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Clearing Out the Cobwebs of Confusion
(Reworked episode broadcast on April 24, 2002)

April 25, 2001

Historian's Notes

Even if you've lived in Oklahoma for only a short time the date April 22, 1889 should be special to you. This week's Almanac naturally deals with the first land run. Although the land runs affected almost everyone in the state and continue to do so to this day, not many people are clear about how they worked. This episode of the Almanac was intended to help people better understand how the runs worked and how land was acquired by the participants.


I couldn't find one Oklahoma history book that provided an adequate description of exactly how the land runs worked so I looked through a wide variety until I found all of the information I needed.

Almanac Transcript

Hello, I'm Steven Kite welcoming you to the Oklahoma Audio Almanac where we turn the pages of history to bring you the stories of our state's past.

Clearing out the cobwebs of confusion this week on the Almanac.

It was in this week in 1889 that the first Oklahoma land run occurred. The land runs of Oklahoma are an often discussed but little understood phenomenon of our state. Few people completely understand how the runs worked or what areas were settled in that manner. Not all of Oklahoma was settled by a land run; there were five separate land runs occurring in 1889, 1891, 1892, 1893 and 1895. Other sections of land were opened using lottery, sealed-bids, or allotment methods. The entire eastern half of the state was left unaffected by these land openings. All of the land runs and openings occurred in the western half of the state in what would soon turn into Oklahoma Territory.

On April 22, 1889 the first of the five land runs, the opening of the unassigned lands, occurred as thousands of hopeful settlers lined up around a somewhat rectangular section of land in the middle of Oklahoma. At twelve noon cannons were fired and the crowd surged forward.

Before the opening government surveyors had sectioned the land into squares of 160 acres. Rocks inscribed and left by the surveyors as boundary markers were used by the land runners to identify exactly what section of land they were claiming. As settlers claimed the homesteads the first thing they would do was locate these boundary rocks and write down the information locating their claim. Next was a long wait in line at land offices as officials took the information provided by the homesteader and officially registered the claim.

This process was exciting but confusing and not very fair. While waiting in line at a land office, a person's land could be taken by a claim jumper who,if quicker to register, would then have legal claim. In some cases two people claimed land at the same time, often without knowing it until both had registered at different land offices. Such disputes continued on in courts decades after the runs occurred. And then there were the infamous "Sooners": people who hid out on claims earlier than legal, popping out to claim the ground after the starting cannons fired.

After five separate land runs, each one providing mass chaos and confusion, the government opted for less exciting but more efficient means of distributing lands. Future land openings in 1901, 1904 and 1906 were conducted using lotteries or sealed bid auctions.

The first great land run of Oklahoma occurring this week in 1889.

I'm Steven Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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