This site is proud to be a part of OKLAHOMA TRAILS TO THE PAST and TRAILS TO THE PAST.
|By Geo. Rainey|
|Dedicated to the pioneers of 1893 who by fortitude|
and industry have transformed the raw
prairie of the Cherokee Strip
into ine of the most pro
ductive sections of
|Copyright 1925, 1953|
|The Cherokee strip, so-called, is a
strip of land approximately fifty-seven miles wide from north to south and
extending from the ninety-sixth westward to the one hundredth
meridian, its northern boundary being south line Kansas.|
The proper designation of this strip of land is the Cherokee Outlet. This is the name by which it was generally and officially known until after the Civil War. It was the name given to the original treaty made at Washington in 1828 and by which it was designated in all subsequent treaties with the Cherokee tribe.
There was however, a real Cherokee strip; and the two may not be confused in the mind of the reader, we will state what the real Cherokee strip was.
In the treaty made with the Cherokees in 1828 it was provided that they should have 7,000,000 acres of land for their home proper, and in addition thereto, a guarantee of all that adjoining that on the West so far as the sovereignty of the United States extended. This additional land was designated as a Cherokee Outlet, and this is the earliest date when it was so-called. It was supposedly for an outlet for the Indians to their buffalo hunting grounds to the West, hence the name “Outlet”. The treaty made with Western Cherokees at Fort Gibson 1833 confirmed this guarantee, and that made at new Echota , Georgia with the Eastern Cherokees provided that the lands in the outlet should be included in the patent lands to these Indians. The treaty made at Washington in 1866 following the Civil War further confirmed the Cherokees in their title to the outlet. The original survey of the boundary of the Cherokee lands in the West was made in 1837 under the direction of Isaac McCoy who had labored as a missionary among the Miami, the Pottawatomie and Ottawa Indians. He believed that he could accomplish more among these people if he could have them removed from the contaminating influence of the white settlements and accordingly laid his plans befor John C. Calhoun, then Secretary of War, who gave the plan his approval. McCoy was appointed a member of the commission to arrange for the removal of the Pottawatomie and Ottawa Indians in 1828. He died in Louisville Kentucky in 1845. At this date, it is curious to note, he placed the western limit of possible agriculture at about the western limit of Kay and Noble counties.
The Kansas-Nebraska act, passed by Congress in 1854, fixed the southern line of Kansas at the 37th Meridian. This was about three miles south of the North line of the Cherokee country as originally run in 1837 this narrow strip of land began between the lines of the two surveys became the real Cherokee strip. It was claimed by the Indians because granted to them by the original survey, and by Kansas because fixed by federal law. The lands, the ownership of which was thus disputed, were ultimately sold to settlers and the proceeds invested in government bonds for the benefit of the Indians. The distinction between the Cherokee strip in the Cherokee outlet having thus been pointed out, the lands heretofore repaired referred to as the Cherokee Outlet will be called the Cherokee strip.
This land was included in the Louisiana purchase from France in 1803 at a price of a little less than 2 and one half cents per acre. At the time of this purchase, the Osage Indians, then living along the Osage River in Missouri, lay claim to this land by treaty of 1825 ceded it to the United States thus paving the way for such its cession to the Cherokees by the treaties before mentioned.
By the terms of the treaty made in 1866 between United States and the Cherokees it was agreed that friendly Indians might be settled on the Cherokee lands west of the 96th Meridian for in the Cherokee strip, the Indians to receive a reasonable compensation for the lands thus appropriated. It was according to this provision that the Osages, Poncas, Nez Perces, Tonkawas, Pawnees, Otoes and Missourias were later settled in the strip.
The Osages, having sold their lands in south-eastern Kansas, were granted the lands in the Cherokee strip west of the 96th Meridian and east and north of the Arkansas River. For this land the Cherokees received about seventy-five cents per acre. The difference between the sale price of the Osage Kansas lands and the purchase price of the land acquired from the Cherokees for them, constitutes the present trust fund of the Osage is. In 1872, the year following the purchase of this land for the Osages, the Kaws were granted a small tract in the Northwest corner of the Osage country.
