was perfect fairness with no favor or advantage to any, while most of the hardships of other openings had been done away with.
El Reno cared for its visitors in such a way as to excite the admiration of everyone. At first El Reno met with many trials, but with true western grit, she proved herself capable. The crowd did not kick even when the weather was unbearable but just went along, for they knew a fair deal was given to all.