KINGFISHER v. WOOD AND FOSSETT (1890)
Prior to the Land Run of 1889 a stage station known as King Fisher (Kingfisher) existed along the Chisholm Trail near Kingfisher Creek in the area that became known as the Oklahoma District (Unassigned Lands). On March 23, 1889, Pres. Benjamin Harrison signed the proclamation that would open the Unassigned Lands for non-Indian settlement on April 22, 1889. Land offices were established at Kingfisher and Guthrie.
John H. Wood, employed by the U.S. Army, legally resided in the Unassigned Lands for more than five years before the land opening. On the morning of the run on April 22, he was hauling wood for the military near the Kingfisher land office. Eight minutes after the noon opening he staked a claim in the Northeast Quarter of Section 15, Township 16 North, Range 7 West. William D. Fossett, a U.S. marshal, made the run from outside the border of the Unassigned Lands and claimed the Northwest Quarter of Section 15. A group of settlers outside the boundary had met on April 21 and decided to plat a townsite on the same northern half of Section 15.
Consequently, the Kingfisher townsite group brought suit against Wood and Fossett. On October 1, 1890, Secretary of the Interior John W. Noble gave his decision regarding the meaning of "enter upon and occupy" the lands in the Oklahoma District (popularly called the "sooner clause") as cited in the Indian Appropriation Act of March 2, 1889, and the March 23, 1889, presidential proclamation. In the case of the Township of Kingfisher v. John H. Wood and William D. Fossett, Noble determined that Wood, who had worked as a transport for the military in the Unassigned Lands and who had permission to be in the area before the land opening on April 22, 1889, had an unfair advantage over the settlers who made the run from outside the borders. Wood's claim was cancelled, and the land reverted back to the town. Fossett's claim was upheld, because he had legally entered the Unassigned Lands from the border at the designated time. Noble's decision overturned the previous determination that "legal sooners" could make lawful claims. Thereafter, many "legal sooners" collaborated on what to say in court and perjured themselves in order to hold on to their homesteads and town lots.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Berlin B. Chapman, "The Legal Sooners of 1889 in Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 35 (Winter 1957-58). Luther B. Hill, A History of the State of Oklahoma, Vol. 1 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1909). Stan Hoig, The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1984).
Linda D. Wilson
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