The Osages having acquired the lands mentioned, it was necessary to establish their eastern boundary, the 96 Meridian. This was done in many of the Osage is settled very near this eastern border. Some time later the Cherokees disputed the correctness of the line established and a new survey was made which fixed the line some 2 and a half miles west of the original line, thus cutting off a part of the lands in of the Osages and compelling the removal of these Indians who had settled on the disputed lands. had the original line stood as the eastern boundary of the Osage country, the city of Bartlesville, now the county seat of Washington County, Oklahoma, would have been in the Osage instead of the Cherokee country. It is thus seen in both the northern and western boundaries of the Cherokee lands designated as a home proper of the Cherokees was surveyed twice; the Cherokees losing by one and gaining by the other. It is a matter of some interest to know that the southern boundary of Kansas, as fixed by the Kansas-Nebraska bill, was surveyed under the direction of Joseph E Johnson later famous as one of the Confederate generals in the Civil War and one of the last who surrendered. He was a classmate of Robert E. Lee at West Point and a grand nephew of Patrick Henry.
The Nez Perce Indians, known as Joseph's Band, having been held as prisoners of war for some time at Fort Leavenworth, were in 1878, brought south and placed on a tract of land twelve miles square in the immediate vicinity of the present Tonkawa. The far removal from their native home in the Northwest, their imprisonment, and there pining for their old homes brought on among them the dread white plague from which so many died within a few years that they were in 1884, again removed to the Northwest. A short time after the removal of the Nez Perces the Tonkawas, who since the Civil War had been living in Texas, were brought from that state and placed on the vacated Nez Perce reservation. The striving little city of Tonkawa takes its name from these Indians. In the late seventies the Poncas and Pawnees relocated in the strip west of the Arkansas River, to be followed in the early eighties by the Otoes and Missourias. The cities of Pawnee and Ponca City derive their names from two of these Indian tribes. While the major part of the Pawnee lands were in the Cherokee strip, part were of the land ceded by the Creeks in 1866, the southern boundary being the Cimarron River. These Indians came from Nebraska, though the Otoes and Missourias owned land in Kansas in addition to their Nebraska lands, and the Tonkawas resided for a time the extreme northeastern part of the Indian territory before being removed to the strip.
These were the only Indians that ever actually resided in the Cherokee Strip as tribes or parts of tribes. The Cherokees as a tribe never moved west of the 96 Meridian, which is the present eastern boundary of this Osage country. A few individual Indians resided in the strip, and the act of Congress, preparatory to opening his settlement, provided that Cherokee allotments of not more than seventy might be selected therein, the maximum amount land to be allocated to anyone Indian not exceed eighty acres.
The reservation for this Chilocco Indian school in the present Kay County was set apart by executing order of President Arthur in 1884. This reservation is three miles wide by four and one half miles long and contains thirteen and one half sections of land. This school is destined soon to be the leading Indian school United States.
Among the first white man to visit Cherokee strip was James Wilkinson, who, with a small party descended of the Arkansas River in small canoes in 1806. This was a part of the Zebulon Pike expedition which set out from St. Louis for the purpose of exploring the Great Plains in the Rocky Mountains. At a point near where Great Bend, Kansas, now is located, Wilkinson with five other men was detached to descend the Arkansas River. Starting out with two small canoes, one being a hollowed out cottonwood log, the other buffalo skin stretched over a pole frame work, they proceeded but a short distance when, on account of the shallowness of the water the canoes had to be abandoned. Thus stranded, they proceeded on foot to about the present site of Wichita, Kansas, where new canoes were made of hollowing out logs. In these they proceeded on down the river through the present Kay County leaving the strip at the point where the Arkansas River crosses the 96th Meridian near the present Tulsa.
