Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association


Ann L. Brower


March 22, 1937


    When the Cherokees were removed from Georgia to Oklahoma they were given a large reservation, on which they settled, and also a large "outlet" extending west to the 100th meridian, which was then the western boundary of the United States. For many years thereafter the Cherokee Outlet was not used except as anoccasional huinting ground for wandering Indians.
    After the Civil War, the Cherokees, who had fought mostly for the side of the south, made a new treaty with the United States Government, by the terms of that agreement the United States was given the right to locate friendly Indians tribes in the Outlet. The Osages, Kaws, Poncas, Otoes, Missouris, Tonkawas, and Pawnees bought reservations in the eastern part of the "Strip"thus cutting off the uninhabited portion of the Outlet from its owners.
    The western portion still belonging to the Cherokees was large. It had a length of 180 miles, a width of almost 60 miles, and an area greater than Massachusetts and as large as Belgium.
    Immediately after the Civil War, there began the rapid expansion of the cattle industry. This resulted in the Northern Drives.
    At first the Cherokees paid no attention to this invasion of their lands, but as the ranchers took on an aspect of permanence, the Indians sent out an agent to collect taxes. They realized that the time had come for them to receive some returns for the use of their property.
    As more and more men brought their cattle to the Oulet many difficulties arose. Some refused to pay the fees demanded by the Cherokee government,causing honest cattlemen - as well as the dishonest ones - to be involved in constant trouble. There were no fences, and the various owners experienced much irritation in the attempt to keep their herds separated. Finally in the spring of 1880, a

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meeting was held at Caldwell, Kansas, at which time an organization of cattlemen was formed. During the next few years this organization worked effectively as an aid to the settlement of disputes and fixing of boundaries. But many annoyances still persisted. The reached a climax when the Department ogf the Interior - which handled Indian Affairs - protested against the white man's use of Indian lands. While the government was debating about what should be done with the ranchers, the cattlemen were not idle. they decided to form their loose organization into a compact association, and to secure from the Cherokee Nation a lease of the Outlet. This plan was finally accomplished. On May 19, 1883 Chief Bushyhead, of the Cherokees, signed the contract giving the association a lease of the strip for five years for the sum of $100,000 a year.
    The organization thus established was known as the "Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association". All persons or companies occupying a range in the Outlet, who agreed to pay the assessments were allowed to become members of the association. In October 1883, the lease went into effect and the first payment was made.
    The Cherokees had asked that it be paid in silver, and the treasurer of the organization had to take $50,000 in silver all the way from Caldwell to Tahlequah, the Cherokee capital. That must have been an exciting trip; as it was certainly a dangerous one.
    The Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association was a most unsual concern. It had no authority behind it except the consent of its members, but for seven years it played a vital part in the developement of Indian Territory. The affairs of the association moved with remarkable smoothness. The lands of the Outlet were surveyed and the boundaries of each range fixed. Every ranch adopted a certain sign, or brand, with which its cattle were marked and easily distinguished. The different brands became so numerous that "brand books" had to be published. They are curious little volumes, filled with hundreds of strange signs and symbols which have no meaning to any except those who once "Rode The Ranges".

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    The grazing territory was divided among little more than one hundred idividuals and firms, but the number indirectly connected with the organization was many times that. Many members of the Association were men of unusual ability and influence. Their power made itself felt not only in the cattle industry, but in politics and the movements of big business concerns.
    In 1888, at the end of the five-year period, the Association with great difficulty renewed it's lease for another five years, this time having to pay $200,000 a year. In spite of a seemingly promising future the cattlemen soon after were forced to see the break-down of all their plans. After the opening of the Oklahoma lands, in 1889, the insistant clamor for the opening of western Oklahoma mounted swiftly. The determined home-seekers hurled a constant volley of attacks against the ranchers. Finally Congress appointed a Commission to buy the Cherokee land and pave the way for settlement. The Indians for a long time refused to sell, since the price offered them by the government was much smaller that that paid by the Live Stock Association. At last the Cherokees gave in when they were given to understand that they would loose their territory without any recompense whatever if they refused the governments offer. That blasted the last hope of the cattlement. They were given a specified period of time for the removal of their herds, and by spring of 1893 the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association had ceased to exist. In September of that year the Outlet was opened for settlement, and the huge ranges were divided into small sections of land upon which the eager "boomers" might establish their homes. But, though the reign of the cattlemen was short, they left their imprint upon te history of Nortwestern Oklahoma.

Reference: Taken from history of Woods County Oklahoma, written by George R Crissman.
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