SEMINOLE TOWN AND IMPROVEMENT COMPANY
On April 19, 1889, three days prior to the Land Run of 1889, Sidney Clarke, William L. Couch, and others formed the Seminole Town and Improvement Company in Topeka, Kansas. When the company charter was filed on that date, L. H. Crandell became the corporation's secretary. The organization's purpose included the purchase and platting of townsites to be sold as lots or subdivisions as well as establishing utilities in the new towns of the Unassigned Lands of Oklahoma. In addition to Clarke, Couch, and Crandell, J. W. Wilson and J. A. Hudson were listed as director trustees. Civil engineer Charles Chamberlin, a member of the Seminole company and the townsite location engineer for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF), completed the first survey of the Oklahoma City townsite prior to the land opening.
Two other townsite companies, the Gainesville Town Company of Texas and the Oklahoma Town Company of Kansas, vied with the Seminole group in platting Oklahoma City. Among the Oklahoma Town Company's members were Dr. Delos Walker, his brother C. P. Walker, Rev. James Murray, James H. McCartney, and John Holzapfel. On April 22, 1889, the day of the land opening, the Seminole Town and Improvement Company members had the advantage of a town plat and staked town lots at Oklahoma Station (a watering stop along the AT&SF, later Oklahoma City) at a few minutes after the noon time opening. They had spent the night before on the railroad right-of-way at Oklahoma Station. Clearly, this group was Sooners. Approximately three hundred members of the Oklahoma Town Company started legally from Purcell, outside the border of the Unassigned Lands, and arrived in Oklahoma City at 1:15 p.m. To their surprise, many town lots were already claimed. The Oklahoma Town Company members pitched a tent east of the AT&SF tracks, only to learn that this area had been set aside as the U.S. Military District. Consequently, they moved west of the tracks and staked lots south of Clarke Street (later Grand Avenue, now Sheridan Avenue). On April 23, 1889, a mass meeting was called to adjust the surveys of the townsite companies. Because an agreement could not be reached, a citizens' committee of fourteen was formed to resurvey and to arbitrate lot disputes.
Unfortunately, the federal government did not make any provision for governing the newly opened lands. Consequently, local provisional governments prevailed in the newly formed towns until the passage of the Organic Act on May 2, 1890. In Oklahoma City the Seminole Town and Improvement Company members dominated the early provisional government. William L. Couch was elected mayor, and city ordinances favoring the Seminole group were soon passed. Following the resignation of William L. Couch, Sidney Clarke became temporary mayor until Andrew Jackson Beale was elected on November 27, 1889. Beale, a member of Oklahoma Town Company, worked to overturn some of the early city ordinances. Lot jumping became prevalent, and land claims were litigated for years to come. In late December 1889 U.S. Attorney General William H. H. Miller issued a "status quo" order that prohibited provisional city governments in the Unassigned Lands from taking further action in determining rightful lot owners.
In order to arbitrate these claims Congress passed an act on May 14, 1890, whereby the Secretary of the Interior appointed townsite trustee boards that made entry for the townsite at the land office and issued deeds to lawful claimants after a proper survey was made. From this disorderly beginning Oklahoma City became the state capital in 1910 and a metropolis of one-half million people by the turn of the twenty-first century. North-south streets intersecting with Sheridan Avenue in downtown Oklahoma City continued to have jogs due to the incongruity of the two early townsite plats.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Berlin B. Chapman, "Oklahoma City, From Public Land to Private Property," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 37 (Summer and Autumn 1959, Winter 1959-60). Luther B. Hill, A History of the State of Oklahoma, Vol. 1 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1909). Irving Geffs, The First Eight Months of Oklahoma City (1890; reprint, N.p.: Quantum Forms Corp., 1988). Oklahoma City Daily Times (Wichita, Kansas), 9 May 1889. Dan W. Peery, "The First Two Years," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 7 (September 1929). Angelo C. Scott, The Story of Oklahoma City (Oklahoma City: Times-Journal Publishing Co., 1939).
Linda D. Wilson
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