Another early entrant into the Cherokee Strip was George Sibley, who in 1811 made an expedition to the Salt Plains near the present Cherokee, Oklahoma. Sibley at that time was Osage Indian agent at the Osage agency on the Missouri River. It was the custom of the Osage is to go on annual buffalo hunts to the region of the salt plains, and on one of these expeditions Col. Sibley was induced to accompany them. This was the first white man positively known to have visited the Salt Plains of the strip. Col. Sibley was later appointed as one of the commissioners laid out the road or trail to the Mexican border, later known as the Santa Fe Trail.
The agitation for the removal of the Indians from the south led to the establishment of the Indian territory in 1830. The boundaries of the Indian territory were not at the time definitely fixed, though it was understood to include all of the country immediately west of the then organized states. As new states and territories were formed the boundaries of the territory were converged until it contained only that part of the president Oklahoma east of the 100th meridian. The Cherokee strip was included in the Indian territory and also continued to remain a part of it until open to settlement under the homestead laws.
The principal trail or wagon road across the Cherokee strip was the Chisholm Trail. This trail was laid out in 1865 by Jesse Chisholm, a mixed blood Cherokee, and extended from the present site of Wichita, Kansas, to the Wichita-Caddo agency near the present Anadarko. This trail is about 220 miles long and passed directly through the strip, entering it at a point just south of the present Caldwell, Kansas, and bearing a slightly southwest course through or near the present Medford, Jefferson, Pond Creek, Kremlin, Enid, Waukomis and Bison. In marking out this trail Chisholm followed, for a good part of the way, the route taken by the federal soldiers when they left the territory at the outbreak of the Civil War. The soldiers were under the command of Col. William Emery, and comprised those from Forts, Cobb, Washita, Smith and Arbuckle. They marched to Fort Leavenworth Kansas, arriving there without the loss of a man, a wagon, or a gun. As their course was practically through that part of the strip mentioned, it was not difficult for Chisholm can follow the trail which, though dim, was yet visible after a lapse of nearly 5 years. About nine years after the laying out of the trail a regular stage route over it was established, with stations near the present Jefferson, Enid and Bison. Pat Hennessey, for whom the town of Hennessey, just south of the strip line, was named, had just passed over the old Chisholm Trail and out of the Strip when he was murdered by the Indians in the summer of 1874.
The first drive of southern cattle across the Cherokee strip was in the summer of 1866. Texas had been the domain of cattle since the days of the early Spanish regime. Texas was depended upon to furnish the beef for the southern armies during the Civil War; when the Confederacy was rent in twain by the opening of the Mississippi, the market for Texas cattle was ruined, with the result that thousands of cattle, practically without a monetary value, were left to multiply on the almost boundless prairies. There were markets in the North, but no railroad over which to transport the cattle. This condition brought about the summer cattle drives from Texas to Abilene, Kansas, at that time the end of the railroad. These cattle drives were directly through the Cherokee Strip, many of the droves following substantially the Chisholm Trail. For a number of years from 1867 to 1872 as many as 600,000 cattle were thus annually driven across the Cherokee Strip for the northern cattle markets.
It was not long before the cattle ranches began to be established in the strip, and as the Cherokees claim the land, they demanded payment for the grazing rights. At first they charge the ranchmen one dollar per head for all cattle grazed through the season, but this price was later reduced about forty cents per head. By the early eighties the cattlemen saw the need of organization, and in 1883 the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association was formed with headquarters at Caldwell, Kansas. This Association leased about six million acres of land in the Cherokee Strip for which they paid the Cherokees a half million dollars for a period of five years, paying $100,000 a year in advance. This Association subleased the land to cattlemen so that a profit was made for the Association. It was not long until practically the entire Cherokee strip was fenced into large cattle ranches. At the end of the five years period another lease for a like term was made though at an increase in price. Before the expiration of the second lease president Harrison, in February 1890, ordered the cattlemen to clear the strip of cattle by the first of the following October. This order practically put an end to the cattle ranch business in the Cherokee Strip, as it was easily understood by all who reason well that it was but a question of a few years until the strip, instead of being the greatest grazing section of like size in the world, would be the homes of thousands of people who, even then, from all sections of the United States were looking with wistful eye toward “the promised land.”
