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70,000 People Await Opening

70,000 People Await Opening

Submitted by: Bob Chada

© Guthrie Register-News, Sunday, April 17, 1955

70,000 People Await Opening of Oklahoma Territory in 1889
Never before and probably never in the future will the world witness such a stirring drama as the opening of the Oklahoma country on April 22, 1889, when nearly 70,000 people swept into the area known as the Unassigned Lands and set up an empire within the short space of 12 hours.
Troughout the centuries new territory has been acquired by treaty, sale or seisure, but the population was there, having already founded its civilization.
In other lands colonization was slow, taking many years before there were enough people to set up and conduct a government.

Self-Reliant People

But in Oklahoma territory it was different because thousands of land hungry home-seekers were eager to plant their feet on the fertile acres of this section and being intelligent, self-reliant people, stable government and other essential to modern living were to follow in short order.
So, at noon on April 22, 1889, shots from army revolvers and rifles sent a ready-made empire on horse-back, on foot, in buggies and wagons scurrying across the broad prairies on that hot late spring day to the promised land of which Guthrie later was to become the focal point.
Hundreds of home seekers crowded trains in cities bordering the Unassigned Lands to the north for their plung into the new country with the first train rolling into Guthrie about 1 o'clock afternoon.

Hurried to Land Office

Scores jumped off of the train long before it rolled to a stop at the Santa Fe depot and started frantically to search for sites and hurried to the land office to file their claims with government officials.
With the incoming trains letting off hundreds, and arrival of the first of the land-seekers making the run from the north on horseback and buggy, Guthrie was indeed the center of a seething, turbulent mob.
In the center of the city of tents, the frame building on the government acre, the land office loomed large in the eyes of the people because it was here that the oracle of fate was to label many thousands as winners or loosers in their search for property and homes in the new empire.
Many clerks in the land office, guarded by deputy United States marshals, were wearily persuing files and protests of claims as night fell on the great mass of people.

"Sooners" Were Present

Earlier in the day, it had been a grand rush with people jumping, jostling, pushing, pulling, climbing out of windows of the incoming trains to rush pell mell up the hill toward the land office. Some stopped here and there to stake a lot while others went on over the first hill down the hollow and up the second hill in the mad scramble.
One of the great disappointments of the hordes of people making the run, according to the regulations set up by the government, was the presence of hundreds of "sooners" in Guthrie, camping on what they thought were the choice lots of the new city.
At one munite past 12 o'clock a bunch from Kansas filed their ownership plat and the Arkansas crowd followed a few minutes later.
As the honest home-seekers crowded into the city on that eventful day, these hundred that "had jumped the gun" stood fast on their chosen lots, attemping to look virtuous.

15,000 Assembled Here

Many of these "sooners" had moved into the city on Sunday in attempt to find suitable lots, and during the ensuing years many disputes arose because of this condition.
On the first night, 15,000 people crowed together on the half section of land alloted for the townsite.
They slept in tents while others wrapped themselves in blankets and sprawled wearily on the ground. Many went to sleep hungry, but with a feeling of contentment in having made the first advances toward a home.
When the settlers came into the Unassigned Lands on April 22 sixty-six years ago, there were no more territories to settle.
With the settlement of Oklahoma the mighty tide of immigration had reached its ebb. If a critical person were searching for something that might parallel the opening of Oklahoma territory, he might cite the rush into Kansas.

From Every State

But the rush to Kansas was the result of a dominant idea. There was no sentiment in the settlement of Oklahoma.
Men came from every state in the Union for homes and to build a strong, strudy and cosmopolitan civilization that in its results has probably surpassed that of any other state.
These pioneers came as brothers although they carried the trusty pistol and rifle to be used in case of emergency.
During the few years to follow that first day fifty years ago these sturdy people demonstrated a greater love for law and order, peace and tranquility than any other 70,000 people in any of the states or territories.
And they kept this unequalled measure of civilization, although a year passed before a hesitant congress gave this brave and high-minded pioneers a set of laws by which to govern themselves.
During the months to follow, frame and stone building quickly were built to house the commercial and governmental institutions and throughout the hills and valleys frame dwelling houses were constructed.
The intersection of Oklahoma-av and Second-st became the commercial center of Guthrie and for many years the business life was concentrated on this corner.
The government acre, housing the land office, first was packed solidly with tents of attorneys and small business ventures but was eventually cleared and became the assembly place or public forum where people met to discuss public matters.

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Updated: Wednesday, 06-Aug-2008 22:04:41 CDT

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