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Cheaters Prospered in Historic US Land Rush

  • Ted Landphair

Wagons and animals and riders are in place in 1893 for the big “land rush” into what became Oklahoma. (Library of Congress)

Wagons and animals and riders are in place in 1893 for the big “land rush” into what became Oklahoma. (Library of Congress)

A couple of boundaries between U.S. states have special historical significance.

The “Mason Dixon Line” between Pennsylvania and Maryland, for instance, informally divided the slaveholding South from the anti-slavery North.

And the border between two Great Plains states - Kansas and Oklahoma - is famous for mad scrambles for land that are remembered at a little museum.

​By 1893, what white Americans called the “Indian Territory” - to which the U.S. government had forced one tribe after another to move - had shrunk to what is now the eastern half of the state of Oklahoma.


Cattle ranchers leased much of it, though, and westward migration by other whites prompted the government to buy huge tracts of that land for settlement.

This page from a “Harper’s Weekly” edition in 1893 shows another portion of Oklahoma, soon after settlement. The tents in the bottom panel turned into the first structures in what is now the state’s capital, Oklahoma City. (Library of Congress)

This page from a “Harper’s Weekly” edition in 1893 shows another portion of Oklahoma, soon after settlement. The tents in the bottom panel turned into the first structures in what is now the state’s capital, Oklahoma City. (Library of Congress)

It organized a series of chaotic “land rushes” as a way of deciding where “homesteaders,” as they were called, would get parcels of land.

The last and most dramatic rush took place on Sept. 16, 1893, into a strip called the “Cherokee Outlet,” which was larger than three small U.S. states put together.

The land was used by the Cherokee Tribe as a pathway to hunting grounds in the Rocky Mountains.

That last great race for land - the largest single competitive event in world history - is remembered at the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum located on the Oklahoma border in Arkansas City, Kansas.

A display tells the story of that event, when more than 100,000 people walked, rode horses or bicycles, drove wagons, or took a special train into the Cherokee Outlet in the frantic rush for land.

One man even put his little house on wheels, pulled it across the border, and staked a claim.

More than a few cheaters snuck in sooner than the official opening and claimed some of the prime homesteading locations.

It was they who would give the new State of Oklahoma its nickname.

It’s the “Sooner State.”

The players on the powerful University of Oklahoma’s football team are called “Sooners” to this day.
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