The winter of 1884-’85 was one of the most severe ever known the southwest. Snow fell early and deep. The intense cold continue through the months of January and February so that the poor animals were unable to reach the buffalo grass for sustenance. They huddled in the canyons where they were drifted in and literally frozen or starved to death. The scenes which, on the melting of the snow, met the eyes of the cattlemen, was one almost beyond description. Thousands of cattle lay dead on the prairies and many men rendered entirely bankrupt. The relatively few horses on the range suffered less, for with their hard hooves they were able to paw through the deep snow to the grass, and thus live, but even after the opening of the country to settlement, many a homesteader, to tide himself over in the “tite times,” gathered up the bones of the poor beasts that died in that extreme winter of 1884-’85 and sold them in the market to be shipped east for fertilizer.
The Cherokee strip was not noted for any battle of consequence fought within its borders, though Gen. Custer with the famous seventh cavalry, late in the fall of 1868, marched across the western part of it from Camp supply at the junction of Wolf and Beaver Creek's to the Washita where he encountered the Cheyennes and Kiowas in the Battle of the Washita. Camp Supply was so named because of the great amount of forage and provisions brought to that place which was to be used as a base for military operations. General Phil. Sheridan was there at the time Custer marched away in pursuit of the Indians, and Captain Lewis Hamilton, a grandson of Alexander Hamilton was killed at the battle of Washita. His temporary burial place was at Camp Supply. This Eventually became a military post, was later transferred to the state of Oklahoma and is now used as a Hospital for the insane.
The first railroad to enter the Cherokee strip was the Santa Fe which was extended southward from Arkansas city in 1885. In 1888 and 1889 the Rock Island built southward through the Strip from Caldwell. During the years when the Strip cattle industry was at its zenith Caldwell was one of the principal shipping points of cattle for the markets of Kansas City, Omaha and Chicago.
In December 1891, the Cherokee Indians sold the lands of the Cherokee strip to the government for little more than $8,000,000 and soon thereafter preparations were made for the opening of the lands to the homestead settlement. Congress enacted the necessary legislation in March 1893, and the country was thrown open to settlement on the 16th of the following September.
There had been three land openings in Oklahoma before that of the Cherokee Strip; the so–called old Oklahoma in April, 1889, the Sac and Fox, Iowa and Pottawattamie country in September 1891 and the Cheyenne and Arapahoe country in April of 1892. All these had been by the free-for-all race method, and that of the Cherokee strip differed from these openings in but one important particular, viz., that all persons desiring to enter a homestead or a town lot should appear at a registration booth and procure a “booth certificate” certifying that he was entitled to enter and file on the lands. This plan was devised by Hoke Smith, the secretary of the interior, who somehow conceived the idea that this would prevent “soonerism.” By what method of reasoning he arrived at that belief has always been a puzzle to the people who settled the strip, for many designing persons appeared at the booths were regularly issued certificates, then under the cover of darkness stole into the strip and quietly awaited the opening hour when they appeared on the scene ready to stake the claims they had previously selected. Being well into the country these designing persons had only to wait till the foremost legal racers were in sight, then dash from their covers ahead of these and stake their previously selected lands.
There were nine of these booths, located as follows: just South of Arkansas City, South of Hunnewell, South of Caldwell, south of Kiowa, North of Stillwater, north of Orlando, north of Hennessey, one between Caldwell and Kiowa, and one on the south side of the strip to the West end, or in range 26. There was reserved for the erection of these booths and for the use of intended settlers, a strip of land 100 feet wide within the strip on which persons might enter for the purpose of obtaining the booth certificates, entitling them to enter the lands or town lots. The booths were of canvas furnished by the government, and in each were clerks sent out from the General Land office at Washington equipped with blank certificates, seals, etc., to be used for the registration. There were two kinds of certificates; form “D” and form “F” the former entitling the holder to make a homestead entry the latter to file on a town lot.
