Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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The Territorial Free Home League, organized in February 1895 at Perry, Oklahoma Territory, lobbied for the repeal of portions of the acts that required settlers to pay for certain former Indian lands in Oklahoma. In the opening of the Unassigned Lands settlers filed claims under the Homestead Act (1862), which stipulated a residency of five years, certain improvements, and payment of land office fees only. In other words, the land was free. In subsequent openings of former Indian reservations, the government also charged from one to two-and-one-half dollars per acre. As a result, by 1893 the personal mortgage of each settler ranged from $160 to $400.

Throughout its five-year existence (1895-1900) under three presidents (James J. Houston, James Kirkwood, and Dick T. Morgan) the league organized local and county leagues, held annual meetings, conducted nationwide letter campaigns, and produced a series of resolutions and memorials to Congress. The league garnered endorsements from all major political parties and from groups such as the Trans-Mississippi Congress, territorial Grand Army of the Republic, Colored Men's Protective Association, and Oklahoma Press Association. Important support also came from western states with Indian lands, whose homesteaders faced the same predicament as suffering Oklahomans.

At its height the league boasted more that nine hundred local leagues and twenty-five thousand members. The majority were homesteaders, but businessmen, newspapermen, professionals, and territorial leaders joined the ranks, for all Oklahomans stood to gain from the prosperity of the homesteaders.

The league's success as a political force rested on issues and events beyond its immediate control partisan battles over the issue of free silver, powerful opposition in Washington, Republican territorial delegate Dennis T. Flynn's defeat and the election of a fusion candidate in 1896, and the perceived effect of a free homes bill on agricultural and mechanical colleges.

The Territorial Free Home League met for the last time in February 1900 following Flynn's reelection in 1898 and his reintroduction of free homes legislation in a more favorable political climate. After substituting a general bill for Flynn's local bill, in May 1900 Congress passed and Pres. William A. McKinley signed the Free Homes Bill (Public Law 105) that saved Oklahoma settlers an estimated $15 million. The Free Home League helped achieve that goal by constant agitation.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Mary Ann Blochowiak, "'Justice is our Battle Cry': The Territorial Free Home League," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 62 (Spring 1984). Vernon S. Braswell, "The Oklahoma Free Homes Bill," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 44 (Winter 1966). Free Home League Papers, Thomas N. Athey Collection, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Mary Ann Blochowiak

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