The booths were opened for registration on September 11, or five days before the opening of the lands to settlement. Registration began on Monday and continued until the opening date, noon, Saturday, September 16, when registration suddenly ceased and the most notable race for homes in the world's history was on. Long before the time of the opening perspective settlers began to gather along the borders. Not thousands but tens of thousands of people formed a human border to the promised land. As the time for the opening drew nearer, restlessness and anxiety increased. The forenoon of the final day was spent in completing details for the great race; harness was inspected; horses were groomed and petted; bits were examined; canteens were filled; saddle blankets and saddles were given a final adjustment. Dinner was eaten early and the lineup, with all horses’ heads pointed in the same direction, was made by a little after 11:30. There were prairie schooners, open top wagons, buggies, spring wagons, two wheeled carts, buckboards, carts made by attaching a tongue and double trees to the hind wheels of a farm wagon, etc. Then there were the horsemen mounted on Kentucky thoroughbreds, common farm horses, cowponies, and even unbroken range horses which had been shipped or driven in by enterprising traders and sold to those who were without other equipment and are willing to part with about $25 and take the risk of securing a claim by bucking to it. Promptly at 12 o'clock noon, pistols were fired by the US officers stationed some 200 yards within the strip and the mad race was on. The smoke of the pistol was seen but its sound was lost in the thunder of hooves and the rattle of wheels. It was a race never to be forgotten by those who saw it and well worth going many miles to see. Fortunately this was before the days of the automobile. The story of the opening of the strip is too long to relate here. The lands were settled in a day, or perhaps we should say half a day; for when the sun went down that historic evening nearly every quarter section in the strip had its claimant and many of them had several. Many contest resulted and these were finally settled right or wrong.
Prior to the opening of the strip land offices had been established at Perry, Enid, Alva and Woodward. These have all long since been discontinued.
The act providing for the settlement of the Cherokee strip stipulated that the settlers should reimburse the government for the money paid to the Cherokees. As the lands in the eastern part were considered more valuable than those for the West, for the purpose of evaluation three different prices were fixed. For all land east of the Meridian ninety-seven and one-half the price was to be two dollars and fifty cents per acre; between the Meridian of ninety-eight and one-half the price was to be one dollar and one half per acre, and West of that one dollar per acre. The line dividing the $2.50 land from the $1.50 land was one and one half miles west of the East line of the present Garfield County, while that dividing $1.50 and $1.00 land was ten miles east of the present Alva.
The secretary of the interior was given authority to lay out the counties and locate the county seats. Accordingly seven counties were laid out and designated counties “K,” “L,” “M,” “N,” “O,” “P,” and “Q”. These counties were all named by the people at the general election of 1894 with the exception of “K” County. As the country was open to settlement in the fall of 1893 and that was not named until the election of 1896 the people had become so accustomed to the name “K” that they decided retain the name but the spell it out “Kay”. “L,” County was named Grant in honor of Gen. And Pres. Grant; “M” County was named Woods in honor of Sam Woods a prominent lawyer of southwestern Kansas; “N” County was named Woodward for one of the stockholders of the Santa Fe railroads; “O” County was named Garfield in our present Garfield; “P” County was named Noble in honor of John W. Noble of St. Louis who had been secretary of the interior in the administration of President Harrison; “Q” County was named Pawnee for the tribe of Indians there were many years there before settled on the lands comprising most of the County.
The original Oklahoma, i.e. The first six counties open to settlement had come in free to the settlers, patents were issued upon proof of five years residence. The settlers on the Sac and Fox, Iowa, Pottawattamie, and Cheyenne and Arapahoe lands had formed an organization to induce Congress to place their lands also on the free list. A good start had been made and a bill had been introduced in Congress to that effect, but no material progress had been made toward its passage until after the opening of the Cherokee Strip. The addition of seven new counties greatly strengthened this organization, and in June 1900, with the assistance of Hon. Dennis Flynn, Oklahoma delegate to Congress, who was untiring in his efforts on behalf of the local settlers, the bill was passed and signed by President McKinley. This wrought great rejoicing to the settlers, as the first few years on their claim to been years of great hardship and privatization, and this “lifting of the mortgage” brought happiness to the homes throughout the entire strip country. It should be here stated as a matter of history that the bill for free homes was introduced in Congress by Bill Lucia a grow then one of the oldest members of Congress and the same man who introduced the original homestead bill which was passed in 1863 and signed by President Lincoln. This honor and pleasure was denied Mr. Flynn, who was who being only a territorial delegate could not vote nor introduced bills. His affective work was done before committees and by appealing personally to members of both houses of Congress.
Not all the lands of the strip were subject homestead entry. Four sections were reserved in each congressional Township as follows: section 13 agricultural and normal schools; sections 16 and 36 for public schools; and section 33 for public buildings. Much of this reserve land has now been sold. This all plays were also exempted from settlement at the time of the opening, but this restriction was removed by proclamation of President McKinley in July, 1898.
The Oklahoma State Constitutional Convention left Pawnee and Noble counties almost as constituted by the secretary of the interior; the Kaw country was added to Kay County; Garfield and Grant were left unchanged.The southern part was made in the major County and named for Hon. J. C. Major who represented that section in the Constitutional Convention; while the northwestern part together with that part of old Woodward County east of the Cimarron River was left as Woods County. Woodward County was also divided, the Northwest part constituting Harper County, named for Oscar G. Harper a resident of that section and a clerk in the constitutional convention, while the southwestern part was made a part of Ellis County, named for Hon. A. H. Ellis, a resident of Garfield County and second vice president of the convention.
This story the Cherokee strip, brief though it be, is too long to be further extended by any account of the wonderful development of this part of Oklahoma in the brief span of 32 years. Suffice it to state that Cherokee Strip has contributed its full share in the wonderful development of the most wonderful state of the union. It is the wheat section of Oklahoma; it is at this time producing more oil than any other section of the state and of much higher grade; it produces more broom corn than all the rest of the state combined; it has the smallest percent of illiteracy of any other like sized section of Oklahoma, and is peopled by a wide-awake industrious, progressive class of citizens, all of which forecast happiness and prosperity for this section.
The Strip has not been overlooked in the matter of selection of men to fill positions of honor and trust in the state and territory. It has furnished a member of the state Supreme Court, one governor, one state treasurer, one state auditor and four attorney general's.
The day of the buffalo is now but a memory to our oldest inhabitants; the black herds that once roamed the prairies in countless numbers vanished in the early 70s; the cattle trails and the trails made by the early freighters and stage drivers can be seen but dimly and only in a few places were the virgin soil is not yet been disturbed by the plow; the great cattle ranches are no more; the ranch house, the chuckwagon, the roundup, and all pertaining toranch life are gone. The onward march of progress and civilization has marked the end of them all. Here and there a few one-time Cowboys remain, and be it said to their credit they are classed among our highest type of citizens. Many of these hardy men who made that strenuous run on a hot Saturday afternoon, September 16, 1893, to secure and build a home for the comfort of their loved ones, have now passed on, and those who in endured the early hardship and blazed the way to a better civilization are yearly becoming fewer among us. Those who remain are content. They have wrought well. They have shrunk from no duty. May their declining years be peaceful; and when the last of the sturdy pioneer sleeps beneath the sod he subdued may there be Trent inscribed in the memory of those who come after, the abiding admonition:
“LEST WE FORGET”